Mozart on ‘Borrow’ time

19-year-old pianist highlights Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble concerts this weekend.

Tom Borrow: I started playing piano at the age of five. Two years later than Mozart. (photo credit: MICHAEL PAVIA)
Tom Borrow: I started playing piano at the age of five. Two years later than Mozart.
(photo credit: MICHAEL PAVIA)
Classical music comes in all shapes and sizes. I once knew someone who was fond of proclaiming: “I love all classical music, as long as it was written by Mozart.” Tom Borrow has no problems with the focal point of my old friend’s somewhat narrow minded take on the vast artistic sphere, although he is perfectly happy to dip into other areas of the musical field.
19-year-old Borrow is one of the star turns at the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble’s forthcoming two-date foray, with concerts at the Rappaport Center in Haifa (November 9, 8:30 p.m.) and the Israeli Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv the next night.
Since its founding in 2001 by conductor and musical director Barak Tal, the chamber music troupe has played a broad body of works that feed off all kinds of classical endeavor, while also happily stepping over strict disciplinary defining cordons to present works from beyond the classical pale. This week’s performance brace, which is dedicated to the memory of pianist and educator Esther Balasha, and her husband, Eliezer, is just about as eclectic as it gets. The program moniker spells out the verified intent – From Shakespeare to Raichel with Keren Hadar. The latter is a soprano who is best known for her operatic and other classical endeavor, and who increasingly makes a habit of delving into more commercially-oriented Israeli climes, lending her considerable vocal prowess to renditions of numbers by the likes of late celebrated song-smith Sasha Argov.
The Haifa and Tel Aviv repertoire, indeed, features two Argov chestnuts – “Shir Mishmar” and “Zeh Loh Bishvili,” arranged by celebrated composer-conductors Noam Sheriff and David Sebba respectively – with an intriguing reading of world music star Idan Raichel’s signature “Mimaakim” and “Mechakeh,” arranged by composer-conductor Rafi Kadishson.
Although he does not generally move in such stylistic circles and is still in the early stages of his career, Borrow has done his bit in more popular Israeli music domains too. That said, he will stick to more recognized classical waters for his spot in the ensemble’s upcoming turns, as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A Major.
THIS WILL be Borrow’s second run out with the orchestra, having recently played Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with it in South Korea. And he is more than happy to play the Mozart piece. “I have a warm spot for this particular concerto,” he says. “I learned it when I was a child. It is one of the first concerti I ever played. It is wonderful to return to it, some years down the road.”
It seems it was a work of note for the creator too. “It is the first special concerto that Mozart offered to the world,” Borrow explains. “It is a very intimate and chamber-like concerto.” The pianist is also quick to cut any thoughts of armchair listening off at the pass. “It is beautiful, and it even has all sorts of harmonic twist that are very surprising,” he adds with alacrity.
Borrow can’t quite compete with the child prodigy kickoff of Mozart, who picked up the rudiments of keyboard dexterity at the age of three – after observing his older sister’s pianistic efforts – writing his first violin sonata and first symphony at the age of eight, the Israeli did get an early start to his own musical path. “I started playing piano at the age of five. Two years later than Mozart,” Borrow laughs.
Mind you, he had already tried his infant hands at an instrument a little lower down the rankings. “We had a little electric organ thing. You know, a kid’s thing.” Borrow soon mastered that, and his parents were only too happy to offer him the opportunity for developing his God-given talent. “My parents saw I was musical so they gave me an upgrade and got me a piano,” he recalls. “They wanted to see how far I could go.”
THE SHORT ANSWER to that, it soon transpired, was pretty far. And the Borrows were not the only ones who had an inkling the youngster was on to something. “My mother decided to take me to [internationally acclaimed pianist, and educator] Dr. Michal Tal. She taught, and still teaches, at the Conservatory of Music in Givatayim.”
Tal confirmed that there was more to the kid’s musical aspirations than just insouciant fervor, although she hadn’t planned on helping him along his musical continuum herself. “She was going to recommend a teacher for me,” Borrow says. “She said she didn’t teach small children.”
Even so, Borrow proved to be a special proposition for Tal, and she duly took him under her experienced wing. “I was with Michal from the age of five to the age of 15, and then I moved on to Prof. Tomer Lev. I have been blessed with two wonderful mentors. I am still with Tomer.”
While Borrow has a penchant for iconic classical composers, such as Mozart and Beethoven, he says he developed a taste for works of different color early on. “I don’t come from a musical family, although my parents had all sorts of classical CDs. I listened to all kinds of things. You could say I dusted the CDs off,” he chuckles. “Until now, I have never really managed to choose a favorite composer. Everything is so beautiful. There are so many works I connect with. I have times and moods when I suddenly get enthusiastic about something. The identity of the composer, for me, is not critical for me at this stage.”
That is not to say that it is all much of a muchness for the young pianist. “I love Bach and also Messiaen,” he notes, the latter referring to 20th century pioneering composer Olivier Messiaen. “Of course, I approach their work differently. But that is the beauty of it all. That is what is fascinating about this all, the different mind-sets, and directions. All this music is just so varied. That keeps me riveted.”
For now, Borrow is perfectly happy just to hone his instrumental skills, and leave the writing to others.  “I did write some cadenzas for all sorts of things. But, at the end of the day, while it is great to engage in different areas of music, I feel most connected with playing music. I feel it is a privilege for to be playing the works of great composers.”
THERE APPEAR to great things in store for Borrow beyond the boundaries of this little country of ours. “I have a few concerts lined up abroad in the coming months,” he notes. “I will play a different Mozart Piano Concerto, in D Minor [Concerto No. 20]. It is completely different from the one I am going to play this week. I will play that with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. At the end of this year I will play a work I feel close to, Concerto No. 3 by Prokofiev. I’ll play that with the London Philharmonic.”
Not bad going for a teenager, and Borrow says he’s up for plenty more where that came from. Besides his own drive, to test his evolving skills, as an artist surely he will have personal baggage with which to imbue his performances as time, and his career, progress. “Life experience definitely plays a major role in musical expression, and the approach to compositions. I think, in every work, you can express a million things in different ways. Every age has beauty to it, and you can express anything with your life experience.”
Borrow says he wants to push the envelope when it comes to “ageism.” “They say there are certain works you shouldn’t try to perform before the age of 50,| he explains. “I don’t really go with that. There are monster works, which I want to get to grips with.” One such biggie is already in the young pianist’s sights. “In the coming year, I have to prepare the ‘Hammerklavier’ for a number of concerts. That is certainly a little intimidating, but I am very happy with that too.” The work in question is Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 29, which is widely viewed as one of the most important works of Beethoven’s oeuvre, and among the greatest piano sonatas of all time. It is often considered Beethoven’s most technically challenging piano composition, and one of the most demanding solo piano works in the entire classical repertoire.
Borrow may be feeling a little “intimidated,” but will face the challenge head on. “I am really hungry for it, and I hope I can take that kind of work on my whole life.”
With that spirit on show, the Haifa and Tel Aviv slots should provide the audiences with entertainment value while setting pulses racing. The rest of wide-ranging concert program includes Gershwin’s “Lullaby,” “Summertime” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” and the world premiere of Boaz Ben-Moshe’s “Sweet Apple.”
For tickets and more information: 04-836-3804 (Haifa), 077-201-9573 (Tel Aviv)