Entrepreneurship and Career Development

Entrepreneur of the Month

Noah Bendix-Balgley


An update on the most recent news and opinion in the music world.

A bi-weekly roundup with advice and news on career development.

Entrepreneur of the Month: January

Noah Bendix-Balgley: First Concertmaster of the Berliner Philharmoniker.

January's Entrepreneur of the month is Jacobs School alumnus Noah Bendix-Balgley. He has created an outstanding career as soloist, chamber musician, and orchestra musician, and has become a household name in the classical music world.

Noah HeadshotFirst Concertmaster of the Berliner Philharmoniker, Noah Bendix-Balgley has thrilled and moved audiences around the world with his performances.

Since becoming a Laureate of the 2009 Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels and gathering top prizes at further international competitions, Noah has appeared as a soloist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the Orchestre National de Belgique, the Utah Symphony, the Auckland Philharmonia, and the Nagoya Philharmonic. In 2016, Noah performed the world premiere of his own klezmer violin concerto, Fidl-Fantazye with the Pittsburgh Symphony, conducted by Manfred Honeck. Recent and forthcoming highlights include his concerto debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in January 2018, recital tours in Taiwan, China, and Europe and performances of his klezmer concerto with orchestras in the USA and with the China Philharmonic, as well as his period instrument debut, performing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Apollo’s Fire Orchestra in Cleveland.

Noah is a passionate and experienced chamber musician. He currently performs as a member of the multigenre septet Philharmonix, which features members of both the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras and will release their new Deutsche Grammophon album in early 2018. Noah performs in a piano trio with cellist Peter Wiley and pianist Robert Levin. Noah appears regularly at music festivals in Europe, North America, and Asia, including the Aspen Festival, Seattle Chamber Music Society, the Sarasota Festival, ChamberFest Cleveland, Domaine Forget, the Zermatt Festival and the Le Pont Festival in Japan.

Born in Asheville, North Carolina, Noah began playing violin at age 4. At age 9, he played for Lord Yehudi Menuhin in Switzerland. Noah graduated from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and the Munich Hochschule. His principal teachers were Mauricio Fuks, Christoph Poppen, and Ana Chumachenco.



Project Jumpstart: Our theme for January at Project Jumpstart is "Performance Excellence", and we'd like to know: how do you maintain your highest level of playing and performing with such a busy schedule?  

Noah Bendix-Balgley: For me, there are a couple of keys to maintaining my level of performance within a busy schedule. First, I have to stay in good instrumental shape. As a performer, just like an athlete, one has to warm up properly and always work on the basics of instrumental technique. If I only have a few minutes to practice in between rehearsals, I find it more important to touch on some fundamentals of violin playing, rather than hurrying to learn more notes and repertoire.

Another aspect that I have learned over the years is to prioritize my preparation. I look ahead at upcoming programs and concerts, and I organize repertoire into categories. There are pieces that need in-depth long-term preparation, for example, solo works that I will perform. Then there are works that I need to study more than practice. This is often orchestral repertoire, in which knowing the score and how my part fits into it is vitally important before the first rehearsal takes place. In my preparation for orchestral repertoire, I categorize pieces into ones that I am familiar with and have played, which can be touched upon in my practice at the last minute, and unfamiliar new works, which need to be looked at earlier. 

An important point is not to waste time practicing things that I can already do quite well!More and more I find that I can effectively prepare many things without the instrument, instead working with scores and listening to recordings. This of course means that I can work while I am traveling, which is very important, considering how much I am on the road.

Noah Video

Noah Bendix-Balgley: Classical and Klezmer

PJ: How do you prepare for all your auditions? And conversely, as a person often on the other side of the screen, what do you listen for in an audition? What sets the highest performers apart?

NBB: I feel I was very lucky with the auditions that I won. When I auditioned for the Concertmaster position with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 2010, I had just finished my graduate studies in Germany. I was thrilled to get an invitation to try out, but I did not have any expectations that something would come of it, since I had very limited professional experience as a concertmaster, and never with a great orchestra like the Pittsburgh Symphony. So I went into the situation without any expectation or pressure to win the job.

Of course I tried to prepare as thoroughly as possible. This involved a well-structured practice routine, and lots of time spent getting to know the audition repertoire, not only my own part, but the score and the style of the particular pieces. I played the concertmaster excerpts for as many people as I could, especially other concertmasters, so that I could get a lot of feedback.
Once I was actually playing the audition, I tried to look at it as a performance, rather than an audition or test. Of course there were nerves, but also an enjoyment having the opportunity to perform in a beautiful hall.

Similarly for my audition with the Berlin Philharmonic in 2014, I didn’t go into the audition expecting to win at all. I received an invitation for the audition less than a month before it took place. I wasn’t even sure I should take part, since there was so little time to prepare and I had many commitments in Pittsburgh during that time as well. I knew the audition repertoire quite well though, which was a life-saver.

I remember vividly a conversation with my former teacher at IU, Mauricio Fuks. I wasn’t sure I should do the audition and I called him. He said if I spent those few weeks worrying whether I had enough time to prepare or whether I could win, then I should forget it, and not go. Rather, I should calmly prepare and think of it as an opportunity to perform in the Berlin Philharmonie hall.

His advice was exactly what I needed. Once on the stage, I tried to enjoy and explore the amazing acoustic of the hall and to interact musically with the accompanist.
I was quite shocked when I won the job!

I have now been in audition committees a number of times. From the other side, I can tell you that we really want everyone to play their best. People on audition committees are not just waiting for you to screw up so they can eliminate you, which I believe is a common feeling among auditioners! These days, the technical level of playing is incredibly high. So of course to win a job, one has to have this technical command. The listener should never have a doubt about one’s command of the instrument. It has to be self-evident. More importantly though is an audition presentation that allows the audition committees to sit back and simply listen to a wonderful performance.

I always take many notes while listening to auditions. I have noticed though that when I hear a really successful audition, I stop writing and just enjoy listening to the performance. If that happens, I know that they’ve won me over.


PJ: You recently performed the world premiere of your own klezmer violin concerto. What is your composition process, and how does that relate to yourself as a performer? How did you go about getting to perform your own composition? Additionally, we would love to hear about the richness of the Jewish legacy, or about your particular relationship with this culture.

NBB: My compositional process relates directly to my violin playing. I started composing some pieces for myself to play when I was quite young, and I’ve always enjoyed composing my own cadenzas for violin concertos. I generally just start fooling around on the violin, trying things out and then sorting and organizing later on.
The klezmer violin concerto was a project that I had in mind for a long time. But at first I wasn’t sure I would be the one to write it!

I have played klezmer music since I was very young. My father is a dancer and dance teacher who specializes in Eastern European folk dancing, including Yiddish dance. I grew up around klezmer music, listening to recordings and hearing live bands playing it at festivals and workshops where my father was teaching. I loved the music and started to learn klezmer tunes from the musicians. Once I learned a new klezmer piece, I could start to make it my own, adding my own ornaments and improvising around it. This was a different approach to musical interpretation than I was learning with my classical studies, but for me it was a wonderful enrichment for my musical identity. And the klezmer music is completely infectious and fun to play.

In recent years, I have looked for ways to bring the worlds of klezmer and classical violin playing together. I have performed many classical violin works that draw inspiration and materials from traditional Jewish melodies, works by composers such as Ernest Bloch, Joseph Achron, Alexander Krein, Joel Engel, and Osvaldo Golijov.

I had a dream of commissioning a composer to write a klezmer concerto for me while I was concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony. I looked around and didn’t find exactly the composer to do this. The idea languished for a while.
Finally, two important and influential people in my life suggested I should write it myself. They were my father and the music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, Manfred Honeck. I had never attempted something of this scale before, but I thought I would try, especially given this vote of confidence from my father and from Honeck.

I wrote the solo violin part and an accompaniment outline. I composed my own melodies, rather than use existing traditional ones. I wanted to create a virtuoso violin concerto in the klezmer style. I was very lucky to have the wonderful composer Samuel Adler orchestrate the piece for me. I’m very excited to be playing ‘Fidl-Fantazye’ in Bloomington with the IU Philharmonic Orchestra during my upcoming visit.


PJ: As a chamber musician, what do you view as the most important aspect for success of the ensemble? What do you think is necessary in launching a chamber ensemble to a higher level?

NBB: It is very challenging to ‘make it’ as a chamber ensemble. The competition is fierce and the challenges tough. On the other hand, playing chamber music is what many of us enjoy doing most. For a chamber ensemble to succeed, the most important is that the individual members have artistic chemistry with each other and can work well together on a personal level. The working process in a full-time chamber group is incredibly intense. It is like being married to your colleagues! So it is essential that everyone can work together well. Then for professional success the group must have a clear sense of their identity. What do they want to communicate artistically? Do they have a particular specialty - contemporary music, collaborations with other artistic genres, revealing interpretations of the classic works of the repertoire? These are important questions for an ensemble to consider. 


Photo credit: Monica Rittershaus

PJ: How did you make use of your time at Indiana University? In what ways did your time at IU prepare you for the outside world, and what do you wish you had taken advantage of more?

NBB: I had a wonderful experience at Indiana University. I was lucky to have an amazing violin teacher, Professor Mauricio Fuks, who is still teaching at the Jacobs School of Music. The main part of my time at IU was my individual work improving my violin playing and working with Professor Fuks. Besides I tried to play as much chamber music as I could, since that is one of my great passions. I was very happy that I went to a school like IU where I could take many courses outside of the music department, and I tried to take advantage of this as much as possible. Courses in the history, mathematics, fine arts and language departments were wonderful supplements to my musical education. I wish perhaps that I had continued taking such courses throughout my undergraduate studies, but in the last couple of years of my time at IU, I realized I needed to hunker down and really dedicate myself to practicing and improving as a violinist if I wanted to succeed as a performer. 


PJ: Finally, for all our current students, what advice do you have for the, as they prepare to graduate but don’t have full-time work lined up? 

NBB: Looking back at my student days at IU, I realize that the amount of time that I had at my disposal as a student was an incredible luxury. Once you get a position as a professional, whether as a solo performer, in an orchestra or teaching, you realize quickly that there is very little time. And if you are searching for work or auditioning, there is a lot of stress and time involved as well.

At school, I would have months to prepare a difficult piece. Nowadays, it is often just a few days. Students have a wonderful opportunities to take advantage of at IU. There are so many performances and resources. The more you soak in a student, not just of your own instrument or discipline, but from all around, the better shape you will be in once you have left school. If you are an instrumentalist, go listen to singers, and talk to musicologists. Check out performances at the Theater Department or learn a foreign language. It is all right there at your fingertips.

In today’s music world, simply playing your instrument well is no longer a guarantee for a successful career. We have to create our own multi-faceted careers. Musicians who are curious and adventurous, with wide-ranging interests are at an advantage.

Let’s say we take two good young cellists, both graduating from IU. One has spent most of his time at school obsessively practicing orchestral excerpts, but has had little time for other musical experiences. The second cellist has been dedicated to her individual improvement, but has also taken some improvisation classes, and has started writing arrangements for a trio she’s founded with fellow students. The trio plays at local retirement homes and at some jam sessions. To get more gigs and exposure for the group, this cellist has also learned some basics of web design, and is learning about recording engineering as well, so that they can make some recordings.

The first cellist has only one road to professional success. Win an orchestral audition.

This second cellist is setting herself up for success, even if she doesn’t know exactly what shape it will take later.

None of know exactly what form our professional careers will take. But taking advantage of the resources and time available as a student can open many doors for a professional path to develop and flourish.

Come meet Noah in person in our {well-advised} lunch! 
January 31, 2018 | 12:30-2:00pm | MAC Mezzanine.

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Project Jumpstart partners with the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the IU Kelley School of Business.