GSO Goes Jazzy!

April 17, 18 & 19, 2014

Program Notes by Dr. Joella Utley

Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!

Avner Dorman (b. 1975)

Israeli-born Avner Dorman, now living in the United States, became the youngest composer to win Israel’s prestigious Prime Minister’s award at age twenty-five.  Numerous other recognitions have come his way including “Composer of the Year” for 2002 in Israel.

Dorman completed his Master’s degree at Tel Aviv University where he majored in music, musicology and physics.  He came to the U.S. in 2003 and entered Juilliard, studying with esteemed composer John Corigliano, who says of Dorman, “There’s an excitement to his pieces and an expressiveness that you don’t often find in new music.”

Dorman draws from his varied cultural background many sounds and emotions that influence his music.  He explains that, “Growing up in Israel was a good way of absorbing a lot of different influences…” “Israel pop to me sounds like Arabic music mixed together with Scandinavian pop.”

After conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in the premiere of Dorman’s award-winning Variations without a Theme (2004), Zubin Mehta commissioned Dorman to compose a concerto for percussion duo and orchestra.  This resulted in Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!, which conductor Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra premiered in April 2006 in Tel Aviv.

As Dorman describes the title: “Spices, Perfumes, Toxins! refers to three substances that are extremely appealing, yet filled with danger.  Spices delight the palate, but can cause illness; perfumes seduce, but can also betray; toxins bring ecstasy, but can be deadly.”

In Spices we hear Middle Eastern drums, orchestral percussion and rock drums along with the orchestral support.  The piece is largely based on Middle Eastern and Indian scales.  As the composer explains, he uses repetitive minimalism as it appears in the musical traditions of the Eastern and Western minimalists of the past forty years.  In Perfumes, vibraphones, and flutes bring the sounds of Middle Eastern folk music with an underpinning of jazz in the bass line.  And the final movement, Toxins, uses the full variety of percussion instruments.  This very rhythmic section portrays “joy as well as anxiety, pain and delusions and ends in a final outburst of catharsis and death.”

It’s About Time

Dave Brubeck (1920-2012)

Jazz composer, pianist and bandleader Dave Brubeck is a living legend in American music.  Born in Concord, California, he first wanted to be a rancher like his dad.  His mother, a classically trained musician, started him on piano where he found he could perform any music he listened to.  According to Brubeck, his eyesight was poor but his wear was good.  “I was never a good student…trouble reading music…poor eyes.  So I approached music through my ears.”  He studied composition with Darius Milhaud at Mills College in Oakland, who told Brubeck not to worry about reading music.  Just communicate with audiences through your works.

Today his music is noted for his use of unusual time signatures and superimposed contrasting rhythms, meters and tonalities.  “Take Five,” written with saxophonist Paul Desmond, is in 5/4 time; “Pick Up Sticks” in 6/4; “Unsquare Dance” in 7/4; “World’s Fair” in 13/4 and “Blue Rondo A La Turk” in 9/8.

During World War II, Brubeck was drafted into the Army where he created the first racially integrated band in the U.S. Armed Forces, “The Wolfpack.”  He toured the world as a jazz ambassador for the U.S. Department of State in the late 1950’s, and in 1999 the National Endowment for the Arts recognized Brubeck as a Jazz Master for the Arts.  In 2003 he received the Living Legend Award from the Library of Congress.  Over the years numerous other awards and acknowledgments have come his way.

Not limited to jazz, Brubeck has composed orchestral music, ballets, a musical, an oratorio, cantatas and sacred music and soundtracks to television shows, including Charlie Brown.  His face appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1954.

The popular work, It’s About Time, is a medley comprised of three short Brubeck jazz compositions: Take Time, Unsquare Dance, and Blue Rondo A La Turk.  Listen for the frenetic beat – or “offbeat” – in each.

Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra

Christopher Brubeck (b. 1952)

Chris Brubeck, a composer and performer, plays electric bass, bass trombone and piano, and like his father Dave Brubeck, Chris performs both in jazz and classical styles.  The musical gene is strong in the Brubeck family.  In 1972 Chris joined his father and older brothers Darius and Daniel in The New Brubeck Quartet and later the sons formed the Brubeck Brothers Quartet (BBQ).  The BBQ has performed across North America and Europe, and have earned wonderful reviews.  “There’s really nothing out there that comes close to their unique brand of inventiveness.”  (Website, All About Jazz)

In 2003 Chris played Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in Prague.  This energizing piece was performed at the International Trombone Festival, with the Boston Pops, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

In writing about this piece, Chris Brubeck stated, “My goal was to write a challenging work that would keep all sections of the orchestra on their toes, expose them to odd time signatures, polytonality and above all, remind them that music was supposed to be joyous, energetic, beautiful, adventurous, powerful and even humorous!”

This three-movement Concerto for Bass Trombone begins with “Paradise Utopia.”  As Chris Brubeck describes this first movement: “Imagine a Donald Trump like figure maniacally rebuilding the New York skyline.”  In the second movement, “Sorrow Floats,” we hear a reflective Adagio, while the final, “James Brown in the Twilight Zone,” contains features of the sixties, the First Gulf War, and elements of Middle Eastern themes.

On The Town: Three Dance Episodes

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

The musical On The Town with music by Leonard Bernstein is adapted from a book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.  It was first produced on Broadway in 1944 and made into a film in 1949.  It is the story of three American sailors who are on a 24-hour shore leave in New York City during wartime.  Each of the sailors becomes enamored with a particular woman – and with the city itself.  The musical was an instant success and ran for fourteen months, bringing Bernstein overnight fame.

From the score of On The Town, Bernstein created a set of three dance episodes for orchestra, which premiered in 1946 with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the 27-year-old Bernstein.  As he writes: “In the Dance of the Great Lover, Gaby, the romantic sailor in search of the glamorous Miss Turnstiles, falls asleep in the subway and dreams of his prowess in sweeping Miss Turnstiles off her feet.  In the Pas de Deux, Gaby watches a scene, both tender and sinister, in which a sensitive high school girl in Central Park is lured and then cast off by a worldly sailor.  The Times Square Ballet is a more panoramic sequence in which all the sailors in New York congregate in Times Square for their night of fun.  There is communal dancing, a scene in a souvenir arcade and a scene in the Roseland Dance Palace.”

The first episode, “The Great Lover,” is vigorous with the enthusiasm of young love.  “Lonely Town” (Pas de Deux) is a bluesy, tender and melancholic dance, while the final dance, “Times Square – 1944,” is filled with joy and zeal, reminding us of Bernstein’s theme, “New York, New York.”