Jennifer Higdon's 'Violin Concerto' at Verizon Hall

Benjamin Beilman
Philadelphia Inquirer

By Peter Dobrin

As a piece of major talent, Beilman's playing spoke for itself. Even those who heard him when he was a Curtis Institute student or a member of Astral Artists' selective roster might have been startled by his polish and power in Higdon's 2008 work (being given its first Philadelphia Orchestra performance here). An ode to Curtis, where Higdon once studied and now teaches, the first movement uses the 1726 in the school's Locust Street address as a point of departure. This is a piece of alternating extremes, intense expressivity and speed-demon virtuosity.

There's another, less explicit Curtis connection. Barber's Violin Concerto is not overtly referenced but strongly implied. Higdon's work (which won her a Pulitzer Prize) is at its best in places like the second-movement opening - a statement of great repose in the most sincere American mode. Again, Barber caught this same feeling exceptionally well, and operating at a certain medium level of accessibility came across in Higdon's Violin Concerto as a lovely compositional continuum.

Spano, too, attended Curtis, and though the other work on the program, Debussy's Iberia, was certainly solid and comfortable, it was an interpretation of no special insights. But special were principal oboist Richard Woodhams in his second-movement solos of great warmth, and first associate concertmaster Juliette Kang in the third. There are times when marketing ideas overtake artistic ones, but here - in Higdon's compositional style, Spano's workmanlike thinking, and Beilman's ability to marry brilliant technique with an ardor of meaning - artists and repertoire met happily.

Read the full review here.