Pittsburgh Symphony concert to feature Bergonzi violin

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

When the spotlight shines on concerto soloists, it also shines on the instruments they play. A Steinway piano. A Stradivarius or Guarneri del Gesu violin, instruments that were made hundreds of years ago in Cremona, Italy.

Noah Bendix-Balgley began searching for a better violin soon after becoming the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's concertmaster.

“In our profession, you try a lot of instruments and see what interests you,” he says. “I was drawn to the old Cremonese sound most people like. The ones I was really considering were of that same origin.”

This summer, he found his match and, with financial help from the symphony, purchased a violin made by Carlo Bergonzi in Cremona in 1732.

Nicolaj Znaider will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony with Bendix-Balgley as soloist at concerts on Oct. 25 and 27 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The program is “Hebrides Overture” by Felix Mendelssohn, “Scottish Fantasy” by Max Bruch and “Symphony No. 4 by Robert Schumann.

“When I choose the (Bruch) I didn't know I would have a new violin to show off,” Bendix-Balgley says. “What was nice was that I found this instrument before we went on tour and it made a difference, especially for ‘Heldenleben,' particularly with that solo with such a big, dynamic range and the duet with horn that Bill (Caballero) plays so well.”

Video of the Berlin concert including “Ein Heldenleben” is still accessible at the symphony's website.

Bendix-Balgley played the “Scottish Fantasy” a few times this fall with other orchestras, but says “I already really loved this piece, maybe just because I grew up listening to that incredible (Jascha) Heifetz recording.”

He calls the piece “unabashedly romantic” and believes it to be “at least as great, if not greater” than Bruch's more-often-played Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor.

Bergonzi made instruments on the side, Bendix Balgley says. His real job was working in the violin shop of Antonio Stradivarius, and he is considered Stradivarius' best pupil. About 55 Bergonzi violins are known to exist.

The concertmaster's new instrument was previously owned by English soloist Nigel Kennedy and before him by Margot MacGibbon, who had her own string quartet and played in orchestras in London.

Bergonzis “are very rare,” Bendix-Balgley says. “One of the great things about the one I got is that it's a little different than a Strad or a Guarneri but with some characteristics of both. I found it a really interesting mix.”

Bendix-Balgley is spreading his wings in Pittsburgh's music scene this season. He joined the faculty at Carnegie Mellon University this fall and is playing more chamber music concerts — including a string trio concert at CMU on Nov. 19. He starts a traversal of Ludwig van Beethoven's 10 Violin Sonatas with pianist David Alan Wehr on Jan. 12 in the Beethoven on the Bluff concert series at Duquesne University.

“Chamber music is one of my big passions,” he says. “I feel chamber music informs a lot of different aspects of being a musician, such as soloist, teacher and orchestral musician. For me, personally, I came from playing quartets and trios and look forward to sharing my love of chamber music with students at Carnegie Mellon.”

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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