Nimrod Borenstein: Suspended
Operas and symphonies are still being produced in plentiful number, but the ballet, once a classical staple, would seem to be a less popular form today than it once was. Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky stand out as the form's primary champions of the early 20th-century, but only a small number of contemporary composers have given their attention to it, with Philip Glass one who immediately comes to mind for Einstein On the Beach (its dance-centered aspects, that is), his collaboration with Robert Wilson, and his numerous dance pieces, some of them brought to the stage by Twyla Tharp (In the Upper Room) and Jerome Robbins (Glasspieces). It's somewhat puzzling that so few ballets are being created for the simple reason that, being so fundamentally grounded in rhythm, ballets possess an immediate and visceral appeal that naturally should endear them to listeners. Perhaps it has to do with the dance work's comparatively modest character. In that regard, it's easy to understand why composers would be drawn to opera, especially when the prospect of holding listeners in thrall for hours with a Gesamtkunstwerk of Wagnerian scale possesses understandable appeal.
Be that as it may, if anyone's cognizant of ballet's dynamic potential, it's Nimrod Borenstein, whose Suspended is about as accessible a contemporary classical composition as one might find in 2015. That's no knock against it, either: on formal grounds, it's a work of integrity—even if it's also easy to warm up to. Conducted by Brazilian maestro Laércio Diniz and performed by das freie orchester Berlin (a strings-only ensemble small in size compared to the conventional symphony orchestra), Suspended is a nine-part composition Borenstein originally created as a score for Sean Gandini's 4×4 Ephemeral Architectures, a stage work involving, unusually enough, juggling. The challenge for Borenstein involved creating a ballet that would work effectively with the choreography but also as a composition in its own right.
The forty-one-minute recording has lots going for it: Solaire's in-house ensemble distinguishes Borenstein's score with an impassioned and texturally luscious reading; the strings-only presentation and emphasis on elegantly lilting rhythms likens it to Stravinsky's Apollon musagète and Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht (see, for example, “The World of Yesterday: Moderato” and “Tomorrow's Waltz”); and Borenstein's material often exudes a Bach-like purity. There's an immediacy and directness to the work that also enhances its appeal, as exemplified by the descriptive titling of certain parts (e.g., “Tango,” “Pizzicatto Serenade”), plus audacity's present in the way Suspended begins in decidedly undance-like mode with a ponderous, two-minute intro (featuring violin and double bass only) before the ballet music formally commences. In the pieces that follow, “Stillness” is pitched at the level of a whisper yet is no less entrancing for being so; “Boys and Girls,” on the other hand, is playful and bright in keeping with its subject matter.Mention must be made of the high-quality presentation of the release by Solaire, a new label headed up by classical producer Dirk Fischer, brother to journalist Tobias of the Tokafi and 15 Questions sites. The label's very much a family affair, at least insofar as Suspended is concerned, with Dirk the recording's producer and Tobias responsible for a significant part of its text content. The jewel-cased CD and accompanying booklet of articles and essays are snugly packaged within a deluxe case whose full-colour design is striking, and the texts by Fischer et al. enhance the listening experience (even if a typo does misidentify Georges Balanchine as Blanchine).