Currently halfway through their month long Australia tour, Benjamin Beilman and Andrew Tyson are creating duo magic across the country, thanks to Musica Viva. We had the opportunity to sit down with the young performers prior to their Melbourne performances.
A month long tour is nothing to be sneezed at. It requires resilience and good humour - two traits violinist Benjamin Beilman and pianist Andrew Tyson have in bucket loads. Settling into Australian life, they inform me that they’ve been trying the local cuisine. “We had pavlova in Newcastle, and we’re trying all the different types of Tim Tams”, laughs Beilman. No word on their Vegemite appreciation yet. The young performers (Beilman is 26, Tyson, 29) met at the prestigious Curtis Institute in Philadelphia in 2007 or 2008, where they often heard each other perform in masterclasses and concerts. While they didn’t begin to play together until more recently, they consider their similar pedagogical backgrounds a point of real strength that provides a solid foundation for their playing. Learning with father and daughter super-duo Claude and Pamela Frank during their time at Curtis allowed them to get to know one anothers playing, and after both being taken on as soloists with the same New York-based artist manager, their paths appeared destined to cross. Beilman was “looking for a recital partner", and someone he could spend a lot of time with while touring, and "Andrew was an obvious choice”. Their individual styles often overlap, allowing them to create the type of exhilarating duo music they love. This is no soloist-accompanist relationship. Every note is imbued with the character of Beilman and Tyson’s fiery collaboration in which each performer holds his own.
2016 has been hugely successful for the pair already. They began the year at the Musée du Louvre with a performance of an all-Mozart program, and continued their tour in concerts across Paris and later, in London’s stunning Wigmore Hall. In Australia they present a new program, including some of the works that have already brought them major success already this year, such as Mozart’s famous Sonata no. 35 in A Major, K.526. His last major violin sonata, Mozart’s A Major suits the pair perfectly - it highlights both violin and piano in equal measure, offering both “soloists” lines of depth and musicality and inviting a conversation between the two. When choosing the program for their current Musica Viva tour, Beilman notes that it was designed to play to both performers’ “individual strengths as soloists, and their strengths as a duo”. These strengths lie in their ability to understand each other as artists without communicating with words. “We come from a shared tradition, and a shared aesthetic, so we can show our intentions through the way we play”, says Beilman, “Very often in concerts we’ll do things spontaneously, and it’s more about how we react to one another. In a tour like this where we’re playing the same repertoire in multiple different venues, it’s important to do things differently every time - working off the aesthetic of each stop, noticing audience reactions”.
This tour, which spans just under a month, sees the pair perform in venues big and small -everywhere from the Elizabeth Murdoch Hall to the Armidale Town Hall in Northern New South Wales. The program of four pieces is one that “can be reinvented” from performance to performance, and it’s important to Tyson not to “simply recreate what worked in a previous performance, because you are inevitably going to get a lesser knock-off version of it, or it just won’t work at all”. A lot about what works for Beilman and Tyson in concert (and a factor that has been heralded multiple times already by reviewers of their Australian tour), is their ability to communicate wordlessly on and off stage. “Your mindset is always different between concerts, and you have to be responsive. We haven’t been copying ourselves, we’ve been experiencing the music differently every time” says Benjamin. When we spoke – straight after their performance at the City Recital Hall in Sydney – they immediately commented on the new feelings the works had presented: They were slightly more introspective, and more emotional. It is a special ability to allow the music to present itself in an entirely new guise each time, requiring a particular courage and confidence in your musical partner.
“What is special about the duo concept is you don’t have to be as homogenous as a string quartet or a chamber orchestra. It feels like composers want two strong equals playing together or off one another”. The pair, after studying together under the Franks, split up to travel and study elsewhere: Benjamin in Germany, Andrew across the country at Juilliard. It is important to both Beilman and Tyson to develop their own strong, individual musical connections, so they can not only deliver the demanding technical ability required of much duo repertoire, but understand the music on an intellectual and emotional level.
This level of understanding is at least partly due to their acclaimed individual solo careers. They chuckled when I asked them about time management, and staying on top of note learning – while they’re on this tour, there’s no rest and recuperation between performances. Beilman reminded me that although they are performing many evenings while in Australia, they have to be working on completely different projects in the morning. Tyson will be flying to Hong Kong and then Switzerland at the end of the tour, while Beilman will return to the US for another series of concerto performances. “Time management is incredibly important”, says Tyson. He uses a countdown application on his phone to remind him of looming performance commitments. “It’s easy to think a concert in February is ages away, but then you plug into the app and see it’s only 100 days away…” It changes your thinking and reminds you to get on with the job at hand. “It’s helpful to listen through pieces that I need to perform, to familiarise myself with them if they are new or remind myself of them if I’ve played them before,” Tyson suggests, “especially when on the road”. There is a lot of time spent on buses and trains moving between venues, which is an excellent time to get into note-learning.
This note-learning strategy comes in particularly handy when learning contemporary music, a form which both Tyson and Beilman take very seriously. “We have both commissioned a few pieces, and often play the music of living composers”, Tyson told me, before we discussed Musica Viva’s exceptional program for female Australian composers, The Hildegard Project. Jane Stanley’s piece, Cerulean Orbits, is “extremely powerful” according to Beilman, and they were fortunate to workshop it with her earlier in the year in London to get to know her style, and so she could hear them perform together. It feels tailored to Beilman and Tyson now, and it rounds out their current program.
It is important that young performers “listen to as much music as they possibly can”, say the pair, when asked about what they have learnt as a chamber ensemble. “Don’t just listen to chamber music, listen to everything: symphonic music, operas, lieder and listen to all sorts of performers. I think listening to a bad performance can help too, so don’t just listen to the historically great performers.” For Beilman and Tyson, performing music is like delivering a gift. “My advice for when you are performing is to remember that never are people wanting to hear you make a mistake - they are on your side and they want to hear great music,” says Beilman. “If you are performing in an exam, think in a different way. Think about how you are delivering someone’s music to them. You’re a channel. Offer them your music.”
Remaining Tour Schedule
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