Noah Bendix-Balgley, former Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concertmaster and current 1st concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, will debut his original klezmer concerto, Fidl-Fantazye, during the season finale weekend of the BNY Mellon Grand Classics on June 17-19. Noah shared some background and insight into the piece with us:
I grew up around klezmer music and often heard live bands play at workshops where my father taught Yiddish dance. I was lucky to learn from the great klezmer musicians Michael Alpert and Alan Bern of Brave Old World and Alicia Svigals of The Klezmatics. Playing klezmer music is a wonderful counterweight to my classical playing since it allows me to improvise. This freedom also helps me play with greater flexibility and imagination within the stricter structures of classical repertoire. Klezmer music is vividly emotional, ranging from deeply mourning improvisations to the irresistible drive of its fast dance music. In recent years, I had hoped to find or even commission a klezmer violin concerto, but was encouraged to write the work myself. I am grateful that Samuel Adler agreed to orchestrate the piece for me, realizing a full version of the violin and piano score I composed. Rather than use traditional tunes, I decided to write my own melodies in a traditional style.
The piece is constructed in three movements, each a medley of different dances. It begins with a Khosidl dance in the old slow Hassidic style. This is followed by a Doina, a Romanian-style improvisation over a held harmony. The next melody uses my musical translation of the name Samuel, the first name of both my orchestrator and my violinist great grandfather, as well as my own middle name. This melody appears throughout the work in different forms. The second movement opens with another Doina that leads to a wordless song or Nigun, which then becomes a Hora, a slow dance in three. Here, I incorporate small quotes from Mahler’s 5th Symphony. Gustav Mahler incorporated klezmer tunes into some of his works, so in the last movement of the Fantazye, I incorporated some Mahler into a version of Hora, and wove more Mahler into my version of the faster Freylekhs dance. The third movement is a medley of fast tunes, trading off tunes between the violin and individual members of the orchestra. At the end, the full orchestra joins in, with a wild race to the finish.
Tickets to this concert, which also features Mozart’s Rondo in C major with Bendix-Balgley and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, can be found at pittsburghsymphony.org.