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LA Chamber Orchestra & Benjamin Beilman dance their way through an impressive season opener

Benjamin Beilman (photo by Christian Steiner)

(Publisher’s note.  I’m thrilled to introduce the first-ever guest writer on All is Yar:  Fiona Bryan.  Fiona has a BM & MM in Violin Performance from Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University and University of Missouri, respectively, and has performed in various orchestras across the country.  More recently, she’s been working in marketing, PR, and social media strategy  for various musical and non-musical organizations, including the New England Music Camp.  On top of it all, she has a loyal following on her own blog, Bantering Blonde, on a whole panoply of topics.  So, in short, she’s a former professional musician, a current marketing maven & blogger extraordinaire, and most importantly, she’s a friend — tough to ask for a more perfect contributor.  Enjoy!)

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra launched its 2013-14 season this past Saturday evening at Pasadena’s Ambassador Auditorium with its program, “Beethoven, Mozart, Lutosławski & Kodály,” conducted by Music Director Jeffrey Kahane and featuring 24-year-old violinist Benjamin Beilman.

The evening served as a bit of reunion for me. Having moved from Denver, CO, to Los Angeles just one year ago, it has been several years since I last heard Maestro Kahane conduct when he was Music Director of the Colorado Symphony. He is regarded as somewhat of a hero in Denver:  in the aftermath of a flurry of board and administrative drama, Kahane proved to be a fierce advocate for the CSO musicians even after his tenure with the orchestra had ended.

LA-JKFrom an audience standpoint, one of the things Denverites appreciated about Maestro Kahane was his ability to get the best out of the orchestra by forging a trusting bond with the musicians. Brilliant programming and a strong relationship with CSO musicians resulted in some very fine performances during his brief tenure as Music Director.  I was reminded of this as I witnessed a similar interaction between Kahane and the LACO musicians on Saturday evening.  It was no surprise to me that Ambassador Auditorium would be the perfect playground for Kahane and his musicians, especially with a self-proclaimed nickname like “Carnegie Hall of the West.”  For me, Saturday night was like reuniting with an old teacher or mentor and it was pretty darn inspirational.

The program began with a dynamic performance of Beethoven’s Twelve Contredanses for Orchestra. Conducting the work without pause, Kahane led the orchestra in an energetic race through purposeful tempo changes and a dramatic landscape rife with abrupt dynamic change. Contredanse #7 struck me as humorous when in a lovely surprise Kahane demanded a rounder tone and greater emphasis from the orchestra as we heard a thinly orchestrated version of the melody featured in the finale of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony (as well as The Creatures of Prometheus). Deeper and rounder, yet thin. Yes, that is exactly what I mean.

Following the Beethoven, Benjamin Beilman performed Mozart’s Turkish Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major and Lutosławski’s Chain 2. At the age of 24, Mr. Beilman’s various competition winnings, including First Prize Winner at the prestigious Montréal International Musical Competition in 2010 and beneficiary of the 2013 Avery Fischer Career Grant, pen an impressive resumé. His performance on Saturday evening did not disappoint.

Young violinists are introduced to the Mozart violin concertos relatively early in the standard repertoire. The pieces deliver a thorough tutorial in classical form and are technically manageable for most developing violinists. While Beilman has been billed as “young” and “youthful,” he delivered a mature performance of a well-known piece. He took risks with a brisk tempo in the first movement and made the concerto his own by departing from some of the more traditional articulations, bowings, and cadenzas (written by Joachim and Beilman himself). All of these were met and matched seamlessly by the orchestra and were well received by the audience.

LA-BBWhen Mr. Beilman and Maestro Kahane returned to the stage for Polish composer Witold Lutosławski’s Chain 2, Kahane spoke briefly about the turmoil Lutosławski experienced throughout his life. He noted that events, such as the composer’s loss of his father during World War I and imprisonment during World War II, did not overshadow his work. In addition, Lutosławski was interested in the problem of form in composition and intrigued by the aleatoric works of John Cage, introducing this “chance” music into his works through “chains” or two independent layers of music put together; the sections inside the layers begin and end at different times, meaning that no performance of the piece is ever exactly the same.

Chain 2 was written for and dedicated to violinist, Anne-Sophie Mutter, but on Saturday evening it was all Beilman’s show. He performed the piece with passion and gusto, as though it were the most fantastic piece of music ever written. I was enthralled by the sheer precision with which Beilman executed a very notey piece filled with fancy runs. Kahane’s left hand was very deliberate in its dictation of clear beats but his body movements and right hand were all drama throughout each movement. My companion for the evening, my math loving engineer husband, was not overly thrilled with the cacophony of sound he experienced, saying, “Thank God that is over;” however, he immediately added another comment that summed up the level of command that Beilman displayed during this piece: “I’m sure it was very good. He was very convincing, it certainly looked like it was good.” Yes, it was very good.

The program closed with Kodály’s Dances of Galánta. The heroes in this particular performance were the cellos, who began the piece with such a pure and strongly rich tone that I actually looked up to count how many of them there were: two stands, four cellos in perfect unison, introducing a sequence of dances. It was a perfect way to begin the end of the program. The rest of the piece served as a showcase for the winds as they rode the alternating moods and tempos with grace.

From trifling dances of the Redoutensaal in Vienna through folksy Hungarian village dances, the LACO and Benjamin Beilman gave an invigorating and inspiring performance on Saturday night. This ex-Denverite is thrilled to be a Los Angelino!

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra:  September 21, 2013; Ambassador Auditorium Pasadena
Jeffrey Kahane, conductor
Benjamin Beilman, violin

BEETHOVEN:  Twelve Contredanses for Orchestra
MOZART:  Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, Turkish (cadenzas by Joachim & Beilman)
KODÁLY:  Dances of Galánta


Photo credits:

  • Benjamin Beilman:  Christian Steiner and Maria Cabeza
  • Jeffrey Kahane:  Michael Burke

One thought on “LA Chamber Orchestra & Benjamin Beilman dance their way through an impressive season opener

  1. Pingback: Constipation of Words – Movement 1: My first “real” classical music review | Bantering Blonde

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