Put a bow on it

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.

Return of the prodigy son: Asheville-born chamber musician Noah Bendix-Balgley will solo for the first time with the Asheville Symphony.

"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)

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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