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Avner Dorman

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Eternal Rhythm (2018)
The percussion concerto Eternal Rhythm has been commissioned by the NDR Hamburg and George Enescu Festival Bucharest.
Publisher
G Schirmer Inc
Category
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
2018
Duration
25 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Percussion
Programme Note
Avner Dorman Eternal Rhythm (2018)
Composer note:
Rhythm is, perhaps, the most fundamental aspect of music. In fact, the basic properties of rhythm express the essential signs of life. Without a pulse, we cannot live. Without pulsation and repetitive motion, the physical world cannot exist. To the best of our knowledge, the universe began with a large impulse, and the resulting oscillations, pulses, and beats, are what we still experience — an Eternal Rhythm that stretches from the beginning of time in perpetuity.

The concerto begins with a short introduction based on the harmonic series of overtones. Structured in five movements, each part is connected by a short interlude that echoes the familiar introduction. Each of the movements echoes the general idea of the harmonic series — an infinite series of oscillations — in a different way. The soloist alternates between a variety of percussion instruments, including vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel, and crotales, as well as a melodic set of tom-tom drums and a variety of tin cans and cow bells.

The music of the Balinese Gamelan inspires much of the first movement, employing a limited number of pitches, yet organizing them in complex rhythmic cycles. As in Gamelan music, metallic keyboard percussion features prominently, along with a variety of flute-like melodic combinations. As the movement progresses, energy accumulates leading to a virtuosic drumming section. The movement ends with a simple tune that repeats and recalls the opening materials.

The second movement begins with an expressive chromatic melody. The accompanying figure employs spiral structures oscillating at perfect fifths (the second interval of the harmonic series). As the movement develops, more spirals and melodic lines emerge and weave together into a complex web.

Rhythmic and angular, the third movement is structured as a call and response between the orchestra and soloist. Rising scales and syncopated rhythms come together to create a movement that is both light-hearted and energetic. While the scales initially appear to be standard at the outset, every few notes, a "wrong" interval appears. As a result, as the scale rises, the music arrives at different and unexpected places. While the harmony of the movement is completely consonant (again drawn from the natural harmonic series), the rate of change is so fast that our ears hear what they interpret as "dissonance."

The heart of the piece is its fourth movement. Featuring a Hebrew text from the 11th century, this movement raises deep questions regarding our interaction as conscious beings with the physical world:

   Does the tear know whose cheek it runs down,
   Or the heart by whom it is turned?
   It turns to its light that is now in the ground,
   And the ground knows not who has returned.
   Returned is a grandee of our town,
   A man who feared God and was upright and learned.


   (original poem by Yehuda Halevi, translated by Hillel Halkin)

The text figuratively reverses the roles of consciousness and physicality, asking whether one's tears know who is crying them and whether the earth knows who lays in it. At this point in the piece we realize that the rhythm of life and rhythm of the universe are one and the same; our experience of the world is inevitably linked to the pulse of the universe and the oscillation of matter and energy.

The work ends with an exuberant movement: a celebration of life, energy and an ever-present and eternal rhythm.

— Avner Dorman



Performances
Date
Title
  • 15 NOV 2019
    Eternal Rhythm Country Premiere
    Fondazione Arturo Toscanini / Parma / Italy
    Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini
    Simone Rubino, percussion; Yves Abel, conductor
  • 27 NOV 2019
    Heilbronn / Germany
    Wurttembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn
    Simone Rubino percussion; Case Scaglioni, conductor
  • 23 APR 2020
    Eternal Rhythm Country Premiere
    Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall / Zagreb / Croatia
    HRT Orchestra
    Simone Rubino, percussion; Enrico Dindo, conductor

Reviews
The work shares a name with a live jazz album by Don Cherry and this would appear to be no accident. Dorman uses sharp, strong rhythmic effects that share elements found in jazz as well as other popular forms of music such as progressive rock and house music. (And as a pleasing coincidence, Cherry's 1968 album was recorded in Berlin just as Dorman's Eternal Rhythm was first heard in Germany.)
 
The piece opens with a strong strike on the tamtam, a brash doorbell sound announcing the doorway to the music. [Cynthia] Yeh then offered a pretty melody on the crotales, shimmering and gleaming. Devotees of gamelan music will immediately realize the composer shares affection for these sounds (he regularly participates in making gamelan music in Pennsylvania, where he lives). It is a pleasing way to bring twinkling gentleness to the music before the percussion soloist moves on to music-box-like sound from the glockenspiel.
 
The main instruments that Dorman uses for the soloist are vibraphone and marimba. Yeh's great talents meant that the music proceeded with ease even as tempos heated up and the passages became rapid and complex. It is a credit to Yeh that she lets the music speak without showboating or employing silly affectation. She moved about the front of the Orchestra Hall stage from [James] Gaffigan's right to his left with cat-like calm and elegance, never making it seem as if the travels between instruments was some kind of race or madcap game of musical chairs.
 
Dorman often gives the orchestra a muscular sound, at one point with brass and low strings issuing burping-like notes to punctuate the solo lines. Gaffigan's only gaffe was to occasionally let the orchestra overpower the solo percussion leaving the listener straining to hear the more delicate shimmering of the vibraphone or the rich tones of the marimba.
 
There is an extended section for timpani, tom-tom, and "tin cans (or cow bell)." For the last, Yeh employed a small set of kitchen pans and one metal bowl. Dorman told me that this set of instruments are to be chosen by the soloist and that they should be "found instruments," which appears to be a corollary of the "found objects" sometimes seen in other forms of art.
 
The 4th movement, marked Adagio and which the composer explains is the heart of the concerto, contains a haunting melody for which Dorman offers the soloist a choice of singing or playing vibraphone. The text employed is one that the composer told me he has admired since high school, an 11th-century Hebrew poem which opens with the line, "Does the tear know whose cheek it runs down…?" The original soloist was also an accomplished singer, says Dorman, and that gave him the inspiration to employ voice. But since he knew not all percussionists would want to sing, he included the vibraphone solo as an option, which is what Yeh choose to perform. In his program notes, Dorman explains that, "At this point in the piece, we realize that the rhythm of life and the rhythm of the universe are the sameā€¦"
 
It was a vibrant 25-minute performance, with masterful work by Yeh and admirable sound from the orchestra.
M.L. Rantala, Hyde Park Herald,09/10/2019
Several aspects of this work, which runs about 25 minutes, set it apart, starting with its unusual five-movement structure, which allows for considerable variations in mood and color. Unlike some percussion concertos that feature an overblown variety of instruments and make a point of including the exotic and unexpected, Dorman kept his selection reasonably modest and almost all of it standard. His only deviation from the conventional was a half dozen or so of what he calls "tin cans" in the score but looked on stage to be upside-down metal pots and bowls that provided a dull clanging sound when struck.
 
Dorman created three fascinating groups of instruments in his writing for the soloist, starting with a combination of glockenspiel and crotales — tuned bronze or brass disks about 4 inches in diameter arranged on a rack horizontally. Because hard mallets are used to strike metal disks or bars with both of these instruments, they generate similarly penetrating, ringing tones that provided a compelling, other-worldly mix when played side by side. Similarly complementary effects were achieved with the pairing of the vibraphone and adjacent melodic tom-toms and the largest and most complex set of instruments — timpani, tuned tom-toms, and the metal pots and bowls. Rounding out the array was the marimba. The solo instruments were grouped in a horseshoe shape around the podium, with the soloist moving to each station as needed.
 
Adding yet another dimension to the sound colors in this work were more percussion instruments in the orchestra, including many of the same ones being played by the soloist. This allowed for dialogues among these instruments as well as some intriguing, at times strange echo effects heard virtually from the beginning of the work with the orchestral percussionist entering seven bars in on the glockenspiel as the soloist played the crotales. Some bars later, the two were engaged in a dialogue between the marimba and vibraphone. And still later in the first movement, the soloist on the tom-toms was backed in the orchestra by the timpanist and the orchestral percussionist on tambourine, along with the rest of the orchestra.
 
Eternal Rhythm checks off many boxes. It is an engaging, well-integrated, and well-crafted work with an unstoppable sense of forward momentum as it proceeds uninterrupted through its five movements. Moods and sound colors shift constantly as the soloist switches instruments, different parts of the orchestra come into play, and tempos as well as dynamics change. It is variously mysterious, reflective, exuberant, and even jazzy at times, concluding with a kinetic fifth movement containing roller-coaster runs for the strings and galloping passages for the soloist on marimba and tom-toms.
 
Indeed, the work is a first-rate showpiece for the soloist, and the orchestra's masterful principal percussionist, Cynthia Yeh, made the most of it. Unflappable and undaunted, she handled every challenge this work threw at her with seeming ease, delivering a virtuosic and captivating performance. And Gaffigan made sure the orchestra was right there with her, ably supporting and augmenting everything she was doing.
Kyle MacMillan, Classical Voice North America,08/10/2019
The concerto launches as if rising from the depths of nothingness, tinged with the quiet shimmer of crotales and glockenspiel, and soon sets Yeh to wildly undulating mallet work and drumming.
 
On paper, Dorman's permutations look alive, improvisatory, with Balinese gamelan and Bach among strong influences. It's hypnotically repetitive music that mutates easily and seems to suggest a spiral naturally upward and outward toward greater mystery and, perhaps, the rhythm of the infinite. But the concerto sounded tentative at the Oct. 3 first performance, as if the conductor, orchestra and Yeh were still focused on integrating the intricacies of its rhythmic footwork, and therefore not quite free to dance.
 
One of the five movements gives the soloist the option to intone vocally, as a cantor would, some ancient Hebrew words on the nature of death in the everlasting universe. That text comes as a bolt of revelation at the concerto's pivot point. These concerts marked the world premiere of the "unsung" version. Yeh just played, without singing. Was this option offered as an afterthought by the composer? It seemed that something was missing. Still, the overall impression that the concerto left was of a distinctive, authentically American voice imbued with appealing threads of Gershwin, Copland, Bernstein, Brubeck and living composers Steve Reich and John Corigliano (Dorman's teacher) in his DNA, without directly imitating any of them.
Nancy Malitz, Chicago on the Aisle,06/10/2019

Cynthia Yeh, principal percussion of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, typically works at the back of Orchestra Hall's stage.

On Thursday night, she stepped dramatically to the front.

The occasion was the United States premiere of Avner Dorman's Eternal Rhythm (Percussion Concerto), a 2018 work that places enormous technical and musical demands on the soloist. Yeh finessed them with elegance, especially considering the intricacies of her part and the rhythmic disruptions emanating from the orchestra, conducted by James Gaffigan.

This was a concerto of ample restlessness, the soloist logging quite a few steps as she paced from one battery of percussion instruments to the next, all arrayed toward the lip of the stage. In effect, Yeh was operating a mini-orchestra of her own, drawing upon the vast array of colors that composer Dorman had written into five movements played without pause.

From the opening pages, it was clear that Eternal Rhythm was going to be as much tone poem as concerto, composer Dorman having conceived the solo part for marimba, vibraphone, timpani, melodic tom-toms, tin cans and whatnot. Eternal Rhythm, in other words, was as much about timbre and line as it was about pulsation and syncopation.

The work had a distinctive protagonist in Yeh, who was every bit as concerned with melodic phrase and tonal shading as she was with rhythmic accent and forward motion. This was a poetic reading of a piece that others might have performed with more aggression and noise.

Yet Yeh did not miss the score's rhythmic urgency. In the opening movement, the buoyancy of her articulation — with double mallets in each hand — brought forth the inherent jazziness of these pages. Conductor Gaffigan similarly emphasized the joy of perpetual motion, orchestra and soloist conjuring something delightfully close to all-American swing.

Though it would be easy to peg Eternal Rhythm as an engaging but light-hearted romp, its fourth movement dug into somewhat deeper contemplations. Composer Dorman, who was born in Israel and now lives in the U.S., drew inspiration for these passages from an 11th century Hebrew text. Even if you didn't read those philosophical words in the program book — with the opening line "Does the tear know whose cheek it runs down" — there was no missing the plaintive, Hebraic character of the clarinet lines. Nor the delicacy with which Yeh shaped the haunting melody, nor the serene wonder of Dorman's writing for strings.

Not surprisingly, the concerto then races to its finish, the solo part ricocheting from the lowest pitches to the highest and back in a burst of rhythmic exultation. Considering the concerto's charismatic appeal, it's not difficult to envision it receiving many performances to come, though surely few as sensitive as Yeh's.

Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune,04/10/2019
The first half of the concert was devoted to Eternal Rhythm by Avner Dorman. Unveiled a year ago in Hamburg, the Israeli composer's concerto was presented Thursday night in its U.S. premiere with CSO principal percussionist Cynthia Yeh as solo protagonist.
 
A substantial work at 25 minutes, Eternal Rhythm is cast in five unbroken movements. As per the genre the soloist is called upon to perform on a variety of far-flung hammered instruments including timpani, melodic tom-toms and cowbells.
 
Yet Dorman deftly avoids most of the standard percussion-concerto tropes. His engaging score is skillfully varied, melodic, and effectively deployed between the soloist and orchestra.
 
Rather than presenting the usual spectacle of a soloist dashing between a bestiary of instruments, the composer focuses most of the solo writing on the crotales, vibraphone and marimba — often for extended passages, which cuts down on the footrace around the stage.
 
In fact, soloist and orchestra are on an equal footing throughout Eternal Rhythm, to the music's benefit. An ominous tam-tam strike opens the concerto, soon contrasted with an introduction of harmonic overtones, which serves as a bridge of sorts between sections. In the first movement, the soloist plays crotales, which lends a high shimmering quality. The tempo accelerates and the Balinese gamelan style seems to channel Lou Harrison at times, leading to a fast drumming section by the soloist.
 
The second movement is a kind of pastoral idyll — relaxed and mellow with a beguiling naive lyricism and some delicately diaphanous sounds conjured up by the soloist. The middle movement provides immediate contrast with hard-driving music of jagged angularity played on timpani and drums. The marimba is to the fore in the bravura finale, fast and exhilarating music that closes the concerto with a display of solo brilliance that the composer says represents "life, energy and an ever-present and eternal rhythm."
 
Ironically, the one part of the concerto that fell flat Thursday was the fourth movement, which Dorman calls "the heart of the piece." The music is set to the words of an 11th-century Hebrew poem by Yehuda Halevi, which connects the rhythms of daily life with the (eternal) rhythm of the universe. The soloist is given the option of singing the vocal line or performing it on the vibraphone; Yeh chose the latter but the instrument's blandly ping-pongy timbre in no way conveyed the expressive depth or metaphysical thrust of the text.
 
That apart, Cynthia Yeh was a vital and conscientious solo protagonist, though at times one wanted more fiery virtuosity, as well as greater power and sonic punch for the solo line to be heard over Dorman's rambunctious orchestra.
 
Gaffigan led a well-prepared and alert accompaniment by Yeh's orchestra colleagues. Dorman's concerto proved a big hit with the audience, earning warm applause and vociferous cheers and repeated curtain calls for Yeh and the composer.
Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review,04/10/2019
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