Crowden, SFS Youth Orchestra Alum to Berlin Philharmonic

Janos Gereben on February 18, 2014
Noah Bendix-Balgley ('97), on the right, at Crowden School's 2011 gala, with Emily Adams ('97), Sam Adams ('00), Crowden Executive Director Doris Fukawa, and Christo Logan ('97) Photo by Andreas Guther
Noah Bendix-Balgley ('97), on the right, at Crowden School's 2011 gala, with Emily Adams ('97), Sam Adams ('00), Crowden Executive Director Doris Fukawa, and Christo Logan ('97)
Photo by Andreas Guther

One of the most coveted orchestral positions in the world, first concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, was awarded on Valentine's Day to Noah Bendix-Balgley.

The orchestra, a self-governing organization since its founding in 1882, handles all personnel decisions democratically, including selection of the chief conductor, Simon Rattle (since 2002), who is planning to step down in 2018.

To be exact about Bendix-Balgley's appointment, he will be one of the leaders as the orchestra has two "first concertmasters" — Daishin Kashimoto and Daniel Stabrawa — and just-plain-concertmaster Andreas Buschatz. Bendix-Balgley succeeds Guy Braunstein, who left the Philharmonic last year.

The 30-year-old violinist, currently concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony, is a product of Berkeley's Crowden School, and he was a member of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra's first violin section in the 1996-1997 season, under the direction of Alasdair Neale.

Bendix-Balgley was born in North Carolina in 1984 and studied at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University and the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich. He has won numerous competitions, including the 2009 Queen Elisabeth International, playing the Brahms Violin Concerto. In addition to his activities with the orchestra, he often performs as a soloist and in chamber music ensembles, and he is a klezmer specialist, played with such world-renowned groups such as Brave Old World, and he has taught klezmer violin at workshops in Europe and in the U.S.

Bendix-Balgley in Pittsburgh
Bendix-Balgley in Pittsburgh

His love of Jewish music and klezmer came from his father, Erik Bendix, an expert in Jewish and other folk dance traditions. Several members of the family played in major orchestras.

Bendix-Balgley began playing violin at age 4, and at age 9, he played for Yehudi Menuhin in Switzerland. His principal teachers were Mauricio Fuks, Christoph Poppen and Ana Chumachenco. Last year, Bendix-Balgley joined the faculty of the Carnegie Mellon University School of Music as an artist lecturer in chamber music.

He performs on a violin made in 1732 in Cremona by Carlo Bergonzi (same name as the great tenor, but two centuries apart). Bendix-Balgley's first recital CD, A Musical Tour of the early 20th Century was published by Anima Records in 2011.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette found this interesting bit of information:

Mr. Bendix-Balgley was not one of the PSO's five most compensated musicians in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, according to a 990 form for that period. A more recent 990 is not available. The previous concertmaster, Andres Cardenes, was the top-paid musician in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, at more than $300,000.

Concertmasters of major U.S. orchestras, including that of the San Francisco Symphony, are usually compensated at or above the Pittsburgh salary. In Berlin, figures from 2011 indicate $123,000 base salary awarded by themselves to every member of the orchestra, with only 15% additional pay for principals, probably higher for concertmasters. Still, it is possible that a less prestigious orchestra in the U.S. may pay more (in San Francisco, it was $560,000 for Alexander Barantschik in Fiscal 2011), but there is more to life than worldly riches (say mostly those lacking in yachts and such).