Artist Interview: Violinist Benjamin Beilman

By jwoods on March 2, 2012

For our next artist interview, violinist Benjamin Beilman was gracious enough to sit down and answer a few questions about his upcoming performance with pianist Yekwon Sunwoo on Sunday, March 18th at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Juliet Woods:  How did this program come together? Why did you choose these particular pieces?

Violinist Benjamin Beilman

Benjamin Beilman

Benjamin Beilman:  This program is a very special one for Yekwon and me; we developed it knowing we would be playing these pieces in many venues around the country this year. With the help of PCMS and the Musical Fund Society, Astral Artists, and Young Concert Artists in New York, this year will hopefully be a breakout year for us.  Yekwon and I just made our Kennedy Center debut a few weeks ago and will debut in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston as well this spring.  For this important recital program, I chose pieces that I've had a strong connection to for many years while still offering a wide variety of programming. The first half of the program is designed to be the "meat and potatoes" while the second half is more free-spirited.

JW:  Tell me a little bit about the piece you are premiering:  Chris Rogerson's Once. What was it like working with Chris, and how does it feel to present a world premiere?

BB:  Chris and I first worked together three years ago while we were both students at the Curtis Institute. The school commissioned him to compose a short piece for a chamber music tour Yekwon and I were playing on, and we both connected with his musical ideas and language immediately. I knew I wanted to work with Chris again so I asked him to write a full-length violin sonata. It is very gratifying  to work with a composer, on his music, one-on-one. If there are any discrepancies, he’s always there to clear up any confusion. At the same time, I feel a huge sense of obligation to bring this brand new work into the world with utmost accuracy and emotion. I strive to think the same way when performing Bach, Beethoven, or Schubert, but it’s a bit more daunting when the composer is sitting in the audience.

JW:  Despite your young age, you have already gained much praise and respect from critics and musicians. What advantages does youth bring to your studies and performances? Are there any disadvantages?

BB:  I like to believe that my age allows me to bring a unique perspective and energy to my performances. Just as I admire and enjoy performances of my musical idols (the Guarneri Quartet, Gidon Kremer, Mitusko Uchida, and Richard Goode, to name a few) for their maturity and nuance, I think it’s important to consider new voices for each generation.

JW:  How do you stay musically motivated? Is it challenging to find time in your busy schedule for practicing? Do you have any suggestions for young musicians out there?

BB:  I’m too young to feel unmotivated -- I have so many new and exciting things coming up!  One thing I can always count on to recharge my batteries is to read chamber music with friends. We all agree that despite some errant notes or mismatched bowings, there is something exceptional about sight-reading a great work of music. The surprises really are surprises, harmony changes are shocking, and the melodies are unabashedly sincere. If schedules allowed it, I would do it every night.

JW:  Do you have any suggestions for young musicians out there?

BB:  The only piece of advice I’d like to pass on to younger musicians is one that was given to me years ago: if you can imagine living a life comfortably without playing music every day, then choose a different career. If you can’t, then you know what you need to do.

Benjamin Beilman and Yekwon Sunwoo appear on Sunday, March 18 at 3 pm at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For tickets and information, visit the concert page or call the PCMS Box Office at 215-569-8080.