Ben Dorfan DMA Recital

Program Notes

Three Legends for 25-string Gayageum

Forest Scene: In the stillness of the forest, time seems to dissolve into an endless moment. And yet, the land has a long memory. The patter of leaf-fall and small fauna are but adornments to a deeper truth. Several fallen logs cross a stream. A cold mist clings to our skin and dampens our clothes, the yellow foliage casting a dim glow like a forgotten sunset.

River Ghost invokes the Korean legend of mul gwishin (물귀신). These are the spirits of those who died by drowning. Inhabiting bodies of water, they might drag you down to the depths. The water scene in nature is among the most serene yet also sinister. Along the undisturbed coasts and riverbanks, animals come to die, as if by magnetism.

Mermaid: According to scholars Sarah Keith and Sung-Ae Lee, “Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘Den lille Havfrue’ [The Little Mermaid] (1837) exerted a considerable influence on contemporary mermaid stories and images in South Korea.” Keith and Lee further argue that the mermaid story is ultimately about compassion. The ineo (mermaid) is “commercially valuable,” and “the protagonist must be humane enough to forgo personal gain and not inflict suffering on another, even another who is somehow less than human.” But there is also a darker side to mermaids, the siren who sings beautiful songs leading sailors to death. Often, the details are unclear, and it is the song that survives.

XYZ Scatter

The term XYZ scatter refers to a distribution of data points in three-dimensional space. As data points accumulate, they begin to tell a story. Or do we tell the story about the image the data points create? Conceptually, XYZ scatter can be about data, analysis–or sensory experience.

In this work, I explore extended techniques on the cello. By tuning the D string up a half-step, an alteration called scordatura, the performer accesses an unusual array of natural harmonics (a discrete set of ghostly-sounding pitches which are predetermined by the fundamental frequency of the string).

As a side note, it is very unusual for a string player to tune up for scordatura. Using a light-gauge string, the cellist increases the tension without causing damage to the instrument.

Puzzle Riffs

Boulez scholar Jonathan Goldman writes, “Form…becomes a process of recomposition by the listener, a process that appeals to perception and memory.” In Puzzle Riffs, we are invited to participate in “the play of recognition”—teasing out the common thread that unites musical fragments of disparate temperaments.

My process for writing this piece was at once very strict and also free. Some musical elements are meticulously parameterized, while others are intended to sound improvised. Although each gesture is rhythmically complex, in performance, the piece is less about rhythmic precision and more about the interplay of gestures between the two pianists.

Cloud Formations

Cirrus clouds often look like this:

Photo: Awan Sirus

Or this:

Photo: Piccolo Namek

Stratocumulus often looks like this:

Photo: Arun Kulshreshtha

Or this:

Photo: Mikael Häggström

According to a 2019 climate study by Tapio Schneider et al., equatorial stratocumulus decks play a vital role in regulating daytime heating. This study’s modeling predicts that continued global warming will disperse these clouds, leading to a “tipping point” in global climate, causing unchecked warming in equatorial regions of the planet.

A Wish For Ukraine

Along with aid and intervention, music is one of the few antidotes to the senselessness of war. 

I have been struck by images of Ukrainian musicians performing in bomb shelters and against backdrops of utter destruction.

These performances seem to say that music is hope, comfort, and also defiance.

Another image that comes to mind is a ship carrying grain from Ukraine across the black sea. We all hope for a swift resolution to the conflict. But if that is not possible, then at the least, we wish for this ship to find safe harbor and for other ships like it to continue to experience safe passage.

Variants is an exploration of approaches to working with musical time. The conventional conception of musical time is not unlike a locomotive rolling along a track. A passenger in this locomotive perceives musical events at predetermined locations along the track. Iannis Xenakis, however, describes the “perception of separable events…[being] assimilated to points of reference in the flux of time.” Comparing these events leads to “distances, intervals, durations,” which are ultimately linked together “in a chain.”

Variants loosely resembles a theme and variations. Each variation explores a different approach to working with musical time. In the score, I attempt to overcome the rhythmic limitations of conventional notation while at the same time continuing to work with conventional notation. This is to facilitate the playability of the music and avoid “reinventing the wheel” by creating a new system of notation, as many others have done (see Henry Cowell’s New Musical Resources). In practical terms, I rely on tuplets and frequent tempo changes to achieve a freer approach to timing. This is music that is both difficult and rewarding to perform.

Artist Bios

Ms. MOON Yang-sook is a master performer born in Nara, Japan, currently residing in South Korea. Since 2012 she has been the principal Gayageum player in the National Orchestra of Korea and currently lectures at the Korea National University of Arts. Previously, Ms. Moon has lectured at Seoul National University and Chung-Ang University and held the position of Adjunct Professor at Mokwon University and Yeungnam Univerity. Ms. Moon has collaborated with the National Chinese Orchestra, ASIA Orchestra, the National Gugak Orchestra, the National Contemporary Gugak Orchestra, and KBS Gugak Orchestra. She is the Grand Prize recipient in the Gayageum Solo Division of the Korean Student Central Art Contest in Japan.

Isaac Pastor-Chermak is Principal Cellist of Vallejo Symphony and Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony; Assistant Principal Cellist of Opera San Jose, Fresno Philharmonic, and Stockton Symphony; and a member of Berkeley Symphony, Santa Barbara Symphony, Monterey Symphony, Santa Cruz Symphony, and Reno Philharmonic. He spends his summers at the Eisenstadt Classical Music Festival in Austria, where he is Principal Cellist. 

Mr. Pastor-Chermak is in constant demand as a solo artist, performing more than 100 concerts every season on an 1889 Riccardo Antoniazzi cello. Some highlights of recent and upcoming seasons include a five-concert tour of Viennese string sextets (July 2021), the complete Brahms Cello Sonatas (January 2022), the complete Bach Cello Suites (June 2022), and the Haydn D-major cello concerto with Stockton Symphony (March 2023). His CD catalog includes The Shadow Dancer with the Auriga String Quartet; Backlash Bach with Red Cedar Chamber Music; and Preludes and Prologues with pianist Alison Lee. A limited edition vinyl LP, The Year 1948, is due out Fall 2023, and CD release of the Bach Cello Suites is coming Fall 2024. Mr. Pastor-Chermak fits these creative projects around weekly symphonic programs throughout the country, as well as his local teaching and conducting obligations.  

As an educator, Mr. Pastor-Chermak teaches a small-but-mighty studio of private students, who receive consistent high marks in regional competitions and have been admitted to the top conservatories in the country. He is Adjunct Professor of Music History at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and sits on the Board of Directors of East Bay Music Foundation and Calliope East Bay Music and Arts. Mr. Pastor-Chermak holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley (B.A. with honors) and San Francisco Conservatory of Music (M.M. with honors). Isaac and his wife, pianist Alison Lee, live in a 100-year-old house in the Berkeley Hills with their cat, Waffle.

Kumiko Uyeda received a BM in piano performance from University of the Pacific, where she studied piano with Rex Cooper. In 2015, she received her PhD in Cultural Musicology from University of California, Santa Cruz, with her dissertation, The Journey of the Tonkori: A Multicultural Transmission, which focused on the intersections of music and social movements of the Ainu indigenous people of Japan.

Dr. Uyeda is a recipient of the University of California Pacific Rim Research Fellowship and the Eugene-Cota Robles Doctoral Fellowship. She has presented papers at national and international conferences, including Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) and the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM). Dr. Uyeda’s research centers on Ainu music, indigenous musics, and she has co-created the panel “Exploring Personhood: New Animism in Ethnomusicology” at the SEM national conference in 2016. She has produced a documentary on the socio-political significance of the Ainu instrument tonkori, which was presented at the ICTM’s world conference in 2015.

Dr. Uyeda is a member of SEM, ICTM, Society for Asian Music, American Anthropological Association, and the Music Teachers Association of CA.

When Roy Malan relinquished his position as concertmaster of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, his forty year first-chair tenure with the orchestra set a record for any major orchestra countrywide.

During the SFB’s season Malan was heard in the opera house every evening (or on tour around the world) in the grand ballet violin solos of the literature, which included most of the major concertos. Herb Caen reported that these solos alone were worth the price of admission. Colleagues have described Malan as the last of the romantics whose sound alone identifies him. 

His contribution to the area’s musical life is unusually wide-ranging. As a founding member of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (the oldest in the country) Malan has performed standard cornerstone as well as hot-off-the-press new music, collaborating personally with such luminaries as Olivier Messaien, Elliot Carter, Pierre Boulez, John Cage, Walter Piston, Virgil Thomson, John Adams, Andrew Imbrie, Dave Brubeck and Frank Zappa. 

His training at the Curtis Institute of Music with  Efrem Zimbalist (product of the fabled Leopold Auer’s virtuoso stable in St. Petersburg) and at Juilliard where along with classmates Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zuckerman he studied under the 20th century’s star-producer Ivan Galamian, has provided Malan with all the necessary wherewithal. Additional mentors include Jascha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin and Oscar Shumsky. 

As a teacher Malan has placed students in most of the Bay Area’s orchestras and professional  chamber groups. He founded and has for forty-four years directed a thriving summer chamber music festival with pianist Robin Sutherland in Telluride, Colorado. In addition he is the author of an acclaimed biography of Efrem Zimbalist, who bequeathed Malan his choice collection of nineteenth century French bows. Quite a collector himself, Malan specializes in art pottery, Chinese Sung Dyansty porcelain, and California Impressionaist paintings of the last century.

Tony Gennaro is a percussionist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, improvisor, and music educator who embraces collaboration, exploration, and experimentation in the pursuit of new musical frontiers.He currently serves as a professor of music at Clovis Community College in Fresno, CA. Gennaro has been an active contributor to the music communities of Los Angeles and the Bay Area. He performs regularly with the William Winant Percussion Group and the new music ensemble Dirt and Copper. He has recently been featured in projects alongside Meredith Monk, Ninth Planet, Larry Polanksy, Roscoe Mitchell, Steed Cowart, Wendy Reid, Herman Kolgen, and David Behrman. His debut album of chamber music, through line, was released in 2021 and is available on all streaming platforms.

Scott Siler is a percussionist and composer based in Oakland, California. He received his Bachelor of Music focusing on percussion music performance from University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and his Masters in Music Composition from Mills University. He currently plays with the William Winant Percussion Group.

Ben Dorfan has performed with The Carmel Bach FestivalSanta Cruz Chamber PlayersSanta Cruz SymphonyMonterey County Pops!Bay Shore Lyric OperaAriose Singers, and Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus. He has provided music direction for Jewel Theatre Co.Mountain Community Theater, Georgiana Bruce Kirby School, and others.

Ben serves as Board President of the Music Teachers’ Association of California, Santa Cruz County Branch, and Musician Liaison for Santa Cruz Chamber Players. He lives in Santa Cruz, CA, with his wife and dog. Currently, he is pursuing a D.M.A. in Music Composition at UC Santa Cruz.

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