By Paul Hyde: February 10, 2016
An ice storm kept violinist Benjamin Beilman from making his debut with the Greenville Symphony Orchestra in February, 2014.
“I was stuck in the Virgin Islands when the blizzard was coming through,” Beilman recalled recently. “I couldn’t make it up to Greenville, but I was pleasantly stuck on the beach for an extra two days.”
The orchestra vowed, however, to again engage Beilman, 26, one of the busiest violin soloists of his generation.
It took two years but Beilman will make his first-ever appearance with the orchestra on Feb. 20-21 at the Peace Center. He’ll be the featured soloist in one of the cornerstones of the classical repertoire, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.
“I’m very much looking forward to it,” Beilman said, speaking on the phone from Denver, where he was about to present a masterclass for young musicians.
The orchestra’s all-Beethoven program also will include the German composer’s Symphony No. 3, known as the “Eroica” (“Heroic”). Greenville Symphony music director Edvard Tchivzhel will lead the two concerts.
The program, in many ways, will reflect two starkly contrasting sides of Beethoven: the classical and the romantic.
The Violin Concerto, with its singing solo lines and jaunty good humor, looks back to the classicism of Mozart and Haydn.
“It’s very classical in structure and feeling but profound as well,” Beilman said.
Beethoven’s Third Symphony, by contrast, is the expansive work with which the composer decisively broke with the classical past to forge a new, bolder style of emotional expression that would come to be known as romanticism.
“With the Third Symphony, Beethoven created a new type of symphony and new meaning for the symphony,” Tchivzhel said. “It was a bridge to romanticism.”
The two works, interestingly, date from the same period in Beethoven’s life, 1805 (Third Symphony) and 1806 (Violin Concerto).
Beilman, based in Philadelphia, has appeared with some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras. Last year, he performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra as soloist in Jennifer Higdon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Violin Concerto.
He returns to perform as soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra again this fall, both in Philadelphia and in New York’s Carnegie Hall.
Upstate concert-goers may know Beilman from a well-received recital he presented in 2013 at Clemson’s Brooks Center.
He’s also appeared as soloist with the London Philharmonic, and the San Francisco and Detroit symphonies, among many others.
Beilman’s debut CD on Warner Classics, “Spectrum,” will be released in March. Included in the recording are works for violin and piano by Janacek, Schubert, Stravinsky and Fritz Kreisler.
Among his numerous awards, Beilman received the prestigious Borletti-Buitoni Fellowship, which helps outstanding young musicians to develop and sustain international careers by funding tailor-made projects.
Born in Washington, D.C., Beilman began playing violin at age 5.
“I first started because of my sister,” Beilman said. “She started playing violin when she was 5, and my mother would take me to her lessons. I was 3 at the time, and I’d sit on the floor with my trucks and trains, and I guess I picked up a lot of the tunes, so when I was 5, I asked if I could start playing as well.”
Beilman added, “I think by the time I was 10 or 11, I made the decision to make it my life’s passion.”
Beilman’s sister still plays violin as well. The two recently performed a dual recital in Sarasota, Florida.
“Whenever we can, we try to find time to perform together,” he said.
Beethoven’s Third Symphony can be seen as a musical meditation on heroic struggle and triumph.
“What Beethoven explores in the ‘Eroica,’” musicologist William Kinderman has written, “are universal aspects of heroism centering on the idea of confrontation with adversity leading ultimately to a renewal of creative possibilities.”
The original inspiration for the symphony was Napoleon Bonaparte, who Beethoven had seen as a hero destined to bring about the French Revolution’s ideals of “liberty, equality and fraternity.” So strong was Beethoven’s admiration that he intended to name the symphony simply “Bonaparte.”
“He (Napoleon) was supposed to offer a better life for mankind,” Tchivzhel said.
But when Beethoven heard that Napoleon had declared himself emperor, the German composer flew into a rage, crying out, “Is he then, too, nothing more than an ordinary human being? Now he, too, will trample on all the rights of man and indulge only his ambition. He will become a tyrant!”
Beethoven seized the manuscript of his “Bonaparte” symphony and ripped the title page in two and threw it to the floor.
On another copy of the score, Beethoven scratched out the name “Bonaparte” with such passion that he ripped a hole in the page. Shortly afterward, Beethoven gave the work a new title: “Sinfonia Eroica, Composed to Celebrate the Memory of a Great Man.”
The Third Symphony now is commonly known simply as the “Eroica.”
Early audiences were awestruck by the great length of the symphony as well as its complexity, innovative form and dramatic content. Particularly startling was the work’s unique second movement, a funeral march.
In the Third Symphony, Beethoven helped to create what came to be known as the program symphony: an instrumental work intending to communicate a story or idea. In the case of the Third Symphony, the message was one of struggle and triumph over adversity. Many other composers, inspired by Beethoven’s precedent, took up the idea of the program symphony.
“Beethoven’s symphony was very innovative,” Tchivzhel said. “Later, Tchaikovsky, Berlioz and Mahler also used the symphony as an opportunity to say something very important.”
Greeenville News arts writer Paul Hyde will present a free pre-concert talk one hour before both performances on Feb. 20-21.
For the latest in local arts news and reviews, follow Paul Hyde on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.
YOU CAN GO
What: Greenville Symphony Orchestra’s “Meet the Heroes,” featuring violinist Benjamin Beilman
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20; 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21 (Greeenville News arts writer Paul Hyde will present a free pre-concert talk one hour before both performances.)
Where: Peace Center Concert Hall
Tickets: $17 to $60
Information: 864-467-3000 or www.peacecenter.org