Review: Violinist Benjamin Beilman electrifies at Florida Orchestra concert

11.05.16
Benjamin Beilman
Tampa Bay Times

A young violinist got the crowd leaping to its feet, and the Florida Orchestra celebrated three innovative composers on Friday with Mozart's "Jupiter'' symphony.

A nearly full Morsani Hall, at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, took in the performance of Benjamin Beilman, who walked on stage with a 1731 Stradivarius violin, out of which he managed to get some really uncommon sounds. Beilman, 26, has been on a fast track to musical fame and is surely on the verge of being recognized as a top-tier performer.

He led the orchestra in Sergei Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1, composed in the euphoric aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution. The composer, who refused to be boxed in — he called his own work either classical or neo-classical, modern, motoric and lyrical — delivered a piece that is all of those things. It started fast and rarely let up, a dialogue with the woodwinds preceding some of the most demanding violin work ever written.

The sweetly skipping melody of the opening turns brutal, calling for rough, metallic sounds as the soloist's fingers fly furiously up and down the neck of the violin. Think of a motorcyclist racing down the side of a mountain without a road or a path, and somehow staying upright. That's what it is like listening to Beilman play.

The main attraction, Symphony No. 41, by Mozart, was thrilling in a different way. The "Jupiter" symphony, as it was later nicknamed, was the composer's last and, it is widely believed, his most impressive. Despite being composed during a time of poverty and when the demand for his services as a composer or even as a piano teacher were in decline, it is a joyous work. But as always with Mozart, the music changes just at the moment you think you know where it is going.

It opens in a C-major key, a grand declaration, then seems to retract that promise in the next few bars — an extraordinary move in 1788, music director and conductor Michael Francis noted at a preconcert lecture. With each movement, the symphony adds elements, increasing complexity. The orchestra rallied to the task from all corners, with particularly lovely sequences by the strings. This symphony demonstrates as well as anything by Bach the mathematical component in musical genius. If you doubt that, just try to wrap your mind around what the "Jupiter" symphony does, with as many as five musical themes in the finale.

The performance itself was technically proficient, as this orchestra nearly always is. Yet there was also something oddly clinical about it, islands of detachment between the more stirring passages.
 
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