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Avner Dorman on Astrolatry and the Alabama Symphony Orchestra

Justin Brown and his Alabama Symphony Orchestra perform the New York premiere of Avner Dornan's Astrolatry during their May 10 Spring For Music concert at Carnegie Hall. In advance of the March 2011 premiere of the piece, The Birmingham News music critic Michael Huebner spoke with the composer about his work and his relationship with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

Avner Dorman has had a very good year. The best, in fact, in his career.

"This week alone I have six orchestral performances," said the 36-year-old composer last week. "It's unbelievable. I can't foresee the future, but in terms of premieres, it will hard to top. I've had eight so far this season."

The ninth will occur Friday at an Alabama Symphony Masterworks event, and will be the crowning point in Dorman's season-long residency with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. Astrolatry, a work about stars and constellations—their colors, interactions, and motion—was completed on January 1.

"It's brand new—my most recent orchestra piece," said the Israel-born, Juilliard-educated composer of the ASO commission. "It is inspired by the fact that I've seen the stars more in the last year than I ever have before. I grew up in Tel Aviv and lived in New York, where you never see the stars at all. I have been traveling a lot and I've been teaching at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. Around the college, you can go out at night and it's really starry."

Expanding from that inspirational base, the work reaches to the past, when the magnitude of the night sky inspired worship.

"For the first time in my life, I could truly understand why ancient peoples worshiped the stars," he wrote in his program notes.

Yet like much of Dorman's music, Astrolatry amalgamates several styles from the 20th and 21st centuries. Scored for a "pretty standard orchestra," it employs piano and amplified harp, uses a large array of percussion instruments, and special effects for strings. Listeners may hear references to the music of George Crumb, György Ligeti, and Gustav Holst.

"There's always kinetic energy inside that likes to burst out," he said. "There's a quote from The Planets in the second movement. From a poetic view, it's like a tribal, 10 to 15 thousand years ago kind of thing, but because I use a techno beat, it's in both worlds, being primal and very modern."

The unveiling comes on the heels of the premiere of Uriah by the San Francisco Symphony conducted by David Robertson, a Grammy nomination for his Mandolin Concerto, the premiere of Azerbaijani Dance in Israel and New York by Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic, and several performances of Frozen in Time by orchestras in Europe, South America, and Asia, including the Kansas City Symphony and Tokyo's NHK Symphony.

"I love this orchestra," he said. "Justin [Brown] is phenomenal—one of the best conductors I've had the pleasure of working with. When I first got the call to come here, I asked around about this orchestra and everyone told me they're better than you might think. They're better than that."

"It has been many years since I wrote the Ellef Symphony and the Saxophone Concerto," he said. "They feel like they're older. I hope listeners will agree that Astrolatry is more mature. Ten years from now, I may feel differently."

Michael Huebner is classical music and dance critic and fine arts writer for The Birmingham News. The full text of this article is available here.

May 10, Spring For Music: Alabama Symphony Orchestra
Spring 6 for 4: All 6 concerts for the price of 4—Just $100!
Spring For Music 2012

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