A Mountain Homecoming is the name of the Asheville Symphony's Saturday, Oct. 17, concert. The description reads, "We continue to present music of exotic regions." Featured composers include Estonian-born Arvo Part, the Germans Felix Mendelssohn and Johann Sebastian Bach and French Impressionist composer Joseph-Maurice Ravel.
Is it a bit of a contradiction to feature such far-flung orchestral works at a homecoming show? Perhaps not: The featured soloist, Munich, Germany-based violinist Noah Bendix-Balgley, is actually an Asheville native.
"I'm looking forward to it. It's always nice to come home, but it's especially nice when I get the chance to perform here since I know so many people in the community," Bendix-Balgley tells Xpress. The soloist and chamber musician (meaning he usually performs with a small group rather than a vast orchestra) is a Thibaud competition medalist, winner of a Hochschule Concerto Competition, a member of the Weinberger Chamber Orchestra in Switzerland since 2007 and concertmaster of the Moritzburg Festival Orchestra in Dresden, Germany last year. But — perhaps surprisingly — Bendix-Balgley has never soloed with the Asheville Symphony.
The young performer will remedy that situation with two impressive (and very different) pieces: Bach's "Concerto No. 2 in E Major" and Ravel's "Tzigane."
According to Bendix-Balgley, Bach is "one of the masters you always go back to. I always discover new things in the music."
The violin concerto which Bendix-Balgley will perform was written in the 18th century, which means the well-loved piece has had ample time to gain popularity among classical music listeners. "Everyone's put their stamp on it," Bendix-Balgley says of the time-tested opus. "I have to decide what direction I need to take it and what I want to bring out in the piece."
The violinist has another passion: Modern compositions. In fact, his Web site lists him as both a composer in his own right and "an enthusiastic promoter of new music."
"With a modern piece of music, it's a little more wide open, because it has not been played so much," he explains. "But that can be a challenge because it's difficult to understand." So listeners needn't feel dense in the face of new music: "Even a musician like myself doesn't get it right away."
Though Bendix-Balgley is up to the task of programming a modern creation, he understands that many audiences are "more interested in going to hear what they're familiar with." Bach's concerto fits that bill. Bendix-Balgley describes its first and third movements as "joyful; almost danceable."
Born in Asheville, Bendix-Balgley first picked up a violin at age 4. He says that by age 7 or 8 he knew he wanted to be a career musician, and when his family moved to California a couple years later, he continued his music studies at The Crowden School in Berkeley. A Wells Scholarship from Indiana University allowed him to study abroad for a year, and he found a good fit in a post-grad program in Munich under the tutelage of Professor Ana Chumachenco. Though Bendix-Balgley admits that aspiring to be a soloist and chamber musician is more difficult than seeking a career as a symphony member ("As a soloist, you're living from concert to concert"), it's apparent that the young musician relishes the jet-set life.
Those Gypsy inclinations might help to explain Bendix-Balgley's passion for his second Asheville Symphony number: The complicated and fiery "Tzigane." It's "one of the great virtuoso show-off pieces," he says of the composition, which is Ravel's interpretation of Gypsy music.
"It utilizes the complete range of technical difficulties you can find on a violin," Bendix-Balgley continues. "It's about 10 minutes long and the first three or four minutes is a huge solo cadenza. The violin starts alone and plays a huge fantasy rhapsody before the orchestra comes in. I'm really looking forward to it, because I've played it a lot in recitals with piano but this is the first time I've ever played the orchestral version."
who: Noah Bendix-Balgley
what: Soloist performs with Asheville Symphony's A Mountain Homecoming concert
where: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium
when: Saturday, Oct. 17 (8 p.m. $19-$53. www.ashevillesymphony.org or 254-7046)