Thursday night, violinist Benjamin Beilman and pianist Orion Weiss played a galvanizing concert as part of the Kennedy Center’s Fortas Chamber Music Series. Their program was built around a new piece written for them by one of America’s foremost composers, Frederic Rzewski (pronounced “Shevsky”), who will be 81 next month.
The new work is called “Demons,” after the 1871 Dostoevsky novel which, in Rzewski’s words, “is a study of the self-destructive forces present in the Russian society of his time.” Written during the early months of 2017, the work is dedicated to Angela Davis. Unfolding in four sonata-like movements, “Demons” begins and ends with sinister buzzing trills in the violin’s lowest register. Beilman and Weiss played like two musicians possessed, portraying the work’s alternating jaunty determination, piercing rage and excruciating beauty in a visceral performance that gave no quarter. Yet for all the intensity of their involvement, they never abandoned their crucial poise as communicators of Rzewski’s coruscating message.
“Demons” was prefaced by a stylish performance of Mozart’s late Sonata, K. 526, which glowed with energy and irresistible lyricism. After intermission came Beethoven’s Op. 96, the last and perhaps subtlest of his sonatas for violin and piano. Beilman and Weiss brought serenity to the slow movement rarely heard from musicians twice their age. Schubert’s “Rondeau Brilliant,” as challenging for both players as it is charming, rounded out this intelligently conceived, compelling recital.
As Beilman and Weiss make music together, their individual gifts seem perfectly melded in a unity of feeling and intent. And isn’t that, after all, the recipe for the best chamber music?