Nimrod Borenstein, a renowned composer, artist and a friend of IJMC Belgrade
The name of Nimrod Borenstein has a strong echo in the worldwide scene of professional musicians and composers, and especially in the IJMC life in the past decade. His piece Soliloquy op. 59 for solo cello was one of the compulsory pieces dedicated to the 45th International Jeunesses Musicales Competition - Belgrade in the cello discipline in 2015. The same scenario was prepared for the next cycle of the cello competition, inducting his ''Odysseus'' op. 87 for violoncello and piano as one of the compulsory pieces in the Second stage. The winner of the award for the best performance of ''Odysseus'' was Christina Bensi from Greece, to the satisfaction of the author himself which he publicly announced.
With many world premieres, scores of performances and multiple recordings of his music, British-French-Israeli composer Nimrod Borenstein is much in demand. Leading artists, ensembles and institutions who feature his work include Vladimir Ashkenazy, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, the Enescu Festival, Ex Cathedra, the Quartetto di Cremona, the Israel Camerata, Roberto Prosseda, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, and many others. The 2019/20 season sees commissioned Borenstein works from both the Hong Kong International Piano Competition and the International Jeunesses Musicales Competition and at least 10 other world and regional premieres - among them Lullaby for string quartet and clarinet (prem. Quartetto di Cremona and David Orlowsky, California); Odysseus for cello and piano (prem. International Jeunesses Musicales Competition, Belgrade) and L'Oiseau bleu for solo harp and string orchestra (prem. Anne-Sophie Bertrand, World Harp Congress, Cardiff). Also Yodit for string orchestra (Orquestra Sinfônica Municipal de João Pessoa, Brazil, who are presenting a different Borenstein work every month for seven months in this season).
The son of a renowned painter, 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)!
In 1984 he won the competition of the Cziffra Foundation, and moved to London in 1986, to pursue his studies as a violinist with Itzhak Rashkovsky at the Royal College of Music. He was then awarded the highest scholarship from the Leverhulme Trust to study composition at the Royal Academy of Music (where he is now an Associate).
Every composer needs artists to perform their music. One of the most important for Borenstein has been Vladimir Ashkenazy, who took an interest early on. The first opportunity to work together arose when Ashkenazy conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra for a performance of The Big Bang and Creation of the Universe to great acclaim. This was quickly followed by a Philharmonia premiere, again with Ashkenazy, If you will it, it is no dream. The collaboration has continued, including in 2017 the release on the Chandos label of a major album conducted by Ashkenazy, entirely devoted to Borenstein’s music. That recording was highly successful and was named BBC Music Magazine 'Choice'.
Borenstein’s music continues to rise in popularity. His ballet score, Suspended, has received more than 150 performances (from the Edinburgh International Festival to the Taipei Arts Festival) since its premiere in January 2015 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The score was the launch-recording of the Berlin-based Solaire label.
Other recent recordings include his Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and strings (English Symphony Orchestra, SIgnum) and "Reminiscences" (Nadav Hertzka, Skarbo). A new string quartet commission, Cieli d'Italia, will feature on the next recording of the Quartetto di Cremona, and two of his solo violin works feature on the forthcoming album from Olga Kaler (Centaur).
Borenstein is prolific in writing concertos for a wide variety of instruments, recently including his Cello Concerto No. 2 (premiered by Corinne Morris and the BBC Philharmonic under Frederic Chaslin, broadcast on BBC Radio 3), L'Oiseau bleu for harp and String Orchestra, Concerto for Trumpet, Piano and String Orchestra, and the concerto for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra. He is currently a quarter of the way through a multi-year '24 Piano Études' project (after Chopin).
Borenstein's substantial catalog continues to develop and currently numbers more than eighty works including ballet, concertos, orchestral and chamber music as well as vocal and solo instrumental pieces. There are numbers of his pieces and other videos available at Nimrod's Youtube channel
A few words about Nimrod Borenstein and his work
“A very talented composer.”
Vladimir Ashkenazy, pianist and conductor
"An exuberantly inventive composer"
BBC Music Magazine
"For sheer pleasure and melodic inventiveness, nothing I have heard this year touches this delightful CD"
"superbly written for the soloist: the objective qualities of Nimrod Borenstein's violin concerto should ensure its durability."
"Contemporary works full of grand gestures and soaring melody"
"Brilliant - it begins and ends there"
"Proof of modern music’s dizzying variety is found on this beguiling disc"
Nimrod Borenstein about the piece ''Odysseus''
The city of Belgrade has a special place in my heart; my good friend the cellist Sandra Belic gave the world premiere of my first cello concerto there in 2013 and in 2015, my Soliloquy opus 59 for solo cello (2012) was chosen as a set piece for the first round of the 45th International Jeunesses Musicales Competition. Therefore, I was delighted to be asked to compose a piece for the 50th International Jeunesses Musicales Competition – Belgrade and I am very much looking forward to coming back to the city.
Odysseus opus 87 was written in 2019 and is my third piece for violoncello and piano, having previously written The Magic Mountain opus 30 (2003) and Heroic Elegy opus 67 (2014). It is interesting that the three pieces for cello and piano I have written, although very different in many aspects, have something in common: they are short, single-movement compositions which, by their intensity and rich inner diversity, give the illusion of much longer works.
There are many examples in the cello literature of short compositions or salon pieces but, precisely because they are “cello pieces”, the piano part is usually minimal and mostly supportive. Contrastingly, my pieces include an essential piano part as elaborate as the cello part. In a sense, these pieces are not unlike mini-sonatas, closer in many ways to the big form than the show pieces. Perhaps they are, in essence, what the short story is to the novel in literature.
Writing meaningful new virtuosic pieces is an important part of my artistic interest and journey at present. I have written many concertos and have also a project of writing 24 Etudes for solo piano. Only recently, my sixth piano Etude, the Méphisto Étude opus 66 No. 6, was commissioned by the Hong Kong International Piano Competition and performed by the semi finalists of the 2019 competition. It was hence significant for me that unlike the two previous cello and piano pieces I wrote, Odysseus was written specifically for a competition. I thought it important that, apart from being a beautiful and strong work, the piece should also be a vehicle for the cellists to demonstrate their mastery, both musical and technical.
The quality I am most interested in finding in a performer and the way I understand the meaning of the word virtuosity, is the ability of the musician to find quality, richness and variety in the sounds they can produce with their instrument in all situations, but especially in technically challenging passages. This is because I believe that contrast is one of the most important elements in music and art. Contrasts provide interest and create structure whilst showing the ambivalence of all things.
I always write a piece first and then, when completed, try to find a poetic title as close as possible to the essential feel of the finished composition. Odysseus was chosen because, although not long in minutes, the piece felt like a great voyage - a quest. The hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey seemed, in my view, to symbolize the piece well, with his qualities of temerity and intelligence and the many adventures he encounters.
The first nine bars of Odysseus are grandiose, a dialogue between the cello and piano full of courage, fire and energy. Oscillating between dynamics of mezzo forte and forte our first theme is initially stated by the piano and then taken over by the cello in bar five, developing rapidly with a big crescendo and culminating in an immense fortissimo in bar eight. The three long notes of solo cello in bar nine take us from this exulted and loud state to a very peaceful and soft theme. It is as if the first eight bars took us straight to battle and then we go back in time and reminisce about earlier, more peaceful times; our journey truly begins here.
It would take too long to describe all the piece chronologically, suffice to say that Odysseus contains many contrasting passages, from the slow to the fast, from the light, melancholic, dark or dreamy to the dramatic and explosive. However, no description of the piece would be complete without mentioning my use of very complex rhythmic combinations.
During the last decade, I have been fascinated by rhythm and, more specifically, by what I call suspension (I even named my music for ballet Suspended!). There are several different types of suspensions, but the main point of it is the feel of gliding, like when you stop pedaling on a bicycle and enjoy the effortless ride. It is about creating tension and then letting go. There are parts in the piece when the effect is achieved by having many voices together and then suddenly only one voice emerging, giving us that sense of pure simplicity. At other times, it is by using one of my more recent and almost trademark rhythms: the triplet of minims (3 equal notes lasting as long as 4 beats) or four dotted quavers (4 equal notes lasting as long as 3 beats). Yet another way, is when I have melodies on top of one another that are felt in different meters: for example, if everything is written in 4/4, (four beats by bar) one voice could have a melody in 3 beats whilst the other, parallel to it, is in 4 beats. This way of writing my music provokes a sensation of floating and timelessness when the aforementioned rhythms are at a slow to medium speed, or gives a feel of drive and excitement when fast.
At this point, I do not wish to analyse my music in finer detail. In music, we can describe thousands of ways of feeling sad, but we have only a few words in our vocabulary to describe them... so the best way to discover my music is to listen to it!