The Phenomenal Berlin Philharmonic

by Jacob Lewis, Opinions writer

When most people think of a night at the symphony, they picture stuffy crowds of stately attendees in dignified attire, lengthy works composed by long-dead Europeans and an environment where so much as a cough provokes dirty looks. 

Although I love classical music, a change to this traditional environment can be a breath of fresh air. At the Berlin Philharmonic’s performance in Boston, such a change occurred — one that had a much deeper impact on me than I could have ever predicted.

After his performance of the 20-minute concerto, violinist Noah Bendix-Balgley, the concertmaster of the orchestra and soloist on the Mozart piece, received thunderous applause as he walked back out onstage for an encore. 

The majority of the time, violinists choose from a very specific repertoire for their encores, so it is often easy to guess what they will play. Instead, Bendix-Balgley announced he was going to play some Klezmer, which is improvisatory Jewish music. I was stunned.

Although Bendix-Balgley’s love of Klezmer is well known — he even wrote an entire Klezmer concerto for violin — I never expected he would play it as an encore. Upon contact with the string, his bow drew out some of the most beautiful Klezmer I have ever heard — his improvisatory slides, articulations and quarter tones between notes sounded like weeping. 

Before long, he began stomping his foot on the ground and shouting out Yiddish phrases to the audience as he played. I had never seen such an encore at the symphony before. 

Bendix-Balgley’s decision to play Klezmer was clearly deliberate. He broke tradition and created some unexpected, but real joy and excitement. I left wondering whether he chose Jewish music specifically to highlight and celebrate the progress that has been made over the past 80 years. 

In the 1940s, a Jewish violinist standing in front of a German orchestra playing Jewish music would have been unthinkable. In 2022, it was a reality — a moment of triumph for Jewish culture. In a world full of bigotry and uncertainty, Bendix-Balgley brought his audience an important reminder of hope — that progress has been made, and there is still lots of joy we can gain from life.

Although it has been almost 80 years since the Nazis ruled Germany, my great-grandparents, Holocaust survivors who lost their entire families, would not have gone to see the Berlin Philharmonic if they were alive today. The painful memory of their tremendous loss would have been too great. However, if they had been there, they would have been incredibly moved to see the progress that has been made and proud to see a great Jewish artist making it happen.