September 26, 2010 at 8:00 PM
I watched the last night of the Indianapolis competition about twelve hours after it actually occurred. A big round of applause for archived performances. And they didn’t even plaster the winner’s name all over the website, as I feared they would, so I was kept happily in the dark about who won until I sought out the news myself!
Once again, a disclaimer - I am not a professional violinist or critic - I think everyone in the competition is amazing - it was a privilege to watch them all - etc etc etc. Okay, onward!
Benjamin Beilman was up first in the Sibelius concerto. As those of you who have been following this blog know, he was my favorite coming into the competition, in large part because of his prizewinning performance of Sibelius in Montreal this year. He played beautifully, with all of the subtlety and charm I have come to expect from him. But there was something tonight that kept him from playing at his full potential - whether it was nerves, exhaustion, illness, some combination of all of the above, or something else altogether, I don’t know. However I did feel his performance in Montreal was just a smidgeon stronger than in Indianapolis - if Montreal was 100, then Indianapolis was a 90. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the performance a great deal. There were multiple passages where I had goosebumps on the back of my arms - I love how soft yet searing his quiet dynamics are. He unearths so many little details in the score that are really a joy to uncover. He is definitely one to keep an eye on in the coming years.
Second came Haoming Xie in the Tchaikovsky concerto. As you’ll remember, I wasn’t entirely sold by his Mozart in the classical round. And throughout the first half of the first movement of the Tchaikovsky I wasn’t much more impressed. He was hitting all of the notes, but I didn’t feel as if he had an overarching conception of the piece in mind. Without that, I usually don't feel drawn into a performance. But then, somewhere around the first movement cadenza, he really started hitting his stride, displaying a newfound confidence and facility. Unlike Baranov the night before, he cut straight through the orchestral texture, which can occasionally be quite dense in this concerto. His sound really sweetened during the gorgeous second movement, and the dance of the third movement was joyfully propulsive.
Last came SooYoung Yoon in another Sibelius concerto. If Beilman’s Sibelius was more intimate and restrained, with more introverted moments, SooYoung Yoon’s was almost operatic. They were both dramatic and heartfelt, only in different ways, and I found myself falling in love with both interpretations. SooYoung Yoon brought an astonishing power to her playing. I wish I could have been there in the hall to hear the full force of that gorgeous sound; I’m sure it just sailed clear to the back of the auditorium. SooYoung Yoon and Clara-Jumi Kang strike me as having similar approaches to music - their sounds are gutsy and gorgeous, and those gutsy, gorgeous sounds combined with their passion and intelligence make them very, very interesting performers to watch and listen to. At the end of her Sibelius concerto SooYoung Yoon’s shoulders collapsed and a huge look of relief came over her face. You could tell she had given everything she had up there, and it was inspiring.
(Before I continue, no, I did not read the Indy Star's review of the concert, although we said basically the same thing, including using the same words to compare the differences between the Sibelius concertos. As I said in one of my previous reviews, I do not read any reviews of performances before writing about them myself, and any similarities to any other reviews are purely coincidental.)
So. Here comes the moment everyone has been waiting for…
Before I checked the final results, I took a moment to guess who had won what prize. By the end I kind of wanted to rip up the list. Szalai had done so wonderfully in the Bartok concerto - but his Mozart just was not to my taste at all. On the other hand, Baranov’s Mozart had been really gorgeous, and yet I was underwhelmed by his Tchaikovsky. How do you translate that into numbers? At the same time, how stupid is that to translate into numbers? That is not what music is about. And I kept thinking again and again about Clara-Jumi Kang’s Beethoven - how does one put a value on how she made herself so vulnerable in that exquisite Beethoven? And then what about Beilman versus SooYoung Yoon in the battle of the Sibeliuses? How to choose? Well, I liked SooYoung Yoon’s for her power and strength, but there were moments in Beilman’s that were so delicate and moving… How do I choose? Do I go for the style that stereotypical juries prefer (SooYoung Yoon's extroverted one) or do I go for Beilman’s more introverted interpretation, the one I probably ultimately preferred just a teensy bit more? But then again, am I biased because I was familiar with Beilman before I even started chronicling this competition? What if I had heard them blind? Should I have been listening to this whole competition blind? Is there a remote possibility I am actually thinking this through way too much? Hmm. During the intermission of the third night, juror Rodney Friend said something that really struck me - “At this point, it’s like asking, do you like orange, or do you like purple?” or something to that effect. And it is so true. Really the jury could have flipped a coin for the top three, in my opinion. I hope all of the performers get all of the exposure and accolades they deserve.
Anyway, here the list I came up with, with the addendum written on the bottom “Top three interchangeable.” It was just a question of whether the judges cared more for orange or purple. The actual placements are written in parantheses.
1) SooYoung Yoon (Clara-Jumi Kang)
2) Benjamin Beilman (SooYoung Yoon)
3) Clara-Jumi Kang (Benjamin Beilman)
4) Antal Szalai (Haoming Xie)
5) Haoming Xie (Antal Szalai)
6) Andrey Baranov (Andrey Baranov)
So as you can imagine I’m content with the results. A hearty congratulations to everybody in the competition, and particularly to this extraordinary top three. It was a very memorable competition, and a very heartening one. Anyone mourning the state of modern violin-playing need only watch the finals of this competition to realize the future of our art is in brilliantly competent hands. I’m already looking forward to 2014.
Hannah, your blog is great! Very inspiring. I too am 21 and am teaching myself because there's no money for lessons. I gave myself a blog-lesson in May. http://www.violinist.com/blog/Mle/20105/ I also have the issues with crooked bowing, although I think I'm doing better with it (haven't filmed myself recently, and I always play differently in front of a mirror than I do "in real life"). One thing that helped me with that was keeping flat bow hair, which no teacher had ever suggested to me. Might be something you want to try, as well.
And yes, I think Beilman has a bright future, especially if he can keep up the consistency.
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