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Avner Dorman demonstrates he is a master of both abstract and figurative art in the two pieces on this album. However, the wonderfully elusive title of Variations Without a Theme gives no clue about the scale of Dorman’s invention and the depth of his palette.
As if being thrust into the middle of a development section, the opening grabs us onto this rollercoastering, seeming stream of consciousness ride. The freedom of flow and transition belies an extraordinary level of compositional discipline, making the single-movement work unfold organically.
Dorman is able to drive and morph, and each new section seems to imply a missing, enigmatic melody sung by a powerful Isolde!
Eventually, he brings us to the point of dreamlike stillness out of which we may never wish to emerge.
The orchestra is huge, but when we find ourselves sitting with a solo piano – all the more lonely having been preceded by terrifying cascades from the full orchestra – we have the sense that this represents the kernel of truth from which the variations sprung.
We are grateful for the groundedness of the return of the opening, the extension and the uber-Bernstein cross-rhythms and a satisfyingly brilliant ending to an abstract variation on variations.
I met Avner when he came to Grand Rapids to attend a performance of his Concerto Grosso. We were looking to commission a new work as a capstone to my tenure with the symphony. Avner was asked, “What would you want to write if you had no restrictions?” He responded that he was dreaming of a choral and orchestral work. So we all cheered quietly and banded together to make that happen!
Our chorus had grown exponentially over the years, and we were hoping to include the newly added children’s chorus too. The stage would eventually be overflowing with baritone, saxophone and accordion as well, for Avner’s newly commissioned Dialogues of Love.
In composition, as in life, we don’t always end up where we thought the beginning was pointing. After a few hopeful themes and subjects, Avner found himself at an impasse. He was facing his own life and the arduous journey he had recently taken through love’s dissolution and awakening.
Like all great artists with wide-ranging minds, the subject of love quickly broadened not only from the personal to the universal but also to varied expressions in different periods. Instead of being chipped away, the block of marble seemed to be increasing in mass and complexity!
Like Beethoven, Avner is undaunted as he starts his choral cantata with vast pillars of exclamatory sound, clearly setting up an epic journey in honour of Sophia.
For many, it would be easy to devolve into platitudinous sonorities of romantic goo, but Avner is especially sensitive to the texts he chose, which span a thousand years.
The poets’ use of repetition obviously suggested employing elements of minimalism, and the diatonic harmonies imply an ancient world bound by strict social conventions.
However, his unique style enables Avner to add layers and complexity, reflecting a more nuanced psychological landscape.
Part II begins with two orchestral movements, both ecstatic in different ways. The first posed one of the most difficult conducting challenges of my career! It is also a virtuosic compositional feat since every note and mixed metered measure has been mapped out according to high-level unifying mathematical principles found in nature. The result is 4 1/2 minutes of joyful and delightful capriciousness.
The second orchestral movement is like a trio sonata and is the most personal utterance of new love. It is expressed profoundly by the sonorous saxophone. The accordion represents Avner’s own alter ego, accompanying and coaxing in a divine Bachian serenade.
In a continuous flow, we are led through an understated, disturbing and shadowy world of betrayal with the accordion’s seductive encouragement, which explodes into the most angular orchestral movement.
It represents the pain of final separation over an irregular ostinato, brutally slathering on thick swathes of color as if an old canvas is finally being covered and set aside, to be reconsidered for future use.
Through the innocence of children’s voices, the resultant Part III reveals that love is patient and that love is kind. Nothing more to be said. – David Lockington, June 2021
Composer’s Note for Dialogues of Love: I first read Abravanel’s Dialoghi d’Amore in my late teens or early twenties. My grandfather translated the book into Hebrew from Italian, and I think I read it after his death. Poetic and deep, spiritual and rational, it aims to answer many of the basic philosophical and scientific questions that we all have: What is love? What is happiness? Why do objects fall? When was the universe created?
Dialogues of Love is divided into three parts, roughly following the three parts of Abravanel’s book. Part I, which focuses on romantic love and desire, opens with a melismatic exclamation in Latin, from the first sentence of the book: “Knowing you Sofia, causes me to feel love and desire.” The accordion, the first instrumental character of the work, expresses yearning and desire with a sad yet simple, diatonic melody. The accordion’s role continues throughout the work, commenting on the texts with a singular and familiar voice. “Ayelet Khishki,” the next section, derives from an 18th-century text by the Tunisian poet, Rabbi Aharon Peretz. Men’s voices express a man’s strong desire for a woman, and the setting calls on choral traditions from the Caucuses, characterized by powerful open and natural intervals between voices. Each stanza expresses the desire more vividly, and the music builds in turn. Beginning with the pastoral “Doe of my desire, perfection of beauty,” the man’s affections grow troubled. “All day long, I am sick with your love.” This love drives him to exclaim, “Oh great gazelle, I shall drink bitter waters.” After a brief return to the opening, “Sofia,” the music relaxes into a song of love told from a woman’s perspective.
Although Oswald von Wolkenstein, a 14th-century author and poet, wrote the text, “Kom Liebster Man,” the text speaks of the deep love that a woman feels for a man. Each section of the poem begins with a call to the beloved man followed by a short expression of love and affection. The musical setting initially follows the structure of the poem, until a later reversal of text, leading back to the words, “I gladly will give myself to you forever.” A meditative mantra follows, with the repetition of the woman’s thoughts, “Your manliness revives my spirit and thoughts, more than anything else in the world.” In reply, the men again enter, now with another poem by Wolkenstein: “Your words and gestures alleviate all my cares, woman, and even better, a proud lady.” This coming together signifies the unification of woman and man through love and desire.
Part II begins with a Scherzo that broadly depicts the physical and natural phenomena that Abravanel also includes in the forces of love. The power of gravity, fire, rain, wind, and even the ocean’s tides are connected to passion, echoing the musings of ancient Greek philosophers, who went so far as to link emotion with geometry and algebra. The meter and rhythms of this movement follow certain geometric shapes and principles, but the emotional character swings between great joy and sadness. Solo alto saxophone then enters as the work’s second instrumental character, expressing love and passion that is yet unfulfilled. Nature serves as a metaphor for love in the Hebrew choral song, “Kehtamar At,” which closes the section with text that mirror’s Abravanel’s book. Upright bass, muted trumpet, and rich harmonies create a jazz-influenced setting upon which the saxophone and accordion seem to search for each other.
The breakdown of love opens the third and final part of the piece, as the saxophone restates the music just heard in Part II. At this point, however, love can no longer exist, triggering an increasingly aggressive orchestral section. The pain and agony that can accompany love now crush the motives of the piece, leaving the music almost unrecognizable.
Out of these ashes, love is reborn through the voices of children, singing the words from 1st Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love is patient, love is kind.” The accordion’s simple voice again returns, expressing the steadfast and unending character of true love along with the text, “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – Avner Dorman
Composer’s Note for Variations Without a Theme: Back in the summer of 2001, when I set out to compose Variations Without a Theme I decided on a specific challenge for myself as a composer. Since my early composing days I had studied the variations of the masters, such as Bach, Beethoven, Prokofiev, and Lutosławski, and was always very much taken by their ability to use very limited materials and create great masterpieces. I wanted to take on this challenge myself, but with a twist. Instead of using a lyrical theme as the basis of Variations, I decided to use some of the basic elements of music: the repetition of a note, an ornament, scales, and the half-step interval.
Since my musical taste covers a wide range of ‘styles’, I explored how these basic elements are used in various musical genres: Jazz, Middle-Eastern Music, Avant-Garde, Indian Music, Rock, and, of course, the Romantic symphonic tradition. For example, the opening part of Variations uses a short ornament based on half steps using the pitches E, Eb, F,and Gb. This motive is similar to Middle-Eastern ornamentation, yet later in the piece, when it’s inverted and transposed it becomes one of Bach’s favorite motives Bb-A-C-B (or in German B-A-C-H). Later in the piece I used the inversion of these intervals (as major 7ths) to create a sound world much closer to that of Shostakovich and Schnittke. – Avner Dorman
Composer Avner Dorman, published exclusively by G. Schirmer, Inc., writes music of intricate craftsmanship and rigorous technique, expressed with a soulful and singular voice. A native of Israel now living in the United States, Dorman draws on a variety of cultural and historical influences in composing, resulting in music that affects an emotional impact while exploring new territories. His works utilize an exciting and complex rhythmic vocabulary, as well as unique timbres and colors in orchestral, chamber, and solo settings. The world’s finest orchestras, conductors, and soloists regularly perform Dorman’s music, and many of his compositions have become contemporary staples in the repertoire. Dorman’s music is championed by conductors including Zubin Mehta, Ricardo Chailly, and Andris Nelsons, and by soloists Gil Shaham, Martin Grubinger, and Hilary Hahn.
Dorman’s first opera, Wahnfried, which garnered intense media interest and was hailed as a “masterpiece” by Opernwelt, returned to Karlsruhe in the 2017-2018 season for a second run as part of the Badisches Staatsoper staging of Wagner’s complete ring cycle. The work — which depicts the relationships between the failing English scientist Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the Wagner family and the young Adolf Hitler — has culminated in a decisive round of “bravos” from the critics.
Dorman completed an innovative opera project for Houston Grand Opera, which debuted in the spring of 2018. A new suite, for Solo Violin, commissioned by the ARD competition in Munich as a compulsory work, also premiered in fall of 2017. Four Marimbas, commissioned by Jianli Percussion, premiered in Spain, and Dancing with the Torah at Mount Meron premiered in Poland, performed by Zofo piano duo.
Dorman’s music has garnered numerous awards and prizes. At the age of 25, he became the youngest composer to win Israel’s prestigious Prime Minister’s Award for his Ellef Symphony. He has earned several international awards from ASCAP, ACUM, and the Asian Composers League. His music is available on Node Records, Naxos, Deutsche Grammophone, Canary Classics, and more. Dorman studied composition with John Corigliano and Josef Bardanashvili, and he holds a doctorate in composition from the Juilliard School. He currently serves as the Associate Professor of Music Theory and Composition at the Sunderman Conservatory of Music at Gettysburg College and formerly served as music director of CityMusic Cleveland Chamber Orchestra.
This recording represents the culminating commissioning project of David Lockington’s 16 year tenure with the Grand Rapids Symphony.
He began his conducting career in Denver, forming the Academy in the Wilderness chamber orchestra while he was still the Assistant Principal cellist with the Denver Symphony Orchestra in the early 1980s.
Since then he has been Associate Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony and Music Director of the Denver Young Artists Orchestra, the Cheyenne Symphony, the Ohio Chamber Orchestra, the New Mexico Symphony, the Long Island Philharmonic, the Modesto Symphony, and the Pasadena Symphony.
Guest conducting has taken Lockington to dozen of orchestras in the US and abroad, including his role as Principal Guest Conductor of OSPA in Oviedo, Spain.
His recordings include a Grammy nomination with harpist Deborah Henson Conant and the Grand Rapids Symphony, and albums of works by Adolphus Hailstork and Philip Sawyers. He also accompanies Dylana Jenson in a recording of the Barber and Shostakovich violin concertos with the London Symphony.
David Lockington has remained active as both a cellist and composer throughout his career. He is married to master teacher and legendary violinist, Dylana Jenson.
Visit GRSymphony.org to read about the legacy and vision of the Grand Rapids Symphony!
Original Music by: Avner Dorman
Executive Producer: Robert Thompson
- Conductor: David Lockington
- Solo Saxophone (Alto and Baritone): Amanda Heim
- Solo Baritone: Lee Poulis
- Solo Accordion: Julien Labro
- Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra – view the full roster of recording musicians here
- Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus & Youth Chorus – view the full roster of recording vocalists here
Cover Art by: Ivan Jenson
- Dialogues of Love: November 21-22, 2014
- Variations Without a Theme: March 6-7, 2015
Recording Location: DeVos Performance Hall, Grand Rapids, MI