Six months. There are six abysmally long months that stand between me and Joshua Bell’s highly anticipated return to Heinz Hall…but in the meantime, have you met the new PSO concertmaster, Noah Bendix-Balgley? I haven’t met him personally, but I’ve admired him with a not-so-subtle, starry-eyed gaze from afar.
I’ll admit, I didn’t even know what a concertmaster was prior to this weekend. I promptly conducted a bit of research—and by “research,” I mean that my friend and I Googled the term during intermission—and learned that a concertmaster is the “leader of the first violin section of an orchestra.” (If this is ever a question on Jeopardy, I am SO prepared.) You must, must, must check out Noah Bendix-Balgley and his contributions to the orchestra. He’s talented, he’s adorable and he drinks beer—and that, my friends, is a winner in every possible sense of the word.
This weekend continued Manfred Honeck’s tradition of Thanksgiving weekend waltzes. (I’m not certain that this is actually an ensconced “tradition” per se, but if it isn’t, it should be.) This weekend’s performances marked Bendix-Balgley’s official debut as the PSO’s new concertmaster and he brought with him one of the liveliest concerts that I’ve seen in a long time. It was obvious that the musicians were enjoying themselves and their playfulness was infectious—Heinz Hall was absolutely bubbling with jubilant spirit and mirth. Honeck personally introduced most of the selections during the concert, adding his unique touches of wit. He wryly noted that we have many things for which to be thankful in Pittsburgh…not the least of which is Sidney Crosby’s return to the Penguins’ active lineup. So true. I always love it when Honeck is chatty.
The stand-out performance of the evening was the orchestra’s rendition of Josef Strauss’ Auf Ferienreisen (On Holiday). The new concertmaster let his playful side emerge as he unfolded a beach chair on stage (draped with a Terrible Towel, of course) and indolently plucked a few bottles of beer from his violin case, which he promptly to distributed to his fellow musicians. (Next time, sir, please consider sharing with the audience, or at least with your soon-to-be-favorite blogger.)
I also need to discuss Beethoven’s Concerto No. 1 in C major. It fell very much in line with the theme of happiness and holidays, etc. I usually love any and all of Beethoven’s compositions…except for this one. It reeked of Mozart’s annoying influence. A cheerful Beethoven composed this during his twenties in Vienna, before he had experienced the devastation of illness and hearing loss. Not that I ever would have begrudged him any happiness, but quite frankly, the older, cranky, curmudgeonly Beethoven wrote more interesting music. Then again, I’m a hopeless drama queen and a total sucker for soul-wrenching, nitty-gritty, tear-my-soul-into-a-million-pieces type of works. This was, however, Thanksgiving weekend; as such, it’s a time to be grateful for, and appreciate of, our blessings. I suppose that a small amount of joyfulness is acceptable, even from Beethoven…that is, until I begin my Christmas shopping, at which time, a beer or three would be much appreciated, Mr. Concertmaster.