Solo violinist and klezmer composer | Detroit Jewish News
The University Musical Society hosts the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, with Noah Bendix-Balgley.
New York’s Carnegie Hall was the first of five stops on this season’s U.S. tour of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, which continues with appearances in Ann Arbor Friday through Saturday nights, November 18-19.
The Michigan tour is hosted by the University Musical Society and features concertmaster and klezmer composer Noah Bendix-Balgley.
The concertmaster, who grew up in North Carolina and was noted for performing solo and chamber music, is thrilled that every Michigan night has a different program. Friday, Andrew Norman’s Unstuck, Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and Erich Korngold’s Symphony in F sharp major. Saturday is devoted to Symphony No. 7 by Gustav Mahler.
“These programs are a real mix,” said the violinist, who tours internationally in front of many audiences, from France to China, across Europe and Asia. “Norman is a young American composer, and his piece is a beautiful introduction, an exciting work that takes everything apart and puts it together. It is a masterpiece for the orchestra.
“I play Mozart’s concerto, which isn’t played very often. It is an early work, written when Mozart was 17 years old. You can feel all the hallmarks of Mozart — beautiful melodies, character, operatic contrasts — and it’s a joy for me to play that.
“The second half of this program is Erich Korngold’s symphony, which is a large, very difficult piece. Korngold was an Austrian composer who immigrated to America when the Nazis came to power. He settled in Hollywood and established film music, but his symphony is a very serious classical work.
On the second night there is only one piece, and it is described by Bendix-Balgley as chosen by conductor Kirill Petrenko, who enjoys bringing challenging works to life and being a champion for them. Each Mahler symphony, the concertmaster said, is a world unto itself with a pool of orchestral sound ranging from humor to tragedy.
The orchestra’s previous appearance in Ann Arbor dates back to 2016, when the musicians set aside time to work with instrumental students from the University of Michigan.
“A lot of us take masterclasses,” Bendix-Balgley said. “I’m going to do a master class, and at least 10 of my colleagues are doing the same. It’s always nice to have a presence rather than playing a gig and leaving the next day. The last time we were there, we did the same thing, and we’re pushing more of our tours forward.
Looking back on her career, Bendix-Balgley recalls studying the violin at the age of 4, then dreaming of a career as a performer at the age of 8. His undergraduate college education was at Indiana University before undertaking graduate studies at a conservatory in Munich.
When he expressed interest in joining the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, he was concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
“I joined the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 2014,” he said. “For me, it was a dream job. I have always considered the Philharmonie to be my ideal orchestra. When I saw the chance to audition for solo violin, I was excited and wanted to give it a try.
“Previously, I spent five years in Munich. I had the language and I liked the musical life in Germany. At the time, I was 30 years old and I thought why not give it a try. It worked.
“I live in Berlin, but I often come back to the United States. I have family over there.
Bendix-Balgley, married to violinist Shanshan Yao and father of a young son, was introduced to klezmer by her father, Erik Bendix, a professional folk dance teacher. The violinist continued to perform with klezmer groups and to compose his own klezmer piece.
“My father became an expert in Eastern European folk dancing and Yiddish dancing,” the concertmaster explained. “I grew up around klezmer music. When I studied the violin, I also started to learn klezmer music.
“I tried to keep it active. A few years ago, I had the idea of composing a klezmer piece (“Fidi-Fantazye”) for concerto. I did it while I was in Pittsburgh and since then I’ve played it all over America, Europe and Asia. It is an important aspect of my personal and musical heritage.
“Jewish activities mainly go through my musical activities, playing Jewish music and klezmer music. I celebrate Jewish holidays. I admired the great Jewish violinists of the past – Jascha Heifitz, David Oistrakh and Mischa Elman.
When he’s not out in public or making recordings, the violinist enjoys spending time with his family and hiking.
“The orchestra and I are thrilled to be back in America,” said the instrumentalist, who performed for electronic audiences during the COVID lockdown. We were supposed to come back in 2020, but that had to be cancelled. It is important for us to have the link with the American public and to play in the halls.
“Our new musical director is a Russian Jew, and it’s really been an exciting time with the orchestra. He brings a lot of good ideas and energy. We’re happy to come to America and present that.
The Berlin Philharmonic performs at 8 p.m. Friday, November 18 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, November 19 at Hill Auditorium, 825 N. University, Ann Arbor. Tickets start at $25. (734) 764-2538. ums.org.