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Hugo De Pril

Interview with Queen Elisabeth finalist Noah Bendix-Balgley

May 29, 2009 at 6:27 PM

Where are you originally from?

I was born in Asheville, North Carolina and grew up there.
How old were you when you started playing the violin? What made you start, and what made you keep with it?
I started violin when I was four and a half years old. My parents asked me if I wanted to learn the violin, because I liked a children's book about the orchestra (it was called 'The Philharmonic gets dressed'!). I knew quite early on that I wanted to continue playing violin, and I never had any pressure from my parents to play or to practice.

Noah Bendix-Balgley

Who is your current violin teacher? Are you currently in school, and if so, where? Who have been your most influential teachers, and in what way?
I study currently in Munich, Germany at the Hochschule fur Musik und Theater. In Munich I have worked with Christoph Poppen, and with Ana Chumachenco as well. I studied for many years in Bloomington, Indiana with Mauricio Fuks. Professor Fuks was a very important influence on me. I started lessons with him at the age of thirteen. He had me go back to the very basics of technique at the beginning, and really gave me a secure technical foundation. Mr. Fuks is a brilliant pedagogue- he really considers the personality of each student and adapts his teaching to best suit their individual needs. For me, we worked a lot on opening up physically and emotionally for the music.
Is this your first competition?
No- I have participated in many competitions in the US and in Europe. The Queen Elisabeth competition is such a big challenge, and you need experience with competitions before entering it.
Have you played/placed in or won any other competitions?
I won the first prize at the Andrea Postacchini Competition in Fermo, Italy (2007) and 3rd prize at the Long-Thibaud Competition in Paris (2008).
What made you decide to enter the Queen Elisabeth Competition?
It is the biggest and most prestigious violin competition in the world, and I wanted to try it once.
What was unique about this competition?
There a few aspects that make the Queen Elisabeth unique. First, its length. In all, the competition lasts over a month, so it is a real test for endurance. And then there is the week in isolation for the finalists in the Chapelle Musicale. A week before the final performance, each contestant enters the Chapelle and receives the score of a new, previously unpublished violin concerto. We have to prepare this on our own, without help from teachers. And there is no contact with the outside world during this week: no cell phones, no internet, no Facebook! But for me, it was really a great experience, and I got to know the other finalists well. The atmosphere was collegial and supportive among the candidates.
How did you prepare for this competition? Is it any different from preparing for a regular performance? Did you do anything special to prepare?
To prepare for a major competition, you have to make a plan on how to tackle to repertoire required. For the Queen Elisabeth, there were so many pieces required (I think 13 altogether), so I tried to balance my daily practice between working on pieces that were new for me (such as the Bartok 1st concerto and the Ledoux) with pieces that I have already performed. Preparing for a competition is of course a little different than for a normal performance. I focus in my practice a lot on playing very accurately and making sure that I express my musical ideas clearly. However, in the end, I think of each competition round as a performance. I think this is very important.

What part of your preparation helped you the most in the end?
It helped me that I had played and performed a large part of the repertoire before, so I felt comfortable with the pieces.
What were you thinking when you were in solitary confinement? How did you keep your focus?
During the week in the Chapelle, I practiced a lot, but also tried to take breaks and relax in between, often with the other finalists. We played a lot of table tennis and billiards and went running to get our minds off the competition. And I tried to rest well- to get enough sleep and to keep myself fit.
What was the most challenging thing about the new piece? Technique? Musicality?
The imposed piece for the final (Agens) was very challenging technically. I spent most of my time just learning the notes and trying to understand the piece. Luckily I had a little time left at the end of the week to think more musically about the piece and come up with my own interpretation.
What will you tell your grandchildren about this competition, what is your favorite memory? What was your favorite and most memorable part of the competition?
The performance I enjoyed most was the Mozart concerto in the semifinal. I felt there was a good rapport with the conductor and the orchestra, and I really enjoyed myself. And of course playing the finals with the National Orchestra of Belgium in the Palais des Beaux Arts was unforgettable.
Now that the competition is over: if you could play any piece you wanted to, at this point, just for fun and the love of the violin, what would you play? Why?
I always have a number of pieces I am itching to play. I want to learn the Bartok 2nd concerto this summer, and also the Prokofiev violin sonatas.
What are your ambitions for the future? Has being in this competitio, influenced the way you are thinking about what you want to do in the future?
My ambitions for the future remain the same. I want to perform as a soloist and a chamber musician, and I hope this competition will offer me new opportunities to do so.

Posted on May 29, 2009 at 11:14 PM

I have found the system of this competion quite interesting in a world where everything is getting faster  and faster.   I've heard some videos of the finalists and they are quite quite good players.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on May 30, 2009 at 3:48 AM

 Wonderful interview!

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