‘It does not matter where you live, this is all about the sense of belonging,” says the internationally acclaimed composer Nimrod Borenstein, 49, with the disarming smile of an ever happy child, as he sits in a Tel Aviv café on the eve of the Israeli premiere of his The Big Bang and Creation of the Universe. “I was born in Tel Aviv, raised in Paris and have been living in London for thirty years – but opening the newspaper in the morning, I first of all look at what is going on in Israel.”
Borenstein was born into the family of renowned artist Alec Borenstein, whose parents moved to France when their only child was just three years old. “Music has always been with me,” he recollects. I started learning music at the age of three and quickly decided that I want to be a composer. I wrote my first piece at six. I loved math, too – complexity and logic is what mathematics and music have in common; math is a pure creation of mind and formulas are elegant. But I knew that this is music, which I cannot live without.”
He returned to Israel every summer to spend six weeks with his grandmother. One summer, being just 10, he discovered philosophy books in the family library and started reading them. “I was always attracted to logic,” he says.
Studying violin and piano in Paris, he became a laureate of the Cziffra Foundation, which helps young musicians at the outset of their careers, and subsequently 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 UK’s Leverhulme Trust to study composition with Paul Patterson at the Royal Academy of Music.
“I was still very young but I already was a composer, so the learning was like a partnership with my teacher. I was coming with a piece which was already ready and we were spending five or six hours together,” recollects Borenstein. “I gave my last concert as a violinist at 22. I first thought that I would combine these two careers but practically it was impossible, since there are not enough hours in a day. And then I read that Chopin gave only 30 concerts in his entire life.”
BY AGE 18, he had quite a few compositions to his credit. “And then I started thinking – what will be my Opus #1? I opted for a cello sonata, which was good anyway, literary burning my other compositions; it was very youthful, eh?” he smiles. “And now I am at my Opus 83. This includes 7 concerti, music for ballet, pieces for choir, chamber music – a little bit of everything.”
Nimrod Borenstein revealed that he is currently working on several projects, which include a Requiem and a song cycle for piano and soprano on Shakespeare sonnets, with some being really important for him, such as an opera on the Dreyfus affair.
“I’ve been writing music for 42 years and always wanted to do my thing, but there is a danger of re-writing myself. In some way, we do this, because this is how we can recognize a composer by his style. But at the same time, pieces should be different and over the years I find it more and more difficult.”
So what is important for him in his music?
“It might sound funny, but for me it is important that it would be as good as that of Beethoven. I aspire for perfection. There is that phrase in the movie Amadeus. Mozart says: “The exact amount of notes exactly in the right place.” I feel the same, and this balance is probably the major challenge in all art. This sounds very analytic but again, I don’t really know what I want to do. I just want to write a piece which will be powerful.”
Borenstein’s compositions are being premiered and performed throughout Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Israel, South America, Russia and the USA at prestigious venues – from the Royal Opera House and the Royal Festival Hall in London to the Salle Gaveau in Paris and Carnegie Hall in New York.
That said, the composer is modesty incarnate. When the interviewer mentions this quality, Borenstein only smiles: “Oh, this is funny, because Vladimir Ashkenazy says the same thing.” Ashkenazy is the world renowned pianist cum conductor and a great champion of Borenstein’s output.
THE ISRAEL CAMERATA Jerusalem Orchestra, under its artistic director Avner Biron Israeli, is premiering Borenstein’s The Big Bang and Creation of the Universe (2009).
“This 22-minutes-long piece in three movements is sort of a symphony with elements of a concerto,” he said. “It was commissioned by the family of Zvi Meitar, a great philanthropist of arts, for his 75 birthday. Meitar, who passed away two years ago, was a special person of many interests. Once, while we were lunching together, he said: “I don’t want to impose on you anything, but...” And he told me that he once sponsored research showing that the theory of the Big Bang and the Torah do not contradict one another. I did not read the entire book, but just thirty pages of commentaries to Genesis,” he said.
“For me as a composer, the theme of Creation is very interesting and I wrote many pieces on it, mostly based on the Bible because this is a beautiful text. And then I thought it would be interesting to write another piece about Creation, but from scientific point of view,” the composer said.
Borenstein’s music is barely performed in his homeland, if at all. “Probably because I come to Israel for vacations and prefer to go to the beach and not to work,” he laughs, adding without elaboration: “But it is going to change soon; I have more plans here.”
The concerts take place November 11 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, November 13 at Henry Crown Hall in Jerusalem and November 15 at Elma Hall in Zichron Ya’acov.
The program also features Mozart’s Symphony #41, and Requiem, by Zelenka, with Israeli and international soloists.
For more information and reservations: https://www.jcamerat
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