The play of light — that floating, ephemeral stuff, so much like sound itself opened this past Friday evening’s season finale. Former PSO Concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley (2011-2015), now First Concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmoniker treated Pittsburgh’s ecstatic audience with Mozart’s Rondo in C Major. Although quite a short composition in length, it was not an insignificant piece in depth as it further reinstated the incredibly warm and fascinatingly sweet tone Bendix-Balgley can masterfully produce evident from the very moment his bow glided across the string and sang out into the hall. It was a continuous transformation of light with his impeccable intonation and flawless sense of phrasing and sparkling intonation.
Bendix-Balgley, Maestro Manfred Honeck, and our beloved Pittsburgh symphony orchestra then shared with us the highlight of the evening, the world premiere and PSO commission of Bendix-Balgley’s Fidl-Fantazye: A Klezmer Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.
Yes, Mahler’s Fifth symphony was in the second half, but it was the electrifying young violinist and Pittsburgh favorite Bendix-Balgley whom the packed house had really come to hear. Conviction, ferocity, an irresistible sense of play — Bendix-Balgley has it all and more, and he turned in a no-holds-barred performance of Fidl-Fantazye that won him several well-deserved standing ovations.
Bendix-Balgley’s musical upbringing was profoundly influenced by Klezmer music. His father, Erik Bendix, is a dance teacher who specializes in Eastern European folk dancing, and as a child Bendix-Balgley was immersed in the music at workshops and festivals where his father taught at the same time he was just starting to study the violin.
Bendix-Balgley chose to compose his own tunes in the style of traditional Klezmer tunes rather than using existing traditional tunes for this concerto. Composer Samuel Adler orchestrated the piece making the structure whole and tangible to the listener’s ear.
From the moment I entered the hall and took my seat, I heard the trumpets rehearsing what sounded like fragments of the “Fiddler on the Roof” score and I immediately knew that was a foreshadowing of the Klezmer Concerto.
Bendix-Balgley states “To this day, playing klezmer music is a wonderful counterweight to my classical playing, since it allows the performer to improvise and embellish on the spot. Developing this freedom 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.”
The piece overall, not just the improvised cadenzas, was incredibly imaginative and fully captivating with the dance rhythms and complex meters. The second movement was intricately etched, seemingly drawn more from nature than human passion, as Bendix-Balgley incorporated quotes here from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony; it seemed to glow with a distant light, as if from the edge of the turning world.
Bendix-Balgley is a refined musician, artist, and performer in more ways than one. During Friday’s debut of the Klezmer Concerto one of his strings broke, and as if it was written into the score he nonchalantly switched violins with guest concertmaster Zachary DePue and calmly continued without a hiccup. It is only a true master, performer and artist that can handle such an unexpected incident with such poise and finesse.