September 24, 2010 at 4:57 PM
The Classical Concerto Finals continued for a second night on Thursday at the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, with the last three of the six finalists, Benjamin Beilman, Haoming Xie and Soyoung Yoon.
A colleague compared these classical finals to a beauty pageant's “bathing suit round” – indeed, performing Mozart and Haydn strips a person's playing down to the essential elements of intonation, clean articulation and the ability to create a musical line. No place to hide!
Benjamin Beilman, 20, of the United States, walked onto the stage with the contented demeanor of someone who is enjoying himself. His playing also reflected this comforting assurance – certainly the ability to put an audience at ease is an important asset to a solo violinist. Of the six finalists, only Beilman chose to play Haydn and not Mozart for this round, with the Violin Concerto No. 1 in C major. In the midst of so much Mozart, it felt like a treat, the harpsichord in the orchestra being the cherry on top. In fact, tonight the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra seemed like a whole new band, with stand-out playing by the oboist and overall better ensemble than last night.
The concerto began with Beilman playing the tutti with the orchestra, with which he had excellent rapport throughout the piece. In my view, this chance to warm up a bit before the solo entrance in the Haydn also reinforced the piece as a wise choice. I enjoyed Beilman's bow arm – picture-perfect straight, and I felt his vibrato was downright beautiful. The first movement brought moments of nice filagree and well-graded dynamics overall, with great rhythmic drive in the cadenza. The second movement began with exquisitely controlled first notes – an unwavering bow. In the third movement I enjoyed the way he organized various progressions into a long musical line. Throughout the performance he fumbled his intonation just a handful of times – tiny fumbles. These I would completely overlook in a normal performance, especially such a compelling one, but in a competition, he may have lost a few points there.
Haoming Xie, 20, of China, played Mozart Concerto No. 5.
I always find it interesting when someone has a very different technique than the one I would advocate for students – Xie played with a very high elbow, straight pinkie on the bow – the pinkie on the lefthand was collapsed at the joint. I wondered if perhaps he is double-jointed. He played with good intonation, and a very fast vibrato. His performance was very controlled, and he seemed to stay within the bounds of a rhythmic plan.
Soyoung Yoon, 25, of South Korea, projected an aura of elegance the moment she emerged in her sparkly, strappy white dress. (I mention this because judges talked about the fact that appearance choices do matter – a blog will be forthcoming on this matter!)
Her Mozart Concerto No. 3 was well-articulated and clean, and rather like Beilman, she had a happy, – even loving – attitude toward the music. She played the first movement with good timing and humor – with personality and energy. In all the cadenzas, her violin filled the hall all by itself. In the second movement she seemed to sing straight from the heart, with a pure tone and such natural pacing. In the third movement, the orchestra started rather slow, and though she indicated with her bow that she wanted it faster, the orchestra did not respond until she entered and then had to kick them into gear, something she nonetheless did with grace. That tempo was well-chosen, I'm glad she stuck to it. Her performance was well-received by the audience; a number of people rose to their feet in applause.
Tonight begins the finals, with Andrey Baranov playing the Tchaikovsky concerto, Antal Szalai playing Bartok Concerto No. 2 and Clara-Jumi Kang playing the Beethoven Concerto.
Marc, respectfully, your comments are making these discussions rather one-sided. Your blatantly obvious favorite is a fantastic violinist, but so are the other five (or 39!), and I feel that your comments from the beginning have been rather biased, especially considering that the competition is so tight. Every violinist has their strengths and weaknesses. It would show much more maturity on your part to acknowledge the weaknesses of your favorite when he shows them, rather than simply dismissing them. No one is perfect.
I also found your comments about the surprising results of the semifinal round particularly offensive. I have personally spoken to a few of the jury members, and they have told me that they too were surprised by the results. As I'm sure you know, Indy uses a numerical system in which the judges do not know who they've passed to the next round until the results are set in stone. Anyway, I felt your comments indicating that the other semi-finalists were lesser musicians because you thought them "flashy players" was absurd. As Jim Tsai pointed out, "you're implying that some of the players in Indy didn't advance to the finals because they focused only on being brilliant or virtuosic, but I doubt you can find many examples. The ones I am thinking of, ones who were probably on the short list but didn't pass the final cut, did not play particularly flashy pieces and were every bit as musical and sensitive as anyone who did make the finals." Your oh-so-subtle references to the Montreal Competition aren't fooling anyone either.
So let's say we have a more well rounded discussion, eh? I think we'd all really appreciate it :-)
If Beilman does not win it will be like the Yankees losing in Yankee Stadium and he is playing on home ground with an overwhelming American audience. His faults will be overlooked and called tiny, his great charm praised, his communication exalted and his musicality extolled. Can that be said of the other competitors. This is a betting certainty.
Jumi-Kang so strong in the first round.
Yoon so strong in the 2nd (and what a SOUND she has!).
Both of them strong in the finals....plus, the other great players.
What a great competition!
For me Beilman and Clara Jumi played great and their performances show something new and fresh, they are my favorites and in that order.. For the bronze medal I would pick any of the other, may be Baranov, but I have the feeling that the jury may like more Szalai´s old style... At this point it´s just a matter of taste, but the final concerto could change everything. We´ll see...!
but I have the feeling that the jury may like more Szalai´s old style... At this point it´s just a matter of taste, but the final concerto could change everything. We´ll see...!
Yes, I would have to think that Szalai's Bartok would put him in contentiion for a win...especially that second movement--stunning!
But...it's not over yet. I'm not a huge Beilman fan, but maybe he'll win me over tonight. I can't say anything bad about his playing--he's a fantastic player. For some reason I just don't seem to connect to his playing (I wouldn't have picked him to win Montreal, for instance) but that's just me. I always feel that something is missing--a potentially great player that's not quite there yet. He has a devoted following so he must be doing something right. In any case I'm looking forward to hearing him and the others play tonight.
Well, Szalai´s performance of the Bartok was very very good, but I think C. Jumi´s was fantastic, her purity of tone and technique reminds me of Mutter´s. Beilman has it a bit harder than yesterday...
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