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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, a brash and provocative comedian writes a surprisingly tender autobiography. But first, there are two works debuting in New York in upcoming weeks. The first will be conducted by Zubin Mehta at Lincoln Center.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: And the next will be heard in early April at Carnegie Hall -"Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano."

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SIMON: Amazingly, they're by the same composer, Avner Dorman. At the age of 33, he is one of Israel's most renowned and successful composers. Avner Dorman joins us from our studios at NPR West in Southern California. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. AVNER DORMAN (Composer): Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Of course, you're Israeli. But you're a Julliard guy, too, I gather.

Mr. DORMAN: I am. I did my doctorate at Julliard.

SIMON: And tell us how you found music.

Mr. DORMAN: I grew up in a musical family. So I was surrounded by music from a very early age. I didn't really start playing an instrument at an early age, like you might expect from a composer. But I do have these recordings from very early on that I did of my own compositions. I would take these walkie-talkies and connect these radios and bang on the piano and record these, and these were my pieces. So I was about 9 then.

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SIMON: How does that happen to a youngster, do you think?

Mr. DORMAN: Wow. That is a difficult question. I'm not quite sure, but I always liked sound. I had this little radio from when I was 5 or 6 years old, and I just found myself listening a lot to the radio, just to whatever I could find. Then when I started studying the piano when I was 11, I would almost never play what my teachers would give me. Like I would take the piece, but I would make it my own and just change it around, improvise on it.

And this was always the thing that sort of attracted me to music, more than just replicating something someone else wrote.

SIMON: Let's talk about "Spices, Perfumes and Toxins." This is the piece that's going to be conducted by Zubin Mehta, right?

Mr. DORMAN: Yes.

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SIMON: How did this come to you?

Mr. DORMAN: This piece is a concerto for a percussion duo and orchestra. And originally, I worked with this duo, PercaDu. We were together in the Music Academy in Tel Aviv about 10 years ago. And I wrote a piece for them which was very popular in their concert and their performances.

And Zubin Mehta saw them on TV one night when he was conducting the Israel Philharmonic in Israel, and invited them to an audition. So then, we had a perfect opportunity. We always wanted to do some concerto like this, that they would be the soloists and have all this percussion in front of the orchestra, as a traditional concerto but all turned upside down because the percussion is up front.

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SIMON: I assume you were in the army.

Mr. DORMAN: I was.

SIMON: When a musician, composer, goes into the Israeli army, do they ever say, oh my gosh, I might hurt my fingers?

Mr. DORMAN: Oh, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DORMAN: It was a...

SIMON: It could be more than that too, I understand.

Mr. DORMAN: It could be a lot more than that. And it's also just three years of your life. At that age, it's a very disconcerting thing just to go and be in the army. It was a big crisis for me to have to go to the army. I was very lucky that I did get into a program in the army where they allow musicians of high talent to continue being musicians through the army. And I actually did a lot of arrangements for army bands and the army orchestra.

So in a sense, it wasn't that bad. I did learn how to write for string orchestra, 'cause I probably wrote 100 arrangements for string orchestra during my three years in the army. So it sort of makes you better as a composer.

SIMON: What do you listen to?

Mr. DORMAN: Oh, I listen to a lot of Bach and a lot of Stravinsky. I grew up listening to a lot of the '70s rock like Led Zeppelin, which is probably my favorite band, and '80s pop, like Prince. So that's music I like very much. John McLaughlin is a jazz artist that I really admire. So it's sort of a mixture of a lot of things.

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SIMON: I'm told that in April, the U.S. premiere of "Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano," performed by Sayaka Shoji...

Mr. DORMAN: That's correct.

SIMON: ...and Itamar Golan. Do you talk to them beforehand and say, this is what I have in mind, or do you let them find it?

Mr. DORMAN: I do like to let to performers go quite far alone because I find that they - many times they find things in the piece that I didn't think of, and many times their interpretation is convincing just as much as how I envisioned it. So I sort of feel that once the piece is done, I want to let it live, be sort of a living organism. I think music should be able to survive the changing interpretations of performers.

SIMON: I mean, for a really popular piece of music, it would be, I guess, a little bit like if Thornton Wilder were to come back and try and keep an eye on all the productions of "Our Town," you know, and walk into a...

Mr. DORMAN: Right, right.

SIMON: ...performance in a church basement and say, no, no, that's not what I meant.

Mr. DORMAN: That's not right. Or who knows what Shakespeare envisioned when he wrote. You know, we don't really know. With the orchestra, it's much easier to get something that is closer to what you wanted, because there is a conductor and because the beat has to stay fairly - even if not steady, there has to be someone giving the beat, and someone deciding the interpretation. It's a lot less flexible. When you have two people, they can take it quite far.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: Do you play the piano very often now? Do you use it when you compose? Do you compose at the piano?

Mr. DORMAN: I try to vary the way that I compose. I do compose at the piano. I do compose sometimes just walking around, composing in my head and also at the computer. Even sometimes I would take a mandolin or (unintelligible), which is a Middle Eastern drum. I find the more I vary the way I compose, the more I get different ideas.

SIMON: What's it like for a composer to sit there in the first row of a great performance space, and hear a great conductor and great orchestra give public utterance to his or her vision?

Mr. DORMAN: The thing is that you walk with this music in your head for so long, and it's such an internal thing. And no matter how much I sort of try to play it at the piano or show it to people and get some feedback or something, it's really a very internal experience, composing a piece, especially a piece of 25, 30 minutes for a large orchestra.

No one can go into the details except for the composer themselves, and sort of try to imagine what this thing would sound like. And suddenly have this thing just happening as if it's the most natural thing in the world - it's almost like an out-of-body experience. You know, I feel like I'm not there and, like, this thing is happening. I'm like, wait, did I, did I do that? Is that - it's very strange and kind of uplifting. It keeps me going.

SIMON: Mr. Dorman, thank you so much.

Mr. DORMAN: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: (Unintelligible). Nice talking to you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: To hear Avner Dorman's pieces before they premiere in the United States, visit NPRMusic.org.

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