Nir Cohen-Shalit is a multidisciplinary conductor and musicologist. Feeling equally at home as both conductor and scholar, his wide repertoire and interests range from early Baroque to contemporary opera, from Bach’s cantatas to Sondheim’s musicals, and from historical musicology and critical thinking to music theory and analysis. He has been described as “one of the most interesting, vital and energetic in the musical life in Israel.” He has regularly been invited as a conductor to work with some of Israel’s top music institutions, among them The Israeli Opera and Sounds in the Desert Festival, and he is a sought-after lecturer in several areas such as conducting, historically informed performance, music in Terezin, musical theater, and aspects of theory in performance. He has won several awards and has received recognition for his work as a scholar and a conductor, and is currently working on his doctoral research at New York University on 19th-century performance practice.
Nir was born and raised in Jerusalem, Israel. He started taking piano lessons with Dmitry Borisovsky at the age of 11, and soon discovered his passion for music. He was then invited to receive his high school education at the Israeli Academy of Arts and Sciences (IASA), Israel’s most prestigious high school. There he studied composition, theory and improvisation with the leading pedagogues of Israel, among them Dr. Bat-Sheva Rubinstein, Prof. Michael Wolpe and the late Prof. Andre Hajdu. After graduating, Nir volunteered for civil service before pursuing his professional training at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. At the Academy, Nir took conducting lessons with Evgeny Tsirlin and Prof. Eitan Globerson, and theory classes with Boris Kleiner and Prof. Menachem Wiesenberg, with whom Nir formed a very close relationship. He eventually completed his Bachelor’s degree in conducting (2009), under the guidance of Prof. Avner Biron, founder and music director of the renowned Israel Camerata, where Nir also worked as an orchestral librarian. Nir continued his studies and graduated with a Master’s degree in both choral and orchestral conducting (2014), studying with Prof. Stanley Sperber, who became his mentor.
His interest in the musical life in Terezin led him to pursue a degree in musicology, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. While working on his Master’s in conducting, Nir began studying for a Master’s degree in musicology. He studied theory and analysis with Prof. Naphtali Wagner, and musicology with Prof. Ruth HaCohen and Dr. Yossi Maurey, who was also Nir’s advisor on his Master’s thesis. Nir’s thesis was dedicated to the Czech-Jewish composer Gideon Klein, who was active in Terezin and murdered by the Nazis in one of Auschwitz’s sub-camps. His thesis won a grant from the European Forum, which also published an abridged version of it.
In 2015, Nir entered the Music department at New-York University (NYU) as a PhD student in musicology. There he has been working under Prof. Suzanne Cusick, Prof. Michael Beckerman, Dr. Brigid Cohen, among others. His major interest is the music of Stephen Sondheim, on which he writes excessively. He has presented papers on conductors in Terezin at conferences in Prague and Oxford. He is now working with Claire Holden of Oxford University on his Doctoral dissertation on 19th-century orchestral performance practice. He is expected to spend many months in the coming years in Germany and the UK, completing his research.
During his years as a student at the Jerusalem Academy, Nir was the first conducting student to conduct the school’s symphony orchestra in public performances. He first conducted a reconstruction, he had worked on with other students, of Viktor Ullmann’s 7th Piano Sonata written in Terezin, in a Gala concert for the Academy’s 75th anniversary (2008). Later, he conducted a concert in honor of Prof. Michael Wolpe’s (then Head of the Department of Theory, Composition and Conducting) 50th birthday (2010).
From 2009 to 2015, Nir sang with the Jerusalem Academy Chamber Choir, under the direction of maestro Sperber. In his last two seasons with the choir, he also served as manager and assistant conductor to maestro Sperber. During that time, he helped prepare the choir for various programs, among them Verdi’s La Traviata with the IPO and Zubin Mehta, Penderecki’s Polish Requiem, with the IPO, conducted by the composer, and Stravinsky’s Les Noces, in a Gala Concert at the opening of the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition.
Under the guidance of Prof. Wolpe, Nir participated in the music seminars of Beit Theresienstadt in Israel. As part of these seminars, Nir and other students worked on original compositions inspired by the composers of Terezin, and reconstructed two of Ullmann’s last composition - his last piano sonata, and the monodrama for narrator and piano, Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke, which he later conducted as well. In the following years, Nir deepened his connections with Beit Theresienstadt, and served as musical advisor, director of several of their seminars, and manager of an international conference dedicated to Viktor Ullmann, in 2015.
Immediately upon his graduation from the Music Academy, Nir was invited to be the music director of their production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, in collaboration with the Israel Festival (2012). It was the premiere production of Into the Woods in Israel, and the first time the Jerusalem Academy had ever produced a musical. Following the success of the production, Nir conducted a community production of A Little Night Music, again an Israeli premiere of the musical in its original language (2014). He was then asked to teach a seminar and a workshop on the American Musical Theater at the Interdisciplinary Faculty of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.
Nir has also worked and conducted at the Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival, where he formed a close relationship with the music director, pianist, Elena Bashkirova. He conducted Israeli premieres of composition by Alexey Grots (2011), Faradzh Karaev (2012) and Ayal Adler (2013). Other conducting projects in Israel included concerts with the Meitar Ensemble, Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra, concerts at the Jerusalem Music Center, including a performance of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony in a chamber version which was also broadcasted live on Israeli radio, a Gala concert celebrating the 20th anniversary of the festival Sounds in the Desert with Israel Chamber Orchestra, and concerts with The Revolution Orchestra.
In 2015, Nir was invited by the Israeli Opera to serve as an assistant conductor to maestro Ethen Schmeisser, for the premiere production of two short operas commissioned by the house: The Lady and the Peddler by Haim Permont, and Schitz by Yoni Rechter. As part of his job, Nir worked closely with both composers, the soloists and the stage director. Seeing at close hand, and taking part in the creation of these two operas was a formative experience for Nir. He was later invited to be an assistant conductor to maestro Francesco Cilluffo in Rigoletto (2016), and maestro Daniel Oren in Madame Butterfly (2017). In June 2018, he will conduct concerts with the Israel Camerata and in July 2018 he is scheduled to conduct Carmen at the Israeli Opera, as an assistant to Maestra Karen Kamensek.
Nir is married to the actor and singer Ziv Shalit, and he resides both in NYC and Tel-Aviv.