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Cellist Rising

Cellist Tyler Borden is committed to the music of emerging and underrepresented composers. (photo by Brianne Borden)

Cellist T. J. Borden takes it to the edge

One of the highlight’s of last spring’s classical music season was the well received, long overdue Buffalo area premiere of Witold Lutosławski’s 1970 Concerto for Cello and Orchestra by the UB Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of its innovative music director, Daniel Bassin. The difficulty of the concerto’s solo part is best illustrated by the fact that the renowned veteran Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, the work’s dedicatee, had to invent new fingerings in order to perform it. A key element in the success of the UB performance was the committed, technically polished playing of the soloist, cellist Tyler Borden, a 24-year-old UB graduate student, who mastered the work’s intricacies with elegant grace.

Classical music lovers will have an opportunity to hear Borden this Friday at 7pm, when he performs solo works by Ligeti and Zimmermann in the intimate setting of PAUSA Art House, located on Wadsworth at the foot of Allen, the hippest new concert venue in Buffalo.

“György Ligeti’s wrote his Solo Sonate when he was still a student,” says Borden, “and he completed the first movement in 1948 as a love letter to a classmate who was a cellist. He wrote the second movement five years later and paired the two as a cello sonata. In this piece you can hear his early influences, Zoltán Kodaly and Béla Bartok, and you can hear the first step towards the unique musical vision for which he would later become known.”

The other work on Friday’s program is Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Sonata for Solo Cello—a piece, Borden says, “I fell in love with immediately, as it pushes the instrument to its timbral limits in a unique and cohesive way, though it is still quite disjunct in other respects. It was written for German cellist and modern music champion Siegfried Palm. Jonathan Golove, my cello teacher at UB, studied it with Palm, so I wanted to take advantage of his experience with the piece.”

Borden, known as T. J. to many, began studying the cello at the age of six. “My first private teacher was Polly Hunsberger, whom I studied with for nine years in my hometown, Rochester,” he says. “She instilled good foundations in me, both with regard to technique and expression. I received my bachelor’s of music from Ithaca College, where I studied with Elizabeth Simkin, who strengthened my discipline towards my instrument immeasurably and encouraged me to explore my own voice in contemporary music.”

As an undergraduate, Borden participated in the Sound Ways New Music Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia, an experience he describes as “pretty exhilarating, since I was a sophomore in college and had only just started developing my passion for new music. To be thrown into a faculty-student ensemble and asked to perform music that required a reorientation of my previous technical training towards the use of extended techniques and alternate tunings, among other things, was a challenge, but one that taught me a great deal.”

Borden is currently a member of Wooden Cities, a Buffalo-based new music collective of musicians dedicated to performing the work of emerging and underrepresented composers. He has played in a wide variety of alternative performing venues. “I play in unusual venues because they are the only places for some of the music I play to be heard in a public setting. In addition to composed music, I also play a significant amount of improvised music with a variety of unique musicians, and you would be hard-pressed to find a proper hall or theater that would be willing to have us play some of our music. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an audience, so we work with what we have—bars, cafes, and even living rooms and basements.”

In August and September, Borden will tour and perform in varying combinations with local musicians Pat Cain, Martin Freeman, and Zane Merritt, and also as a solo act alongside the Canadian electro-acoustic duo, Fossils.

“I just completed my master’s of music at UB, studying with Jonathan Golove, who has continued to support and deepen my knowledge in the performance of contemporary music through his own extensive background in that area,” Borden says. “Recently, I accepted an offer to pursue my doctor of musical arts in contemporary music at University of California at San Diego, but on the condition that I could defer for a year and start in 2014, which they graciously allowed, since I’m stepping in for Jonathan Golove as cello teacher in the spring while he pursues a grant to further his knowledge of the theremin cello.”

Admission is $5. For more information, visit

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