“A very talented composer.” Vladimir Ashkenazy, pianist and conductor
“His music, simple and yet very complex at the same time, brings great pleasure and enrichment both to performers and listeners. It takes life ‘between the notes’.” Roberto Prosseda, pianist
With five world premieres, scores of performances of his ‘juggling ballet’ around the world and multiple recordings of his music – and all of this just in 2016 – British-French-Israeli composer Nimrod Borenstein is much in demand. Leading artists and orchestras who champion his work include Vladimir Ashkenazy, the Philharmonia Orchestra, Roberto Prosseda, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, the Oxford Philharmonic and many others. 2017 promises to be a banner year with the release on the Chandos label of a major album conducted by Ashkenazy, entirely devoted to Borenstein’s music.
The son of a renowned artist, Nimrod’s first musical experience came as a child on holiday in France, when on a family walk through a forest they came across an outdoors concert. “I just stopped and refused to move until the concert was finished two hours later. And I told my parents then and there that I wanted to learn violin and be a musician.” recalls Borenstein.
A love affair with music started, with the young Borenstein challenging himself by listening to classical works on the radio, then turning the sound down halfway through and himself scoring the way he felt the next 30 seconds would continue (he was often more or less correct)! Aged eight he developed a twelve-tone system. “I was very pleased with myself, until someone told me that someone called Schoenberg had got there first,” laughs Borenstein.
He won the competition of the Fondation Cziffra aged 15, having asked his teacher if he might apply and being told it was for adult musicians. He applied anyway, secretly, and among his audition works was Mozart’s Third Violin Concerto – György Cziffra stopped him midway through, saying how much he loved the cadenza and asking who’d written it. Borenstein replied that it was his own composition, and the impressed Cziffra gave him the prize.
It was as a violinist that Borenstein attended the Royal College of Music in London, but later won the Leverhulme Fellowship for composition at the Royal Academy of Music (where he is now an Associate). His path was set.
Every composer needs leading artists to perform their music. One of the most important for Borenstein has been Vladimir Ashkenazy, who took an interest in his music early on. A first opportunity to work together arose when the philanthropist Zvi Meitar commissioned a work for his 75th birthday, The Big Bang And Creation Of The Universe. The work was premiered with the Oxford Philomusica (now Philharmonic) under Marios Papadopoulos, after which Ashkenazy conducted it with the Philharmonia. This was quickly followed by a Philharmonia premiere, again with Ashkenazy, If You Will It It Is No Dream. The collaboration has continued, culminating in 2017 with the release of Ashkenazy’s album of Borenstein’s music on Chandos (to include both those works, as well as the Violin Concerto).
Borenstein’s music continued to rise in popularity, with his Shell Adagio in particular proving a success with more than 30 performances by 16 orchestras to date. In 2015 another benchmark success occurred with the premiere at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden of the Gandini Juggling Troupe’s all-juggling ballet, Ephemeral Architectures 4 X 4, set to Borenstein’s specially-commissioned score, Suspended. A huge international success, the ballet has since had more than 100 performances (from the Edinburgh International Festival to the Taipei Arts Festival) and continues to tour the world.
Following that premiere, a full-orchestra recording of Suspended launched the Berlin-based Solaire label. Among the excellent reviews, The Arts Desk wrote, “Borenstein’s transparent, athletic strig writing is stunningly realised…the glorious third section, a dizzying blend of pastiche baroque ornamentation and glorious, singing lines…Borenstein’s sense of fun is infectious, the music moving effortlessly from sultry tango to breezy serenade…”.
Borenstein has shown particular focus in recent years on concertos. His Violin Concerto was premiered by Sitkovetsky in 2014, the year after his Cello Concerto. His Saxophone Concerto, commissioned by the distinguished woodwind manufacturer Buffet Crampon for the saxophonist Michel Supera, was premiered in 2016 by the Orchestre de la Garde républicaine conducted by François Boulanger. The same year saw his Concerto for Trumpet, Piano and String Orchestra premiered in the UK with the English Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Woods, with Simon Desbruslais and Clare Hammond as soloists. A guitar concerto for Costanza Savarese has been completed and Borenstein is writing on a second cello concerto, for the cellist Corinne Morris.
An ongoing “Songs Without Words” project, written for a variety of pianists, recently launched with Robert Prosseda playing Borenstein’s The Dream in Athens. Future plans include recordings, as well as the Ashkenazy / Chandos disc, of the Concerto for Trumpet, Piano and String Orchestra (Signum), of the Cello Concerto No. 2, piano works played by Nadav Hertzka (Skarbo) and more.
Borenstein’s credo? “You have to strive for originality. It cannot be great if it isn’t new. The art has to be personal and to be personal it has to be new. But newness by itself is not enough. You have to try for greatness. Of course you might not achieve it, but it is always the right thing to try. That is the compulsion of the composer.”
Picture: Nataliya Gorbovskaya, 2017