Piano Virtuoso ‘Alexander Beyer’ & The 'Greater Bridgeport Symphony'
Inspire Music, Magic...and Kids.
“Touchable”...that is the difference between inspiring children’s interest in the 'arts' or not. Kids need to be able to touch the 'arts' with one or more of their senses in order to relate to them and further ignite their curiosity. It’s an opinion I derived long ago as a parent and youth educator.
Mark Halstead, Executive Director of the Greater Bridgeport Symphony (GBS), undoubtedly agrees. He is demonstrating this by opening the doors, windows, and seats of GBS to children in ways that make a night at the symphony a family affair.
Now celebrating its 71st season, GBS is featuring a theme that will engage kids of every age. “From Bach to Berstein” will move listeners down through the ages, highlighting some of the most imaginative and engrossing music throughout history. Adding to the excitement is Conductor Eric Jacobsen who is back for his third season. “If anyone knows how to whip an audience into a frenzy it is Eric,” explained Mark Halstead. “Both kids and grown-ups, alike, can’t get enough of this young conductor’s natural energy and inviting personality.”
And then there is piano virtuoso, Alexander Beyer, who will be joining GBS for its first concert of the season -- "Dvorak -- and Beyer's Back!" Beyer’s musical accomplishments well surpass what his young age should ever allow, and yet, that hasn’t stopped him a bit, which speaks further to the virtues of “touchable art.” Alexander’s life has been laden with melodies from his piano teaching mother for as long as he can remember.
At a time when opportunities to strengthen our kids’ focus and creativity grow more scarce daily, finding engaging and enjoyable ways to fight that tide, improve these skills, and spend time as a family can’t be beat. Ultimately, GBS is changing the way the “symphony” is being looked at by current culture -- exchanging the hard line between 'kids' concerts and 'adult' concerts for one that is seamlessly blended together into an evening for all to enjoy. And at the head of this is Mark Halstead who, along with Alexander Beyer, share a deeper look into GBS’ vision and upcoming season in their interviews below.
How long have you been GBS’ Executive Director?
I’ve been in this position for five months. I love it. My biggest challenge is to get the word out about GBS -- "Yes, Bridgeport has an orchestra!”
What makes GBS unique?
We are less “committee” and more “family.” Our entire team - including our board - is made up of loyal enthusiasts. Our talented group of musicians are, thoroughly, devoted to Conductor Eric Jacobsen as are our guests, who are known to become completely absorbed in our performances. No one even thinks of looking at their cell phones when Eric is conducting. His energy is explosive. Kids love him just as much as their parents. Eric knows how to talk music and especially talk music to kids so that it is cool and exciting. We also strive to bridge the gap between all kinds of music, which has become yet another characteristic of GBS that has gained popularity with entire families.
Who decides upon the annual theme for each season as well as each performance?
Although Conductor Eric Jacobsen leads this charge, the charge takes into account the suggestions of our board, our support staff, and any other member of our family that wants to chime in. As I mentioned, “It is very much a family affair.”
Describe what guests can expect from Conductor Eric Jacobsen, especially for those who do not know him?
Electricity! At 34 years-old, Eric is not only an accomplished conductor but an accomplished musician. Edgy and affectionate, Eric knows how to make an audience fall in love with him. The only way you can fully understand what I mean is to attend one of GBS’ performances.
Share how GBS is reaching out to families.
We believe that it is vitally important to expose children to music beyond what they normally enjoy. Some of the benefits of expanding their palates include increased focus, greater understanding of the artistic personality, more diligent work ethics, and the establishment of friendships that they might otherwise not have. In addition, certain colleges and universities see a 'musical' background as an enormous plus. And, of course, time spent with family at these performances can not be overlooked or undervalued. Such is the case, we have decided to offer special pricing for families as well as kids ages nineteen and under and college kids.
A family of five can, ultimately, attend a performance for less than it would cost to go see a movie together.
At what age, do you believe, children are ready to attend performances such as these?
We don’t set a limit. This type of decision remains at the discretion of parents. In my opinion, the best way to decide this is to determine whether or not your child can sit still for the entire performance.
Describe Alexander Beyer -- the man and the piano virtuoso.
Alex is a very personable young man and quite studious. He’s immersed himself in music history and is incredibly focused, without being the least bit “pretentious.” He is genuine, through and through, and a fireball on the piano...rather amazing to watch, really, as you barely see his fingers play.
What compelled you to take up the piano? How old were you at the time?
I was four years-old. My mother taught piano to younger kids through the Kindermusik program. However, she did not teach me as, it seemed, we just didn’t work well together. She sought out a teacher that fit my personality better than what she could do. I am very grateful to her for that. She knew what she was doing.
Briefly explain what your life was like growing up, including how piano fit into the daily activities of a boy growing up in Fairfield, Connecticut.
As a kid, I played a lot of soccer and tennis. I also played cello for a number of years but eventually my love for the piano took over and dominated my time. Moving from California to Connecticut offered me numerous opportunities to play piano 'in concert'. So I began to practice more and learned to explore my music as avidly as I strived to learn to balance my life, which took a whole lot of time and attention. I took a year off following graduating high school to master both.
Share your first thought when you learned that you had won the bronze medal in the 'Queen Elisabeth Competition' in Brussels, beating out over 300 pianists from around the globe.
I was completely stunned. One of the most challenging and frustrating times in my life was waiting for the results over a five-day period. The critics were really tough on me too, which made my winning even more shocking.
How do balance being a senior mathematics major at Harvard (with the intention of become an astronaut) with the demands of being a piano virtuoso and competitive performer? What’s your secret?
I have learned to compartmentalize well and work hard in a more relaxed way. I also limit my use of electronics. It helps that I possess an innate hunger to learn.
You will be joining GBS on September 24th to perform Beethoven’s joyous Second Piano Concerto. Why that piece and what makes performing with GBS so exciting for you, as this is not the first time you have done so?
Conductor Eric Jacobsen offered a number of pieces to me but I chose this one because of how closely certain parts of it resemble the works of Mozart, a composer whose work I am enormously fond of. The second movement has swells of majesty, expressiveness, and explosiveness. That’s what makes it interesting and quirky all at the same time.
Beyond this, GBS is like home to me. I know the stage, the audience and the orchestra, which makes it fun. I also owe GBS a lot, as in many ways, they gave me my start -- allowing me to perform in my adolescence. I feel devoted to them… as Mark Halstead constantly says “like family.”
Seems to me that the Greater Bridgeport Symphony is the type of family everyone wants to be a part of. Consider joining them, whether it be for a single performance or for the entire season. And don’t worry about having to dish out extra cash for a babysitter. This is one of those unique times and places when “not bringing the kids” would dampen the spirit and meaning of these events. To that end, if you would like to take a chance and win tickets to a GBS performance of your choice, view this link for further information!
On that note, I look forward to seeing you there.
Many thanks to Mark Halstead, Alexander Beyer and 37-Media for making this interview possible
Alexander Beyer Mark Halstead