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Avner Dorman

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Lost Souls (2009),
G Schirmer Inc
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
23 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
Avner Dorman Lost Souls (2009),

Referring to the work as a "séance for piano and orchestra," Avner Dorman calls on the ghosts of music's past to weave the three movement concerto.

For Dorman, this work is channeled straight from his relationship with the pianist, Alon Goldstein: "Alon seems like he is from a different era — the way he carries himself, his mannerisms — it seems like he was born and lived in the 19th century," Dorman recalls. He wanted to capture Goldstein's special quality in this new work and took what he could from their relationship and his knowledge of Goldstein's musicianship — Goldstein has performed Dorman's Piano Sonata No. 2 close to forty times. Dorman explains that Goldstein "can go quite crazy during the sonata, but in the end he is a very refined classical pianist, with all of the notes coming out very clear, as if he had predetermined all of the dynamics and articulations — he has very stylized playing. I wrote this concerto to give him those moments, on the one hand, but to also give him the simple melodies, to give him room to bring out his style."

Lost Souls begins quite dramatically: the pianist, in a departure from all other concerti, is not on stage, but is called from beyond by the orchestra's microtonal séance. As the 'soul-oist' emerges, a tense polytonal dialogue begins between the two worlds and Dorman begins to seemlesly echo various musical styles through his own evolved voice, recalling hints of Bach, Art Tatum, Messiaen, Lutoslawski, Ravel, Ligeti, and Gershwin.

Music history's graveyard is a harrowing resource for many composers; for Dorman, the weight of the past is not a burden, but can be embraced in the present through his own art. As with many works by Avner Dorman, Lost Souls brings together his cultural melange and melds it into a dynamic work that is a combination of his disparate influences — in one moment in Lost Souls, Cuban Bata drums accompany a baroque toccata, that in the end sounds as if it were Arabic in its origin.

Perhaps for Dorman, his own soul has found its place in this globalized culture where Art Tatum and Johann Sebastian Bach converse on the Ouija board of the 21st century, and where these souls of the past can be the inspiration for the future.

Avner Dorman’s Lost Souls piano concerto has to be one of the most exciting new pieces of music of any kind played in Santa Barbara this year. The young pianist Alon Goldstein crept to the piano through the orchestra under cover of total darkness and against the backdrop of an eerie drone from the strings. Once there, he kept the audience riveted with a cascade of varying styles and techniques, all harnessed to the piece’s emotional center. At the end, the lights went down again as the pianist lingered, playing an insistent phrase at the very right-most end of the keyboard until he finally exited to a hiding place at the base of the conductor’s podium. The hide-and-seek was all in good fun and part of the work’s thematic development, which had to do with séances and spirits from beyond.
Charles Donelan, Santa Barbara Independent,16/05/2011
When asked what his music was about, Mozart is reported to have replied that his music wasn't "about" anything, that it contained nothing but musical ideas. Avner Dorman's new piece, Lost Souls, given its East Coast premiere by the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra at the George Mason Center for the Arts on Saturday, is about something -- other people's musical ideas, explored in a context of the paranormal. This piano concerto about piano concertos was written for pianist Alon Goldstein, who premiered it in Kansas City in November (and who was Saturday evening's soloist). For all its kitschy accouterments, it is a delightful piece of music. Its opening movement, "Séance," begins sans pianist but with eerily high shimmering strings. The lights go out, and when they come back on the pianist (the demon seer) is seated and proceeds to summon the spirits of concertos, not perhaps long dead, but at least long ago composed. It is the essence rather than the actual form of the music that is revealed -- a little Bach, some Messiaen, perhaps some Tchaikovsky and Franck (although Franck didn't write a piano concerto), and a lot more. The orchestra, apparently, isn't as sensitive to these spiritual vibes and struggles to stay with the program. In the second movement the pianist performs a playful concerto movement and a dispirited orchestra quits trying to accompany. In the finale -- "Exorcism" -- however, the orchestra gathers itself for a lively and cheerful chase to rid itself of the concerto demon. The lights once again go out, the demon's soul expires in a high, pitiful and scrambling squeak, there is an explosion from the percussion and, lo and behold, when the lights come back on the pianist has disappeared. Dorman thinks big -- lots of notes, crashing sonorities, jazzy rhythms -- and Goldstein has the chops to pull it off. But most of all, Dorman has a sense of humor that makes the whole undertaking work both musically and dramatically.
Joan Reinthaler, The Washington Post,15/03/2010
So - imagine, if you will, that you are in the audience in 1719 as a 34-year-old Bach stands on-stage describing his latest work. You repeat this in 1804 with Beethoven, again in 1867 with Brahms, and finally on a November weekend in 2009 with Avner Dorman. Now, this is by no means intended to compare Mr. Dorman with the masters - time and future musicologists are the arbiters of such things. But these events should be appreciated for what they are: opportunities to hear brand new music introduced by the composer himself. If you're lucky, it will even be a good piece of music, and by that measure Mr. Dorman and the KCS succeeded with brilliance. Dorman described the piano concerto, subtitled "Lost Souls", as a "séance" to pianists and composers of the past, with the opening measures in the orchestra quite literally conjuring up the performer. At the outset, the piano stood empty as ethereal strings set a chilling mood before the lights dimmed gradually to full darkness. Mr. Dorman employed a clever device whereby another piano, hidden back among the orchestra, played a few notes just before the darkness, after which full illumination revealed a corporeal pianist (Alon Goldman) seated and ready to engage the audience. The presentation had all the earmarks of classic performance art but delivered in a way that was less tacky than one might presume from just hearing its description. Indeed, tackiness would have been a foregone conclusion had the piece fallen flat, but given that it had strong compositional foundations in a work that demonstrated great maturity from the 34-year-old Dorman, it actually worked quite well. As promised, the piece well represented the first movement's initial struggle ("Séance") between the orchestra and pianist to get in synch with one another - the pianist having just returned from the dead, after all ("decomposition" jokes, anyone?). The second ("Twilight") and third ("Exorcism") movements proceeded to chronologically "time travel" through various musical styles, with thematic snippets recalling images that were stylistically familiar - Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th century, Jazz, even Rock - without too obviously quoting any particular composers. The result was more of a familiarity that captured various genres. Despite the power of suggestion in the performance notes ("...hints of Bach, Art Tatum, Messiaen, Lutoslawski, Ravel, Ligeti, Sweelinck and Gershwin"), my ears caught a lengthy section in the second movement that reminded me quite a bit of Keith Emerson's under-rated 1977 "Piano Concerto No. 1" (found on ELP's album, "Works, Vol. 1") and a shorter (perhaps 30 seconds or so) section that had elements of Pat Metheny. "Lost Souls" was commissioned by the Kansas City Symphony from Dorman who wrote the work for pianist, Alon Goldstein. Goldstein did a remarkable job of navigating his way through 300 years of pianistic stylings - delicately sensitive in the more tonal, melodic themes, and energetically tempestuous in sections that were more dissonant and chordal, where his ginormous Rachmaninoff hands worked to his advantage in several passages. The final product was a perfect melding of orchestra - with a phenomenal interpretation by Maestro Stern - composition and performance: it was at once Stern's work, and Goldstein's work, and, ultimately, Dorman's work. This piece left no question in my mind that Avner Dorman is, by any measure, a world-class composer destined for much more greatness.
Christopher Guerin ,,24/11/2009
World premieres are always a little risky: untested repertory with uncertain effect. Friday night’s concert by the Kansas City Symphony featured just such a toss of the dice, and everyone left a winner. The orchestra commissioned Avner Dorman’s “Lost Souls, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra,” with pianist Alon Goldstein in mind. Before the performance Dorman described the narrative behind the music: a séance calling forth composers and pianists of the past; a recital that turns demonic and an ultimate exorcism. Opening with eerie and dissonant high-string swoops, the work began without Goldstein at the keyboard. ...the music was marvelous, featuring sprinkles of dissonance among ever present tonal riffs and passages. The rhythms were so intense that one percussionist overturned his bongos near the beginning of the work. Evocations of the styles of Chopin, Bach, Gershwin, Ligeti and others could be heard throughout the work. Dorman employed a clever technique of beginning a melody in the piano and continuing it in the strings in an abnormally high register. While the central portion of the composition flagged in energy and interest, the conclusion was a musical roller coaster ride. Goldstein played convincingly, with a dual musical personality: vibrant lyricism at times followed by highly technical musical athleticism. The work ended with an extended piano trill, high strings, crashing percussion and (more theatrics!) lights out. The orchestra proved a highly skilled partner for Goldstein, impressive in its precision and orchestral colors.
Timothy McDonald, Kansas City Star,20/11/2009
Dorman seems like one of those immensely talented, broadly influenced creators who can inject new energy into the classical world. His music reflects not only the foundation of Western classicism but also the Middle Eastern cauldron from which he hails and his youthful enthusiasm for rock (Led Zeppelin and Prince among his early favorites). Dorman’s strategy in this new piece was to delve into the history of the concerto form and push the pianist squarely into the 21st century. He does it by creating an underlying narrative drama. And drama it is: The 25-minute work — in three movements, without pauses — begins with a séance and ends with an exorcism. This year alone brought the American premiere of his delightfully complex concerto for two percussionists and orchestra, Spices, Perfumes, Toxins! The New York Philharmonic gave it an ovation-stirring romp last spring, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic did likewise a few months later. His Violin Sonata No. 2, commissioned by Sayaka Shoji, also premiered in Japan and New York earlier this year.
Steven Paul, Kansas City Star,14/11/2009
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