Joseph Dorfman (1940–2006)

 

Composer, pianist, ethnomusicologist


Joseph Dorfman researched the Jewish musical tradition of Eastern Europe, focusing on the work of the Society of Jewish Folk Music. As part of his research, he found lost works of composers of this society... He was a major person in the advancement of new music in Israel and throughout the world, said Dr. Richard Braun, chairman of the Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles, who was standing next to Dorfman when who collapsed during intermission at the musical celebration dedicated to Shostakovich. And he was a champion of Shostakovich - not only his music but of the things he did under the most difficult of circumstances to support Jewish poets and artists who suffered under Russia Communist regime.

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Joseph Dorfman was born in 1940 in Odessa, Ukraine. He studied at the P. Stolyarsky School of Music. Dorfman graduated from the Odessa Conservatory in 1965 and started to establish himself as a composer. He started teaching already as a young student at the Odessa Academy around 1960, and was also active as a composer, pianist, lecturer, theoretician, coach and conductor. As a composer, he has explored many directions including recorded and live electro-acoustic improvisation, graphic composition and combinations of graphic and traditional notational forms.

During the 1960s, Dorfman was among the first musicians in the Soviet Union to perform and lecture on Western contemporary music. He wanted to earn his doctorate by studying the Paul Hindemith, a German who had become an American citizen. That was also problematic because the subject veered from the standard directions of Soviet music.

In search of a more liberal atmosphere, Dorfman left for Moscow in 1966 and did his doctoral dissertation on Hindemith at the Gnessin Institute in 1971. But I wanted to write music with Jewish themes, he told the Jerusalem Post in 1989, and this caused trouble. His affinity for weaving Jewish threads into his compositions brought him criticism. A professor warned him: You don’t have any future here as a composer, but Dorfman replied that he could not stop writing Jewish music.

In 1971 Dorfman applied to immigrate to Israel. This caused him to lose his job and his civilian rights. The Soviet establishment replied by banning his music from the country’s concert stages and radio stations. After many difficulties, Dorfman managed to immigrate in 1973. He did not see his music performed in his homeland again until 1989. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost policies were opening up the arts, and a stunned Dorfman was invited to hear his works played in concert in five Soviet cities.

In Israel he was immediately appointed a lecturer at the Rubin Music Academy of Tel Aviv, and later he became a Head of the Composition and Theory Department (1981-85) and finally as as a Head the Academy of Music. He also served as artistic director of the International Festivals of Jewish Art Music, initiated in 1992. Together with his involvement in contemporary music, having served as Chairman of the "Young Composerױs Section of the Odessa Composers League", he became increasingly interested in Jewish Art Music, cantillation and folk music. This bore fruit in later years when he served as Artistic Director of International Festivals of Jewish Art Music.

Dorfman is a prolific musician, performing as solo pianist, member of various chamber groups and conductor of concerts in several European festivals and radio programmes. Since 1973 he was living in Israel. He was also visiting professor at Columbia University, at the Hochschule fur Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Frankfurt am Main, at Bar Ilan University and at Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz. He was a sought after lecturer on 20th century music, and his master classes on the composition and performance of modern music are highly esteemed. Dorfman has been the Music Director of the concert series "20th Century Music", secretary of the Israeli Composersױ League and initiator of an independent composersױ group called "Acoustic 7-11", which pioneered the music of foreign avant-garde in Israel. His works include music for solo instruments, chamber ensemble, symphony orchestra, ballet and theatre, opera and oratorios. He wrote also multi-media staging and educational works.

As a composer, Dorfman's works are mainly written in the style of 20th century Western art music, including many techniques such as graphic notation, electro-acoustic improvisation, etc. He wrote over a hundred compositions, including pieces for solo instruments, chamber and vocal music, choral music, ballet, orchestral works, cantatas and oratorios. Professor Dorfman was radiant during the intermission … discussing music performance, and relishing a wonderful evening of musical celebration dedicated to Shostakovich, said Dr. Richard A. Braun, founder of JMCLA. His interest in Jewish music influenced his music greatly.

Dorfman died of a heart attack on June 7, 2006 after performing a tribute at a concert commemorating the centennial of Shostakovich's birth, said Dr. Richard Braun, chairman of the Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles, which helped present the event. "He was a major person in the advancement of new music in Israel and throughout the world," said Braun, who was standing next to Dorfman when he collapsed during intermission. "And he was a champion of Shostakovich - not only his music but of the things he did under the most difficult of circumstances to support Jewish poets and artists who suffered under Russia's Communist regime."

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