When he looked up and saw the stars over Gettysburg, internationally acclaimed composer Avner Dorman knew he had come to the right place. For the lifelong urban dweller, accustomed to premieres of his work in New York, Tel Aviv, or Munich, the unobscured night sky was an inspiration. Literally.
Amid his duties as a tenure-track professor of theory and composition at Gettysburg College's Sunderman Conservatory of Music, Dorman created a new symphonic poem about ancient people's ritual worship of the stars. "Astrolatry" was one of numerous compositions by Dorman to premiere in recent months with orchestras like the Israel Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony.
"Dorman, Israeli-born and a Juilliard graduate, has become a major new composer, with an unprecedented eight premieres around the world this season," the San Francisco Examiner reported on Jan. 20. Read more
"This year he decided to attend only premieres, skipping revivals of older scores in the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Japan and Colombia," the New York Times added April 11. "'Otherwise,' he said, ‘I would have no time to compose or do anything else.' Still, he estimates that since September he has flown 35,000 miles traveling to performances."
Heavenly beauty isn't the only sign that Dorman has found a harmonious fit in Gettysburg. Other factors range from the practical - Gettysburg is only 90 minutes from D.C.'s Dulles Airport, yet "I don't have a big city in my face all the time" - to the profound: the liberal arts, the moral duty to teach, and the future of classical music.
But first, who is Avner Dorman and what kind of music does he write? Dorman is a rising star. At the age of 25, he became the youngest composer to win Israel's prestigious Prime Minister's Award. He holds a doctorate of musical arts in composition from the Julliard School in New York. Champions of his work include internationally renowned conductor Zubin Mehta, who has conducted premieres and performances of Dorman's music by the New York Philharmonic and Israel Philharmonic orchestras.
As for his music, the New York Times said this in a review of Dorman's piccolo and mandolin concertos: "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.' A recording of the mandolin concerto was nominated for a Grammy Award.
From ringtones to the liberal arts
Such an eclectic mix isn't surprising from a composer who majored in physics as an undergraduate at Tel Aviv University, became the lead algorithm developer at a software startup, and produced some 4,000 ringtones for a major cell phone service provider in Israel. The ringtones included not only American hits, but also Israeli pop that Dorman described as "a mash-up of modern western pop and Arabic music." He has written and orchestrated for films and television as well, in styles ranging from Russian folk to slam-bang action. The latter was for the silver-screen version of the video game "Streetfighter."
A similarly wide-ranging atmosphere is what Dorman most appreciates about Gettysburg College's Sunderman Conservatory. "My students have majors like computer science and music. I can relate," he said. "Because of the liberal arts philosophy, it's much more open-minded than some schools. My colleagues are into everything from ethnomusicology to jazz, all the stuff I like." Such intellectual expansiveness makes perfect sense to a composer whose latest works include a symphonic poem based on a literary fairy tale with deep psychological implications. The poem, titled "(not) the shadow (not after Hans Christian Andersen)," had its world premiere this November.
Extraordinary music training, a premier liberal arts education
The Sunderman Conservatory of Music combines Gettysburg's superb music tradition and its strengths as one of the nation's leading liberal arts colleges. Music becomes the lens through which students can achieve a rich, full, and well-rounded education; studying the liberal arts becomes the foundation upon which students build their music expertise. The Conservatory offers an extraordinary range of music opportunities, both for those who wish to major in music and for those majoring in other fields who want music to remain an important part of their lives.
Three majors are offered - the Bachelor of Music in Performance, the Bachelor of Arts in Music, and the Bachelor of Science in Music Education - and a full curriculum encompassing a broad spectrum of music genres and traditions.
The musical notes on the postcard announcing the summer online issue of Gettysburg were not composed by Prof. Avner Dorman, but they are Gettysburg great nonetheless. They are the beginning of the Alma Mater by lyricist Paul S. Gilbert '22 and composer Frederick E. Reinartz '24.