Advance publicity concerning young pianist Alex Beyer who appeared at First Congregational Church in Santa Cruz in a piano recital yesterday afternoon succeeded in raising our expectations. Here was a young man, just barely 18 and a resident of Connecticut, who had already racked up an impressive series of appearances as soloist with symphony orchestras in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford, Waterbury and Milwaukee. Three of these attracted special attention, for his series as guest soloist with the New Haven Symphony came about through winning a concerto competition, his appearance with the Hartford Symphony consisted of four sold out concerts and his appearance with the Greater Bridgeport Symphony performing Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto was a reengagement.
Why is a young high school graduate from Connecticut playing a recital in Santa Cruz, especially since he is about to enter Harvard University and the New England Conservatory (where he will study with Russell Sherman) in the fall? Well, although he has been studying most recently at Juilliard’s Pre-College Division with pianist Raekallio Matti, Alex and his family lived in Santa Cruz for several years when Alex was a child, and during that time he studied piano with Mary Jane Cope, a faculty member of UC Santa Cruz.
His recital yesterday afternoon at First Congregational Church attracted some loyal fans and also earned him some new friends and admirers. Those of us who had never heard him before were expecting to hear a talented 18-year-old high school graduate with excellent training and a few competitions under his belt about off to study music at the collegiate level to pursue a musical career.
It turned out that we got a lot more than we were expecting. From the moment Alex Beyer sat down to play the piano, we heard bold, masterful playing on the highest artistic level. At age 18 there is a professional finish about his playing that would be the envy of many a young artist today. Characteristic of his playing was an electrifying authority and absolute confidence in his musical ideas. Hearing the four Rachmaninoff Etudes, I felt as though I were hearing them for the first time. They were so Titanic in conception and so full of powerful new ideas and new directions, it was almost as though Beyer had melded the spirit of Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto to the more modest Etudes-Tableaux. Although some might argue that they were over played, I felt that Beyer had adopted a legitimate approach that brought exciting new life to them.
The two sonatas we heard during this recital were the Scriabin Sonata No. 4 in F-sharp Major and the Schumann Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp Minor. These were also Titanic-scaled performances that tended to take your breath away and carry you on a powerful journey, like Star Trek — to places where no man has gone before. So that you don’t get the impression that Beyer is all flash and dash, it needs to be said that he treated us to some super expressive and poetic playing in the slow movements of the Scriabin and Schumann Sonatas, and also in the slower sections of the Etudes-Tableaux.
Beyer treated an enthusiastic audience to one encore — the Paganini-Liszt “La Campanella,” It was spectacular.