Before joining the CBSO for two performances of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto next week, Benjamin Beilman took some time to talk to us about this fascinating piece, as well as the 18th Century Stradivarius he'll be playing, and his love of English football...
What is the best part of being a professional violin soloist?
Fame, fortune, and not having a boss. No, no- I love the excitement of travelling to new cities but I feel lucky to spend every day exploring the greatest music. On top of that, the musician community is rich and colourful. It’s comforting to find other people who have committed their lives to something greater.
If you hadn’t taken up a career in music, what do you think you might have ended up doing?
I’m hooked on the high intensity risk/reward of concert performances and I’m not opposed to long, solitary hours of preparation. I think I would have liked to become a surgeon in another life- coming from a career in which the benefits and effects are intangible, I envy the tidy satisfaction in saving another’s life. Then again I do really love a full night’s sleep so I’m not sure I would have made it through med school…
Tell us a little about how you approach Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.
I see in the score a feverish restlessness that is too often neglected. Mendelssohn omits the standard orchestral introduction and throws the violin right into the fire (he even marks con fuoco at the start.) There are moments of peace and contemplation, but the engine has to keep running the entire time.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
I played soccer for 10 years when I was growing up so I live vicariously by watching the Premier League before weekend concerts. I also love running outside while listening to a good podcast. When I’m home for an extended period and can spare a day without practice I enjoy the all-day ritual of planning a massive meal, shopping for ingredients, prepping, cooking, and feasting with good friends.
You perform on the “Engleman” Stradivarius, made in 1709. What’s it like playing such a prestigious instrument?
It’s the greatest violin I’ve ever played and I’m not just saying that to please the foundation that loans it to me (thank you Nippon Music Foundation!) Even when the violin is adjusting to a new climate, I never feel any restrictions in the tone or range. Stradivarius violins are generally known for their clear, bell-like upper registers (which the Engelman certainly has) but this violin also has a powerful and booming bass.
Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto
What advice would you give to any aspiring violinists in the audience?
Of course it’s natural keep an eye on what your peers are doing, but the sooner you can stop caring about that and what others might think of you, the happier you’ll be.
If you could invite any composer from history over for dinner, who would it be and what would you cook them?
I’ve always thought that Haydn would make a generous and clever friend. For dinner, I’d probably grill steaks.
What’s your favourite thing about visiting the UK?
Nights out with dear friends, the wealth of artistic offerings, and M&S Phizzy Pig Tails
Benjamin Beilman will be performing Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto at Symphony Hall, Birmingham on Wednesday 16 January (2.15pm) and Saturday 19 January (7pm).