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DORMAN, A.: Mandolin Concerto / Piccolo Concerto / Concerto Grosso / Piano Concerto(Avital, Kaufman, Avni, Metropolis Ensemble, Cyr)

Naxos 8.559620

   My Classical Notes, December 2015
   The Jewish Daily Forward, February 2011
   Winnipeg Free Press, February 2011, December 2010
   MusicWeb International, December 2010
   MusicWeb International, July 2010
   Fanfare, July 2010
   The New York Times, May 2010
   American Record Guide, May 2010
   Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, March 2010
   The Dallas Morning News, February 2010
   San Francisco Chronicle, February 2010, February 2010
   David's Review Corner, February 2010, February 2010, February 2010, January 2010
   THIRTEEN, January 2010
   Minnesota Public Radio, January 2010
   Puggingham Palace, January 2010

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Hank Zauderer
My Classical Notes, December 2015

…Mr. Dorman lets his Baroque influence run wild. The works are concise three-movement forms in the standard configuration, but he has not entirely removed the rhythmic complexities that drive his other works. © 2015 My Classical Notes Read complete review

Eileen Reynolds (The Arty Semite)
The Jewish Daily Forward, February 2011

One might be forgiven, upon first listening to the Naxos recording of Avner Dorman’s concertos performed by Andrew Cyr’s Metropolis Ensemble, for not feeling immediately convinced that these are, in fact, concertos in any traditional sense. There are no buoyant Mozartian introductions here, no grand orchestral pauses to launch soloists into rapturously virtuosic cadenzas before a triumphant final cadence. Those squeamish about contemporary orchestral music might initially recoil from what is strange and new in Dorman’s work: unsettling harmonies, unusual pairings of instruments, extended instrumental techniques. Ultimately, though, there is plenty here that is familiar. Dorman, a 35-year-old Israeli composer and protégé of John Corigliano and Zubin Mehta, has an eclectic approach—borrowing elements from jazz, pop, and Middle Eastern musical idioms—that makes his music surprisingly accessible.

If these four concertos—for mandolin, piccolo, piano, and concerto grosso—don’t remind us of the tried-and-true warhorses by Beethoven and Brahms, it’s because Dorman draws his primary inspiration from a much older source. In the Baroque era, when the concerto form first emerged, composers experimented with an array of different musical textures by alternating between tutti passages, featuring a full orchestra, and other sections featuring a soloist or small group. In these early concertos as well as in Dorman’s neo-Baroque works, these contrasts in color—rather than the clever development of a given theme, as in later concertos—are what make the music dramatic. Instead of merely writing exciting, flashy solo passages that could be played on any instrument, Dorman embraces the peculiarities of the instruments that he has chosen: the mandolin concerto offers a meticulous exploration of the tremolo; the piccolo concerto calls for flutter-tonguing and other idiomatic techniques; and the piano concerto shows off the soloist’s dexterity with brisk passages of ascending and descending scales.

Israeli mandolin player Avi Avital was nominated for a Grammy Award (Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra) for his performance on this recording, an honor that he deserved for his richly expressive playing. The mandolin concerto starts out with Avital playing a quiet, nervous tremolo—first on a single note, then in major and minor seconds—for nearly two minutes before the orchestra enters with angry interjections from the strings. The piece is no doubt technically difficult (there are plenty of the usual rapid pizzicato passages), but what makes Avital’s performance special is its sensitivity: The tremolo passages feature minute gradations in dynamics, and later, in the more melodic sections, Avital makes the mandolin sing, drawing out each phrase with the right amount of rubato. There is no explicitly programmatic music on this disc, but the mandolin concerto, with its alternating sections of movement and calm, suggests a suspenseful pursuit. Thrumming bass and shrill violins lend the tutti sections an ominous quality, and the tremolo of the mandolin calls to mind a fugitive slipping away on tip-toe; one is struck with an image of the soloist being chased down by the orchestra. I like to think that Avital gets away in the end.

Steadily pulsing bass notes return in the piccolo concerto, this time serving as the chugging engine beneath jazzy, syncopated rhythmic patterns. Mindy Kaufman is a nimble soloist, pecking out melodies that jump all over the range of the instrument. In this piece and in the concerto grosso (for string quartet and harpsichord), Dorman uses Baroque harmonic sequences in surprisingly fresh and gratifying ways, layering in lush jazz harmonies that Bach didn’t use but might have liked if he’d heard them. (Dorman probably isn’t the first to note the similarities between jazz bass lines and Baroque figured bass, but he blends the two particularly well.) In the second movement of the flute concerto, Dorman also borrows ornaments and rhythms from the Middle East; Kaufman plays a sweet, mournful melody in the rarely-used bottom octave of the piccolo, which, to Dorman’s ears (as explained in the liner notes) sounds a bit like shepherd’s flute.

Of the four pieces, the piano concerto sounds the most like an exercise in imitating the Baroque style; Dorman notes that he composed the piece, at just 19 years old, after hearing Bach’s keyboard Concerto in A Major on the radio. Bach’s influence can be heard throughout, especially in the idiomatic writing for keyboard, but the piece is also filled with Dorman’s signature syncopations. (Those pleasing jazz/Baroque sequences crop up here as well.) Dorman cites allusions to Nina Simone, The Police, The Cure, and Stravinsky; I also hear, in the first movement, something that sounds like Gershwin. The second movement, which Dorman calls a “song without words,” marks a rare step away from the Baroque aesthetic: Here is a slowly unfolding, stirring Romantic tune that might have been written by Mendelssohn or Schumann. Pianistic fireworks (flawlessly executed by Eliran Avni) and Baroque figurations return in the third movement, which, after growing increasingly stormy (and briefly Romantic again), concludes with a scale passage even more demure than the one that began the piece.

It would be interesting to see if listeners’ reactions to this album would vary if the order of the pieces were changed. As it is arranged now, the most challenging piece (the mandolin concerto) is first, with the concertos that are somewhat easier to swallow (like the one for piano) coming at the end. Avi Avital may have been nominated for the Grammy, and the mandolin concerto is perhaps a better, more interesting composition, but there’s also something terribly infectious about that piano concerto. It’s the one I’m tempted to set the CD player to repeat.

James Manishen
Winnipeg Free Press, February 2011

WATCH the name of Avner Dorman, a composer not afraid to wear his musical debts on his sleeve, and who delights in looking back to the familiar here, mostly the Baroque era, to simply entertain with grace, wit and skill. Dorman studied with John Corigliano and shows no less a fund of invention as his celebrated mentor in these concertos for mandolin, piccolo and piano. Both Dorman and Corigliano appeared at the New Music Festival this week.

Much of the fun is picking out the influences: Vivaldi and Bach, dustings of Piazzolla and Rodrigo in the Piccolo Concerto, Ravel in the Piano Concerto’s centerpiece and much more. Sometimes they spin by, other times expand, all the time charged with an engaging vitality that never lets up. It’s thoughtful too, as the Mandolin Concerto’s more expressive moments of tremolo flank a driving Middle Eastern central movement.

The performances by the superb soloists and hair-trigger orchestra are stunning. Grab this and enjoy.

Christian Carey, December 2010

On the second Naxos CD devoted to the music of Avner Dorman, concerti take center stage. At first blush, the composer seems to display a palpable streak of traditionalism. Triadic language abounds in his works and he makes many tips of the hat to Baroque music and neoclassicism. But there’s much more beneath this attractive, if familiar, surface. Dorman is also interested in uncovering some of the undiscovered potential of the concerto, exploring its capacity for different narrative arcs and recasting the genre with some unusual protagonists.

Indeed, it was for a work with an unlikely soloist, the Mandolin Concerto, written in 2006 for Avi Avital, that the disc has received the most attention. Avital’s incisive and nuanced performance has garnered a Grammy nomination. The Mandolin Concerto itself is one of the most adventurous works Dorman has yet composed. Its explorations of many timbres, orchestral effects, and myriad shifts of tempo & demeanor make it a dazzlingly mercurial and potent essay.

There’s more on the CD to recommend as well. Metropolis Ensemble, with a passel of soloists in concertino tow, sparkle in the Concerto Grosso (2003).The work features virtuosic string writing and cinematic sweep. Indeed, here Dorman displays a fluency of orchestration that in places reminds one of John Corigliano, his teacher during doctoral studies at Juilliard.

One would be forgiven if they assumed going in that a Piccolo Concerto would be a piercing prospect and too limited a palette to work satisfactorily. I’m still not convinced that this is a genre that requires a plethora of options, but soloist Mindy Kaufman’s rendering of the Dorman concerto for the instrument reveals striking versatility. The piece itself combines jazzy rhythms, neo-Baroque signatures, and resonances of the pipes and whistles found in a variety of folk music traditions.

Written when he was just 20 years of age, Dorman’s Piano Concerto in A Major is a splashy technicolor work that embraces virtuosic showmanship, combining a prevailingly Neo-romantic aesthetic with occasional post-minimal ostinati. Pianist Eliran Avni captures the concerto’s spirit, performing its often dizzyingly paced passagework and cadenzas with pizzazz. While no one will mistake it for the mature voice found in the Mandolin Concerto, the youthful exuberance of the Piano Concerto is frequently charming.

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, December 2010

Is it hyperbole to call this my favorite disc of music by a living composer? No, because I play it more often, and enjoy it more happily, than any other. Avner Dorman’s concertos are a winning combination of modern, “neo-baroque,” jazz, and folk idioms which never sounds forced or weird, and they are written with those rarest of compositional gifts: grace and wit. I particularly love the piccolo concerto and the homage-to-Ravel slow movement of the piano concerto. In a decidedly humorless new-music climate, Dorman is a breath of fresh air. Outstanding performances, too.

Oleg Ledeniov
MusicWeb International, July 2010

The disc contains four concertos, all Baroque-inspired, though this inspiration is expressed in different ways. The opening Mandolin Concerto is probably the most striking of the four, something like Schnittke-meets-Piazzolla in the middle of a Vivaldi Winter. The idea behind it, as the composer writes in the liner-notes, was to explore the conflict between motion and stasis, as expressed, for instance, in the basic mandolin technique—the tremolo. In the first movement, slow meditative episodes lead to stormy, Vivaldian outbursts. The last episode is hauntingly beautiful: a poignant, aristocratic melody worthy of Piazzolla takes slow and sad steps, while high above the strings create the lightest of veils, like an aurora borealis.

The second movement is energetic and busy, with Middle-Eastern motifs and harmonies. The mandolin, like the guitar, cannot easily stand against a full string orchestra, but all balance problems are solved here, and we get a thick Persian carpet of sound, with the mandolin voice like a silver thread. After all the energy is spent, we return to meditative quietude in the third movement, which serves as a recapitulation of the first. Now the music is more philosophical, full of precious pauses and long notes. The tremolo is the base line on which the movement hangs. The concerto ends, as it started, with a sequence of three rising chords—just like Mendelssohn’s Midsummer overture. This is not music for the highbrow—but it touched the strings of my soul. Avi Avital makes his mandolin sing and cry. The orchestra is most sympathetic and sensitive.

Next comes the Piccolo Concerto; not meant as an opposite to a Concerto Grosso, but just as a concerto for piccolo. In order to solve the obvious balance problems in the tessitura, the composer adds the piano as an active ingredient. The first movement is jazzy and Baroque at the same time, a true mix of epochs and styles. It has a lot of syncopation, fugal runs and short bright episodes. The result is a little hard to follow due to the abundance of ever-switching motifs, but it has the irresistible momentum of a Bach concerto. The slow movement starts in the shadow of Aranjuez, but then drifts away over green meadows where shepherds play their sad flutes to the cold western plains of Ennio Morricone. A poignant motif is heard at the end, as an unanswered question. The finale is a fast ride, a dense moto perpetuo, somewhat mechanical but never boring. The soloist Mindy Kaufman plays with brilliance and flair, and makes 15 minutes of listening to a piccolo not only bearable—quite an achievement - but highly enjoyable. I loved the hard trills at the end of the first movement; and her agility in the third was stunning. The orchestra displays its strong rhythmic skills.

The soloists in Concerto Grosso are a string quartet and a harpsichord. The structure is similar to the Mandolin Concerto. The first movement uses the main theme from Händel’s Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.4 as the starting point. There is something of Pärt’s works like Tabula Rasa in the calm, static stretches alternating with affectionate tuttis. This may be the most Baroque of Dorman’s concertos, in its spirit of contrast, of heat and cold. The second movement is a Vivaldian presto with Schnittke-like distortions. Its structure is a patchwork and not easy to grasp, yet each part of the mosaic is bright and interesting. The composer is like a man that has found a magic wand; he can’t stop reveling in his powers to rule the torrents and the winds. “I can do that! Yes! And I can do this! Look!” It doesn’t sound arrogant at all, but endearing, and his enthusiasm is contagious. As in Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No.1, the short closing movement is an aftermath, a slow awakening, a dawn of swirling shades of grey. The harpsichord is the main voice here. We go through memories and reflections. The concerto ends, as one might expect, on a smiling Picardy third.

Now let’s have fun! The Piano Concerto was written by Dorman at the age of 19. It is impressive—a concerto equivalent of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. It has great drive, clarity, and lots of youthful arrogance—in the best sense! It reminded me a lot of Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, with its push-all-the-good-stuff-in attitude in the first movement, and the fluffy Mozartean clouds in the second. The third movement starts mildly with a Polish-flavored introduction, and then dives headfirst into a dazzling, mercurial rondo, all syncopated. This concerto is very much Classical in spirit—Beethoven’s First Concerto comes to mind. Eliran Avni is magnificent. He plays with disarming and enthralling fist-banging recklessness. This is happy music, happily performed.

So, these are the four concertos. They may not be the most profound, critical-analytical or revolutionary. But music is first and foremost a beautiful art. And these concertos are definitely beautiful art. It would probably be better not to listen to them in a single run: you’ll discover more facets if you encounter them one by one.

The recording quality is excellent. Each soloist is ideally balanced with the strings. I especially admired the recording of the mandolin: the ringing aura of the sound is palpable. The liner-notes by the composer are very interesting. The playing of the Metropolis Ensemble led by Andrew Cyr is excellent: sensitive, supportive, very accurate and finely balanced, with a lot of spirit.

I am really happy that there are composers like Avner Dorman. I wish him a great future, for one shameless and purely selfish reason: I just love his music!

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, July 2010

Members of the new generation of the 1920s were called bright young things. There is also an old expression where I come from to describe a person who is sharp and in your face: a bright spark. Avner Dorman, having been born in 1975, is perhaps too advanced in years to be a bright young thing—he just makes it into Generation Y—but he writes young music that is bright in every sense and definitely creates sparks.

The description applies strongly to his Piano Concerto, composed in 1995 when the Israeli-born composer was only 19. He has since gone on to attract several awards and a number of commissions (including scores for film). In his booklet note, he explains that the Piano Concerto was the first time he wrote in a neobaroque style, although more recent musical genres like jazz, rock, and even minimalism are much in evidence in his musical armory. Schoenberg famously quipped that there was plenty of music left to write in C Major (actually, did Schoenberg ever quip?) and many 21st-century composers are proving him prescient. In this case the key is A Major; the final twist of Dorman’s piano concerto includes a delightful example of how to extend a straightforward cadence without being totally predictable.

The Mandolin Concerto is of necessity a quieter affair, beginning with mysterious chords from the soloist and leading into a limpid, Satie-esque waltz in the second movement. Dorman’s irrepressible exuberance soon takes over; in fact, exuberant is the most apt general description of his music. The work closes with string solos and a gentle mandolin tremolo on single notes, an eerily understated conclusion.

Hybrid influences again color the opening of the Piccolo Concerto, which features a piano obbligato. A bass note chugs away à la Vivaldi while the chords above accent off beats in a lively jazz/rock riff, bringing to mind the chamber pieces of Michael Torke. The sentimental and ethnic-sounding slow movement makes telling use of the piccolo in its lower register; the composer exploits a Middle Eastern quality in the instrument’s timbre. High spirits and high notes return for the chase-like finale, whipped along smartly by the piano.

The Concerto Grosso is more Baroque and more serious in tone. Dorman takes Handel’s Concerto Grosso op. 6/4 as his starting point, but gradually stretches the music into a contemporary world of fragmentation and “sound for its own sake.” The energy of the middle movement becomes increasingly violent, while the floating string textures of the slow finale are far removed from an 18th-century style. Composers simply did not have this stylistic diversity to draw upon until the communication revolution made everything immediately available; Dorman’s choices manage to be both surprising and satisfying.

The various soloists and Metropolis Ensemble (a chamber orchestra based in New York) show tight discipline. Pianist Eliran Avni plays expressively in both fast and slow passages; his contribution is outstanding. Naxos’s close sound…emphasizes the attack in Dorman’s punchy rhythms…many will respond to the joyousness of the writing and youthful enthusiasm of the performances on offer

Allan Kozinn
The New York Times, May 2010

Avner Dorman, a 35-year-old Israeli composer who completed his studies at the Juilliard School in 2006 and now lives in Los Angeles, writes with an omnivorous eclecticism that makes his music both accessible and impossible to pigeonhole. Themes with a modal, Middle Eastern accent often weave through sharp-edged, modernist harmonies; and the influences of jazz, pop and Indian music often crop up as well. Consistent hallmarks are the vigor of his writing and the virtuosity it demands of its interpreters.

Baroque music has been another fascination of Mr Dorman’s: an early prelude, included on a 2006 Naxos recording of his piano works, was based on a Bach figure, and in the four concertos here, composed between 1995 and 2006, Mr Dorman lets his neo-Baroquery run wild. The works are concise three-movement forms in the standard configuration, and though Mr Dorman has not entirely jettisoned the rhythmic complexities that drive his other works, he has made them subsidiary to the chugging rhythms of the Baroque style.

Lest that suggest that these concertos are lightweight pastiches, listen to the finale of the Piccolo Concerto (2001), a propulsive, harmonically acidic Presto that has the soloist, Mindy Kaufman, leaping perilously through her instrument’s range. In the Mandolin Concerto (2006), the colorful solo line, played with stunning agility by Avi Avital, draws on all the usual mandolin techniques—chordal tremolandos, singing melodies—and adds bent pitches, high-velocity scampering (against sliding violin figures) and dynamic nuance.

The Piano Concerto (1995) owes an obvious debt to Bach, but its solo line is restless: it makes its way from Bachian clarity to 19th-century storminess and contemporary brashness before returning to its neo-Baroque starting point. Eliran Avni is the eloquent soloist here, and Andrew Cyr’s Metropolis Ensemble, a New York group, provides crisp, energetic support throughout the disc.

Allen Gimbel
American Record Guide, May 2010

Following his Naxos debut program of piano music (579001, S/O 2006), John Corigliano protege Avner Dorman (b. 1975) weighs in with this collection of four concise concertos described by the composer as “neobaroque”. Like so many young composers today, influences tend to be scattered, maybe owing to the media that suffocates all of us in an ocean of cultural excess. It’s clear enough what Mr Dorman likes, and it is tonal and conservative, rarely profound, and always marketable. You will likely be hearing much more from him, unless he burns himself out as a flash in the pan.

The most recent piece here is the Mandolin Concerto of 2006. In three thoroughly tonal movements (“sections” are more accurate descriptions), Mr Dorman opens by concentrating on the tremolandos typical of the instrument, moves on to a Mediterranean-sounding dance, and concludes with a return to the opening section. The music tends to be “dreamy”, and I had a tendency to nod off more than once. The instrument can’t be said to have a substantial contemporary literature, so this piece will certainly be of interest to mandolinists looking for something up-to date to go with their Vivaldi.

The piccolo has a more substantial modern literature (Peter Maxwell Davies and Lowell Liebermann immediately come to mind as relatively recent high-quality contributors). Dorman’s Concerto (2001) opens with a jazzy sonata-form movement with finger-snapping syncopation and soaring piccolo lines. The slow movement starts with hints of Rodrigo, but soon opens out into ethnic scales with a Middle Eastern flavor. It ends mystically. The virtuosic moto perpetuo finale gives the soloist a robust workout. The New York Philharmonic’s Mindy Kaufman gives the piece an enthusiastic fling.

The wild Concerto Grosso (2003), for string quartet and harpsichord, opens with a Corigliano-esque deconstruction of the opening motive of Handel’s Op. 6:4 and moves on to a vivacious take on the genre, more representative of Schnittke than the Glass or Pärt influences he cites in his notes (I hear no “minimalism” whatsoever in this piece). The work is filled with arresting ideas and takes the “mustache on the Mona Lisa” concept a few energetic steps further. It’s an impressive contribution.

The program closes with a Piano Concerto in A (1995), written when the composer was 19 in response to hearing a Bach harpsichord concerto played on the piano. This is credited as the composer’s “first neobaroque piece”. I say “neo-Prokofieff” instead, but without the dissonance. He says neo-Nina Simone, The Police, The Cure, Stravinsky, and, “of course”, Bach (but I hear none of him). Mostly I hear Mendelssohn. Call it a guilty pleasure, but it’s great fun and filled with a youthful joy of music making. Pianist Eliran Avni is sensational.

I must admit I have absolutely no idea what Mr Dorman is talking about in most of his commentary when musical issues come up, but I wouldn’t call this composer’s approach “critical” in any cerebral sense. Rather, he just seems to be having fun, and if that’s enough for you, you will likely enjoy this unchallenging and thoroughly entertaining music.

Rick Anderson
Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, March 2010

The resurgence of interest in tonal composition that began with the minimalist rebellion in the 1960s has now fully matured, and is represented by such brilliant young artists as Avner Dorman, who unapologetically draws on influences like the baroque concerto but writes music that is undeniably of its time and place. This wonderful program of three concertos and one concerto grosso, all beautifully performed and recorded, is nearly enough to restore the confidence of the most hardened pessimist in the future of classical music.

Lawson Taitte
The Dallas Morning News, February 2010

Israeli composer Avner Dorman was trained at the Juilliard School and lives in Los Angeles, where he does some work on movie soundtracks. So Naxos is promoting him in its American Classics series. Be happy for it, because the four concertos assembled here are some of the most appealing new music heard in a long time.

The Mandolin Concerto uses a lot of Middle Eastern motifs. The Piccolo Concerto could claim neoclassical Stravinsky as a godfather. The Concerto Grosso sounds like a minimalist take on Corelli. And the Piano Concerto in A hilariously uses a simple scale as a theme to poke fun at showy virtuosity. For all their eclecticism, these pieces reveal a strong common profile—with tragic ferocity lurking under the sparkling surfaces.

The performances are stellar, the sound superb.

Joshua Kosman
San Francisco Chronicle, February 2010

The music of Israeli composer Avner Dorman is so vivacious and so technically proficient that it’s hard to resist…Bach is a constant presence, especially in the Piano Concerto, but Dorman also leaps happily around among jazz, pop, Romanticism and Middle Eastern strains…most rewarding is the Mandolin Concerto, which fuses Baroque and Middle Eastern gestures in unusual ways, and which ends with a surprising flourish., February 2010

Even in the 20th and 21st centuries, Baroque music and Baroque forms have retained their power to inspire composers—such as Avner Dorman (born 1975), who has written concertos that draw on Baroque models for formal structure and even sometimes for harmony, but use the rhythms of jazz, ethnic music and rock ‘n roll for their communicative effects. This can be an uneasy combination, and Dorman’s music will not strike all listeners as having managed it effectively—this CD gets a (+++) rating. But in Dorman…there is a great deal worth hearing…the Mandolin Concerto—performed by Avi Avital, who commissioned it—is a particularly interesting throwback…it certainly has interesting sonic moments. The Piccolo Concerto is in traditional fast-slow-fast form and shows closer ties to Baroque and Classical times, although it also features prominent polytonality. Dorman’s Concerto Grosso—a Baroque form if there ever was one—actually includes a harpsichord and a little of Handel’s Concerto Grosso, op. 6, no. 4, but it is more driven rhythmically than a work of the Baroque era. The Piano Concerto, written when Dorman was 19, is inspired by Bach and dedicated to Vivaldi, and it is something of a mashup, including bits of jazz, pop, rock and other 20th-century forms while maintaining some elements of Baroque style. All these pieces—all of which are very well played by soloists and ensemble alike…have effective moments…Dorman has some interesting compositional ideas

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2010

Born in 1975 and a product of the Juilliard School, Avner Dorman has become one of the most fashionable composers in the United States. A pupil of John Corigliano whose influences are heard throughout this disc, the rhythmically potent opening movement to the Mandolin Concerto has the pile-driving force that lodges quickly in the memory. In contrast to the conventional concerto form, it is the slow movement that forms the finale. The Piccolo Concerto is a most imaginative score, the seldom heard smooth beauty of the instrument low down for the slow movement is surrounded by music in the perky upper realms. Dorman moves to minimalism for an update of the Baroque idiom for the thematic music of the Concerto Grosso. With a hectic central Presto, it is a score of outgoing happiness. Finally a Piano Concerto whose opening movement almost crosses into the world of Hollywood films, eventually reaching a finale with Bach in a modern guise. Avi Avital is the mandolin soloist who can draw so many hues from his instrument; Mindy Kaufman, who became principal piccolo of the New York Philharmonic at the age of 22, has  extremely fast fingers, and Eliran Avni seems well acquainted with the many styles required for the Piano Concerto. A new orchestra on the New York scene, the Metropolis Ensemble, is a slick and virtuoso group of twenty-one strings, and apart from the need to adjust your volume control when you move into the Piano Concerto, the sound and balance is first rate.

David Hurwitz, February 2010

Avner Dorman is a major compositional talent. Sure, we’ve heard plenty of Baroque-inspired pieces before, from the opening of Tippett’s Second Symphony, tons of Martinu and Stravinsky, to Karl Jenkins’ “Diamond Music” commercials. As this list suggests, the quality of such music ranges from superb (Tippett, Stravinsky, and Martinu) to junk (Jenkins). Happily, Dorman’s pieces clearly stand closer to the former category than to the latter. He describes his style as a combination of Baroque, jazz, rock, and ethnic (Middle Eastern) influences, and that’s exactly what it is, but happily his own personality is strong enough to absorb and synthesize these various elements into a convincing personal idiom.

As readers probably already know, I’m not generally a fan of concertos for silly solo instruments, whether these be percussion (Dorman has two of those), tuba (except for Vaughan Williams), contrabassoon (Aho-yecch!), double bass, or what have you. That said, I have to confess that Dorman’s Mandolin and Piccolo concertos are terrific. The former finds more timbral variety in this recalcitrant instrument than you would ever believe possible, and it seems to have been conceived with its potential in mind so as to turn any limitations to maximum expressive advantage. Soloist Avi Avital wails away at his mandolin as if his life depended on it. The same observations apply to the Piccolo Concerto; sure, it’s sprightly (it has to be), but soloist Mindy Kaufman has a wonderful tone, an amazing facility with flutter-tonguing, and Dorman’s sensitive use of such modernistic devices (or “ethnic,” depending on your frame reference) as pitch-bending imbues the piece with real poetry.

The Concerto Grosse takes Handel and Vivaldi as inspirations, but the slow-fast-slow form is quite unconventional, and the mixture of minimalist techniques, modernist tone clusters, and frankly melodic passages is exquisitely balanced for maximum variety and color. Dorman was only 19 when he wrote his Piano Concerto; it’s the most conventional work on the disc, clearly neo-Baroque, but no less charming for that in soloist Eliran Avni’s capable hands. The pianissimo conclusion reveals a composer of real sensitivity and wit. None of these pieces lasts longer than seventeen minutes, all bear repetition, and the Metropolis Ensemble under Andrew Cyr sounds absolutely terrific no matter what Dorman asks them to do. This is really good stuff, a genuine discovery, beautifully played and excellently engineered. It will make you feel good about the future of contemporary Classical music.

Uncle Dave Lewis, February 2010

Although composer Avner Dorman was apparently born in the United States—meriting his inclusion in Naxos’ esteemed “American Classics” series—he has for the most part made his career in Israel. Although his initial course of study was with John Corigliano at Juilliard, perhaps the strongest impact made on Dorman was the result of instruction with ex-Soviet, Georgian composer Josef Bardanashvili in Israel at Tel Aviv University. Dorman refined his skills as composer in a residency with the Israel Camerata between 2001 and 2003, and this helped transform his reception back home; between 2003 and 2005 Dorman won ASCAP’s Morton Gould Young Composer’s Award three times in a row. Naxos has already released a disc of Dorman’s piano music as played by Eliran Avni; this disc focuses on the concerted music Dorman has written. In keeping within the chamber orchestra dimensions of Dorman’s usual ripieno the accompaniment is provided by the expert New York-based Metropolis Ensemble, led by Andrew Cyr.

It is not hard to understand the level of enthusiasm about Dorman’s music in some quarters; it is contemporary, accessible in style but not slavishly ingratiating, often speaking in modal, folk-influenced harmonic language embracing both Hebraic and Arabic elements but also incorporating some measure of Astor Piazzolla’s preferences in scoring and rhythm. Dorman’s fondness for rapid ostinati and rich textures may evoke a hint of minimalist style, but his music isn’t minimalistic; while there is definitely a sense of stasis in the Adagio cantabile in the Piccolo Concerto (2001) and in the opening Adagio—Allegro drammatico—Adagio of the Concerto grosso (2003), it is not achieved through repetition. There is an attractive brightness about several of his melodic ideas, particularly in the opening Allegro of the Piano Concerto in A (1995). This is like a postmodern take on Mozart’s piano concerti, whereas the Concerto grosso was by design based on Vivaldi and Handel…Overall, though, Naxos’ Avner Dorman: Concertos is eminently listenable and serves to deliver on the great promise of this young composer, and all of the featured soloists acquit themselves well in these twenty first century compositions. This serves as a great antidote to the protestations of the “classical music is dead” folks; it certainly seems very much alive here.

Paula, January 2010

I met composer Avner Dorman in May of 2006, a couple of months after Metropolis Ensemble’s first concert. My cousin emailed me the day of a CD release party/concert that featured his solo piano music “Come hear…”. So I went to check it out.

I was deeply struck by how orchestral this music sounded, especially in the hands of pianist Eliran Avni. I left intrigued and hungry to hear more of Avner’s music and I listened to a live recording of his Piccolo Concerto on his website. His approach to color, rhythm, invention, and structure (an often ignored topic) was masterful and inventive: he truly possessed a distinct voice. In addition to all that, I simply loved his music.

About 6 months later, we met again. I was approaching him to explore a potential new commission, but he was wanting to steer me in a different direction. Avner was in the process of writing a new mandolin concerto for a young Israeli/Moroccan virtuoso mandolinist, Avi Avital. Describing how they were Skyping daily about mandolin techniques and relaying ideas back and forth across the Atlantic, I was intrigued and decided to wait to hear the results.

One year after, nearly to the day after I had heard Avner’s piano music for the first time, Metropolis Ensemble gave the U.S. premiere of his Mandolin Concerto, with Avi himself playing. I was so passionate about this piece and Avner’s music, as were our amazing players, we investigated how to find a way to record it in studio.

During that process, we had invited Grammy-winning producer David Frost to attend the premiere and after the concert, he signaled to us that we were ready to record this music. Really, for real? It was our third concert project as a performing group, but that gesture of faith from David was a transformative moment for the ensemble. Five months later, we recorded 4 of his chamber orchestra concerti in 2 short days that were perhaps the longest of my life. I am so thrilled to share this great CD showcasing the fantastic music of Avner Dorman and the extraordinary talent and commitment of our musicians.

Jennifer Melick
THIRTEEN, January 2010

…the New York-based Metropolis Ensemble, led by music director Andrew Cyr, will play Avner Dorman’s Concerto for Mandolin with soloist Avi Avital. The piece has a virtuosic mandolin part and an amalgam of styles including Middle Eastern harmonies, lots of minor seconds, fluttering tremolos, and string bits that occasionally sound like something from a Bernard Herrmann film score. Naxos has just released a CD of Avner Dorman pieces—the mandolin concerto is on it—and is hosting a CD release party there that’s open to the public. At the event, all attendees will get a free CD and there’s a reception and CD signing after the performance. The whole thing is coordinated through No Longer Empty, a non-profit organization that organizes site-specific public art exhibitions in vacated storefronts and properties in New York City. The point is, Avner Dorman, born in 1975, seems to be the real deal, and there’s something rather wonderful about the chance to hear his music for free in the defunct Tower store.

Michael Barone
Minnesota Public Radio, January 2010

Intrigued by Baroque music since childhood, Dorman has created a collection of ‘modern’ pieces imbued with the formal clarity and rhythmic energy of 18th century music. Make no mistake, these pieces sound ‘new’, but they also sound fresh and friendly, and surprisingly ‘original’, despite the obvious derivations. Performances are breathtakingly fine, and if you pass by this album you’re missing out on a disarmingly satisfying production. Go for it!

Don Clark
Puggingham Palace, January 2010

I would surmise that the number of mandolin and piccolo concerti written in the last century or two can be counted on one hand. Both instruments have limits in sound quality, dynamics and range that present a challenge to a composer creating a concert work. The mandolin has all but disappeared from modern compositions but the piccolo of course hangs on in orchestras and especially marching bands.

Avner Dorman seemed to relish the challenge of making dramatic and coherent showpieces for these two diverse instruments and has produced a Mandolin Concerto (2006) and a Piccolo Concerto (2001). Both these fascinating pieces were recently recorded and released on the Naxos label along with “Concerto Grosso” for 2 violins, viola, cello and harpsichord from 2003 and an early Piano Concerto in A from 1995 when the composer was barely out of his teens.

Of all the works on the disc, I have turned most frequently to the colorful, almost exotic, baroque/jazzy Mandolin Concerto. Dorman lists baroque music, jazz and contemporary rock music as influences and all can be heard in this compact 17 minute concerto. There is a baroque linearity to the piece, forward motion and line are more important than harmony, even in slower movements. Dorman finds many ways to milk the unique sound and technique of this ancient instrument, tone clusters, sharp pizzicati, frequent use of the tremolo to sustain pitches over time, which the composer states leads to a central conflict over motion and stasis. (Note here, Dorman’s notes to the disc are delightfully informative and shed some real insight on his creative mind.) Like a baroque composition, the piece is breezy, full of notes but mixed with the freer use of rhythm that comes from exposure to ethnic and pop music.

Frankly the piece is fun, never a dull moment here.

The Piccolo concerto is all about rock and jazz to my ear. Driving beats, forward motion, free flowing melodic figures, repetition, with a laid back “coolness” that is truly jazz inspired. This is not a swipe at the work, but it frequently took me back to the wonderful Claude Bolling Jazz Suites that were so popular in the 70’s, especially the one for flute that made Jean-Pierre Rampal into a jazz sensation. One of Dorman’s strengths is that he can take all these influences, cascades of notes and sounds and put them in recognizable musical forms. His recent showy Piano Concerto “Lost Souls” despite all the theatrics and conjuring of sounds and styles of past composers, had a recognizable sonata form first movement. The Piccolo concerto also wraps all the rock and jazz elements into a tight baroque concerto form. Thus instead of a muddle of sounds and styles, the concerti make complete musical sense.

The Concerto Grosso is a bit of a different animal; more weighty, a bit darker and less jazzy than the concerti. Modeled after Handel’s series of Concerti Grossi, the work is still tuneful, highly approachable, frequently dramatic and a welcome addition to tradition of 20th and 21st century composers updating, as it were, older forms.

The recording ends with a breezy Bachian Piano Concerto from the composer’s 20th year. Even then Dorman showed his prowess in combining baroque forms with contemporary influences, even, according to his notes, the Police and Stravinsky.

The disc Naxos 8.559620 is released January 26th, but I got to sneak a peek through the invaluable Naxos Music Library program. Worth its weight in gold, in my opinion.

As is this fine and entertaining disc.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group