‘A Good Piece Is One That Persuades You At This Moment That It’s The Most Beautiful Thing In The World’

Chopin: Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat major, Op. 61

young Israeli pianist Tom Borrow

Tom Borrow © Gramophone

Barely age 21, young Israeli pianist Tom Borrow is making a name for himself as a great international soloist. Dubbed “The very definition of ‘one to watch’” by International Piano, Tom’s upcoming engagements include the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic, and the New Jersey and São Paolo Symphonies. I talk to him in Toulouse, during a brief day off in between performances with the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, about Chopin and music away from the piano…

What inspired you to take up your instrument?

I would have to say it was somewhat coincidental. It wasn’t a paved way for me, from my parents or something like that. It turned out to be quite a discovery for me! As a kid, in our home we had not even a piano or keyboard – something of that sort, but nothing that resembles a real instrument, and somehow from there it became upgraded to the real thing.

What inspired you to become a professional?

I don’t remember a real turning point – I remember always enjoying it as a kid. The first time when I played with an orchestra, I remember that that was something I wanted to do again, most definitely. I must have been 10 and we played a Mozart concerto – it’s a C Major concerto but not the one that’s extremely popular.

It really is a joy to play concerti. It’s amazing because it’s somehow everything at once, everything that performing music can give you. Especially with Mozart, it’s obviously a solo concerto but it’s also chamber music, and it’s just everything in a good amount. I love it.

Which composer[s] do you feel the most comfortable with?

I’m going to give you such a disappointing answer. I really really am just never able to choose a composer. I really find that I adore almost everything, all periods and all styles. I rarely feel that I have my favourite – usually my favourite is what I’m working on at the moment.

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3

Who inspires you now?

Again, that is the same as the composers – there are so many artists I admire. To be honest, it really depends on the day. Maybe a few months ago I adore this pianist or artist, it can be anyone. It really differs. I can point at someone whose recordings I really like at the moment: the Czech pianist Ivan Moravec, his Chopin is really just gorgeous.

© Tal Givony

I actually listen the least to piano [music]. I usually listen to other instruments – I hear so much piano all day so it’s nice to hear symphonies or vocal works or chamber music, that’s usually what I listen to most. I guess it’s fair to say I get some inspiration from those, definitely. The piano is such a limited instrument, somehow. It’s both limited and without limits, but symphonic works are definitely another needed dimension. […] Some piano pieces are very orchestral, so being exposed to the orchestral world is essential – apart from the fact that it’s gorgeous.

Is there any repertoire you haven’t performed yet that you would like to in the future?

Actually, coming up, the next project I have is something that would’ve been my answer all this time to that question, and it’s finally arriving. It’s the two Brahms concertos – I’m playing them with the Basque National Orchestra. I’m really looking forward to it because it’s always been a real dream to play these pieces.

I always say number one is the most beautiful in the world and then I move on to number two and then I say, ‘Oh no, number two is the most beautiful in the world.’ This happens to me with many pieces, but you know, a good piece is one that persuades you at this moment that it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.

Is there a particular composer / piece that you’ve really felt your relationship with change with over time (for better or worse)?

© America-Israel Cultural Foundation

My views on pieces, they do change all the time. When I come back to pieces, especially after a long time, I do definitely see them differently, which is I guess the fun part of it. It’s impossible to cover everything in just one round of playing. Living with a piece is really covering everything, or maybe even not covering everything, but as much as you can.

I feel like I have a very varied relationship with Chopin. I feel like I choose to play Chopin more often now than back then. One of the things that helped – it’s not that I didn’t like Chopin before – is that I was exposed to some really marvelous recordings that I’d never heard before, and now I think about it they may have lit something inside me. Especially old recordings, because back then the way of playing Chopin was really quite different.

Today, the halls are so large, and so many people, right to the last row, have to hear your Chopin, and back then, the sound concept was more of a chamber-like, warmer sound. And also there are some stylistic things that were very interesting, in terms of freedom: people would break chords if they wanted, the hands weren’t exactly together, and it gives this really wonderful fluidity to the music.

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  1. I was bowled over by Tom’s interpretation of the Schumann fantasy on BBC sounds. It is as complete and ardent as Pollini’s and I would buy it now if I could. For a 21 year old is phenomenal and I will follow Tom’s output as much as possible.

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