CityMusic Cleveland to give local debut of parable for young and old
Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer, April 14, 2013
There's a moment in Avner Dorman's "Uzu and Muzu From Kakaruzu," a fairy tale about conflict resolution for narrator, two percussionists and orchestra, when the musicians play extended techniques that depict the snoring of the story's two brothers.
"The kids love it," said the Israeli-born composer, referring to audience members. "My wife thinks it's a commentary on some contemporary composers."
Not, surely, on a composer named Dorman, who has won admiration for his ability to paint sonic colors in fresh strokes, whether he's making novel use of instruments and voices or juxtaposing traditional and modern musical idioms.
All of these elements can be found in "Uzu and Muzu From Kakaruzu," which will receive its Ohio premiere this week as the centerpiece in intergenerational concerts CityMusic Cleveland will present at five area venues.
The chamber orchestra began taking up social issues last year in a program focusing on genocide. Eugenia Strauss, the ensemble's executive director, found the main work, Czech composer Hans Krasa's children's opera "Brundibar," while cruising the Internet. She discovered the Dorman piece the same way.
Rebecca Schweigert Mayhew, CityMusic's principal oboe and director of education, said Dorman's musical parable is ideal for the series because it addresses serious consequences of fighting in a lighthearted manner.
"Conflict is in everyday life," she said. "Teachers need ways to talk about it."
Dorman, 38, first read the story about brothers whose arguments lead to estrangement when he was a teenager in his native Tel Aviv. Baby-sitting for a neighbor, he came upon Ephraim Sidon's children's book, "Uzu and Muzu From Kakaruzu," and was struck by its beauty, wisdom and humor.
The idea to compose a work based on the book -- whose whimsical title evokes the two brothers and their village -- happened decades later. Dorman had written a percussion concerto for PercaDu (the team of Tomer Yariv and Adi Morag) and the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta.
Encountering Yariv and Morag, old chums from Tel Aviv University, at an airport, Dorman decided it was time to compose another piece for them. "Uzu and Muzu From Kakaruzu" quickly popped into his head.
"At the beginning, the two percussionists represent the brothers," said Dorman. The 30-minute work unfolds "like a mini-opera, with narrator, rather than singers. Children will be excited by it, but I don't want adults to think of it as a children's piece."
Uzu and Muzu bicker so much that they eventually build a wall down the middle of their house and never again speak to one another. The brothers' descendants come to believe that monsters live on the other side of the wall, until a curious boy and girl peer over the barrier and realize the longstanding rumor isn't true. They become friends.
Writing the piece gave Dorman -- who holds degrees in physics and music, including a doctorate from the Juilliard School -- the opportunity to explore many musical languages. The score begins in the bright and basic key of C major ("It takes a lot of nerve to do that today," said the composer) and heads into dissonant territory during the conflicts.
"I find it was a very free environment to work in," Dorman said. "I could be very creative using contemporary ideas. It was so liberating to have that kid inside me judging the music all the time and saying it's boring.
Growing up in Israel, Dorman played piano but avoided what a youngster might have perceived as tedious: mainstream classical repertoire. Instead, he delved into the adventurous worlds of Bartok and rock.
"As a 10-year-old, it had to groove," he said.
The grown-up Dorman grooves on several fronts. Winner of international awards for his music and a faculty member at Gettsyburg College, he's also the creator of software applications for more than 4,000 ring tones.
Dorman's works have been performed by numerous orchestras, including California's Stockton Symphony, which gave the premiere of "Uzu and Kuzu From Kakaruzu" in 2011. The Israel Philharmonic will perform the piece in June with eight students of PercaDu -- "It's a new generation, and a brilliant idea," said Dorman -- and in future seasons by the Alabama Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony and the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg.
The Stockton Symphony premiere was part of a yearlong Music Alive Residency with Dorman that included writing activities and conversations about conflict resolution.
CityMusic is following in Stockton's footsteps with a writing contest for people of all ages, who are encouraged to take up the topic in the form of a musical work, poem, story, play, essay or multimedia piece. (The deadline is Wednesday, May 1. For information, go to citymusiccleveland.org.)
"The goal of the series is to get people talking about the subject," said Mayhew.
Just like the children who dispel the myth of monsters in Kakaruzu.