Daniel Stephen Johnson was born in the desert and learned to play the violin. After studying viola and English at the University of Southern California, he wrote fiction at Columbia University. Then he moved to Connecticut, where he worked at a record shop and wrote about music, literature and comedy for the New Haven Advocate and the Believer. Now he lives in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and works as a sheet music salesman in Queens. Follow Daniel on Twitter at @linernotesdanny.
Avner Dorman Meshes Mandolins and Club-Drug Euphoria
The Israeli-born Composer Introduces His Music
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
Something delightful used to happen when one Googled the name of composer Avner Dorman. "Official website of Avner Dorman, composer of Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!…" read the first result — referring to a double percussion concerto by that name, a three-movement exploration of the herbs we ingest, but phrasing it as if the piece were the composer's actual calling card. In a sense, it might as well be: critically acclaimed and beloved by audiences, it's something of a portrait of the artist as a young Israeli, written for a pair of compatriot percussionists (the amusingly named "PercaDu") and the Israel Philharmonic, and intended as a snapshot of "young Israeli culture."
But Avner Dorman is also a composer of musical spices, perfumes and toxins in a figurative sense. His music is piquant – vivid, present, spicy. He takes the starchy neoclassical stuff he kneads his music out of and kicks it up with dissonances out of jazz or young modernism. There's also the spice of the vernacular: in pieces like Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!, he brings in folk and pop modes and flourishes from his native region; his Mandolin Concerto sounds like the work of a Middle Eastern Astor Piazzolla.
There's also a perfume to those flourishes, for instance in the rich, luxuriant bouquet of string tones wafting around the soloist in his Mandolin Concerto, or in the seductive ornaments of his music for solo piano, or in the finely detailed interplay of piano and soloist in his Piccolo Concerto. Like the notes of a fine eau, the subtler points of Dorman's writing, the coloristic details that almost fade into the background, are in fact the most essential and characteristic ingredients of the fragrant whole.
And finally, his music is undeniably intoxicating. There's the club-drug euphoria of the "Techno" movement from his Third Piano Sonata, "Dance Suite," the perceptual shimmer surrounding the Mozart quotations in his concerto for solo percussion, Frozen in Time, or the visionary trance state that opens Lost Souls, his second piano concerto. But there's also his knack for sentiment – for the stirring melody, the harmonic change, that affect the listener on a physical level, leaving him or her moved, enthralled and addicted.