Reviews

COMPOSER

TROTZKY’S TRAIN

The American Prize in Orchestral Composition 2012:
Special Judge’s Citation for Unique Artistic Achievement and Distinctive Merit

“Fearlessly evocative and unabashedly retro, Trotzky’s Train III  is one of those happy discoveries—a work that champions a style and an aesthetic without compromise or regard for current fashion. In a world where practically every sound and event of the last several hundred years is instantly available online, why not a piece that breathes the soundworld of early revolutionary Russia, and of Zhivago’s Strelnikov and his train, as if it were today? I was fully captivated by the composition’s Soviet-like poster-art gestures, and caught up in the process of the piece, which owes so much to the composer’s technical skill—here not on view for its own sake, but subtly used to build argument . . . . things churn towards darkness . . . moments of hysterical brutality and chaos before the inevitability (and slam-the-door finality) of its g minor conclusion.”

David Katz, Chief Judge, The American Prize, 2012

“The liveliest of the premieres was Trotsky’s Train, by David Avshalomov, the finale of a piano concertante work in the form of a tone poem in the vividly pictorial story-telling tradition of Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel. Avshalomov is a third-generation composer from a family of Russian émigrés who came to America via China. His plot, outlined in detail in the program notes, contrasts repressive Soviet rule with the spirit of the Russian people, each represented by appropriate pastiche music full of palpable symbolism. Avshalomov evokes Russian composers from Rimsky-Korsakov to Shostakovich, as well as all the composers of any nationality who have written musical trains. His railroad is as colorful as any other in music. Gwendolyn Mok as the pianist handled forcefully a huge, strong part, complete with a Rachmaninov-style cadenza and, earlier on, the role of the cacophonously pealing church bells in an Orthodox service scene, paired with Chad Kaltinger’s plaintively chanting viola. Avshalomov’s final train ride (with the train rising up a mountain and disappearing from view — the music vanishes off into high notes — and then careering down the other side) was particularly energetic and brilliantly carried off.”

David Bratman, San Francisco Classical Voice. San José Chamber Orchestra’s concert for its 20th anniversary, celebrated Sunday April 10, 2011

HILL DANCE

The American Prize in Band Composition 2016 (2nd place)

“. . . had me involved in this piece from the opening measures. A wonderful take on Bulgarian-flavored dances; there is an elegance and effectiveness in how the composer layers the themes and allows an improvisation-like quality throughout. This is not simply a set of original dance melodies arranged for clarinet choir and band, but a wonderfully-composed work, never lacking in musical insight or craft. Fun and entertaining, it is a piece that one can immediately relate to and that audiences will instantly appreciate. The two performances on his website are equally impressive–showing that the work can be performed by both an advanced/collegiate ensemble and a strong high school band.”

American Prize Judge (anonymous), 2014

The American Prize in Band Composition 2014 (3rd place)

“A mournful beginning–an audacious Mahler redux–well scored and balanced. Good colors with soprano sax and oboes in the second theme. He pushes some instruments up pretty high, but it works . . . very well written. A fine tone poem, I wish there was more of it, more developed thematically, but it is an effective, brooding piece. Something “always happens” in Avshalomov’s music–it often strikes one (and always positively) as new wine in old bottles. Impressive.”

American Prize Judge (anonymous), 2014

SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND OF EXPERIENCE (BLAKE)
Finalist, The American Prize in Choral Composition 2013

“David Avshalomov displays his breadth of talent in submitting his choral works this year to the American Prize competition, considering that he scored so high in last year’s orchestral category. It is not a surprise, considering his excellent skill as a composer of music (regardless of forces) and a continually developing imagination. Each movement is set differently, and expertly linked to the textual ideas of Blake’s poetry. It was a pleasure to see so much contrast in styles in a single cycle of choral music.”

Giselle Wyers, Choral Judge, The American Prize, 2013

TORN CURTAIN
Finalist, The American Prize in Chamber Music Composition 2014

“If one hallmark of a true composer (as opposed to a dilettante or mere imitator) is a consistent, recognizable style, David Avshalomov is the real deal. If his music could be called derivative, that is no pejorative. He seems to have absorbed the entire history of Western music in the 19th and 20th centurees, added some Eastern influences, and taken elements from Klezmer and jazz, to forge music that is disarming and unique.

Torn Curtain is indicative of his style. This full-length piece for viola and piano has many influences, but is consistent in tone and effect. Form and development seem to come easily to this composer, who possesses a real melodic gift and a supple and feeling compositional palette, and, with sometimes boldly “simple” ideas, writes music that immediately grabs attention. Perhaps the work goes on too long (for a solo viola piece), but the writing here is always idiomatic, heartfelt, emotional, dramatic, and full of incident. The composer seems to fear nothing, boldly using conservative tonal language, traditional structure, and familiar gesture.

If this is old wine in new bottles (to paraphrase a fellow TAP judge this season), it is of a special vintage, indeed.”

David Katz, Chief Judge, The American Prize, 2015

TORN CURTAIN, Albany CD
A CD of viola music called “Three Generations: Avshalomov”. On it, the music of an extraordinary musical dynasty: Daniel Avshalomov performs the music of his grandfather, Aaron; his father, Jacob; and his brother, David. The accompanists are pianists Pamela Pyle and Robert McDonald. David’s substantial “Torn Curtain” was inspired by events that led to the fall of the iron curtain in 1989. The music is bold and rhythmically vital, with hints of East European folk tunes. Daniel’s playing is equally big-boned, with a warm tone.

David Stabler in the Portland (OR) Oregonian, Dec. 19, 1996

THERE’S A WIND
“. . . at its premiere performance, David Avshalomov’s There’s a Wind, an atmospheric, utterly enchanting work, was warmly greeted by the large audience.”

Jim Ruggirello, Long Beach Gazette

Camerata Singers of Long Beach, Jonathan Talberg, conductor April 17, 2009

“David Avshalomov’s ‘There’s a Wind’ began with the singers loosely spaced, and random wind sounds were produced vocally with open harmonies, followed by crisply sung English text and a soaring wordless solo from soprano Jennifer Booth. Arching lyrical lines were nicely illustrative of billows of air, . . memorable . . .  immediately winning . . .”

Michael Cameron, Chicago Classical Review (online)

Chicago Chamber Choir, Timm Adams. Program: “Soar: Songs of Wind and Sky” Apr 10, 2011

VIGNETTES FOR BAND
2 prizes in 2013, American Prize for Band Composition 2015, First Place
“This suite in ten movements is varied, distinctive, skillfully scored, and entertaining. . . . it offers a wide variety of mix and match options, both in the selection of movements and in instrumental choices or doublings. The music is generally catchy and often simple–but not simplistic; it should appeal to a wide audience. At times it echoes Prokofiev or Kabalevsky. In general the piece is fun to play and a pleasure to listen to. Deserves many performances.”

American Prize judge (anonymous) 2015

“Vignettes is a collection of short, varied, and colorful character pieces. Musically challenging and highly entertaining, David’s composition will make a brilliant addition to your next community band concert. Grade 4.”

Andy Isca’s NEW MUSIC REVIEW, ACB Journal, October 2013

ELEGY
Finalist, The American Prize in Orchestral Composition 2014

“Also on hand was the other modern composer on the bill, David Avshalomov, whose ‘Elegy’ for string orchestra (1989) is built around a theme haunting enough to bring back those winter doldrums. The theme is so engaging that the eight-minute, five-section work would be highly accessible even if Avshalomov hadn’t woven the theme through such a classical structure, with harmonic sensibilities reminiscent of Bartok and Barber. The fourth section even has a jazz bent. There was a time after World War II that it seemed no one would structure classical music around a haunting theme ever again, but themes have been back in fashion for a while, and doesn’t that feel better?”

Colin Seymour, San Jose Mercury News, San Jose Chamber Orchestra Dec. 12, 2000

“Elegy is a lovely but complex composition. The composer dedicated the work to the memory of Leonard Bernstein, following his death in 1990. Four of the five sections are introspective, described as Mahlerian, neurotic, and consumed with the idea of death, as you’d expect in an elegy. Yet I couldn’t help but react positively to the jazzy fourth part, a section that has been conjoined with the scat-singing of Cab Calloway. This is a work I would very much enjoy hearing again. It wants a couple of repeats to soak up that much thoughtful writing.”

Dan Leeson, San Jose Metro. San Jose Chamber Orchestra Dec. 12, 2000

“ . . . a bluesy, pulsing middle section surrounded by weeping melodies . . . the jazz colors sound more like Gershwin. . . the work maintains a sturdy originality and, in this reading, a fine expression. Avshalomov, the youngest in a 3-generation dynasty of composer-musicians, stood after the 10-minute opus to accept warm applause from audience and musicians alike.”

Scott MacClelland, MetroActive, Silicon Valley’s Metro,
San Jose Chamber Orchestra Dec. 12, 2000

“Distinctive materials from a familiar sandbox (or two), handled with grace and skill, exhibiting considerable technical control, instrumental understanding, and deep feeling. The “slow stomp” and occasional blue notes, hinting so tellingly of Gershwin, indeed are welcome, and, as is often the case in Avshalomov’s music, surprising and pleasing in context: keys to the composer’s voice. Given the mixture of musical styles, of its kind, very fine, Well done.”

American Prize Judge (anonymous), 2014

“Rounding off the disc is Elegy for strings by the composer’s grandson, David, written in memory of his teacher, Bernstein. This is a completely different kind of work, suggesting a cross between Barber’s Adagio and Gershwin. . . . the word which comes to mind to describe it is ‘infectuous’.”

Ivan Moody, International Record Review (Naxos CD, Aaron Avshalomoff,
Orchestral Works Vol. 1, Moscow Symphony Orchestra, David Avshalomov, conductor March 2000

PANGS OF LOVE
Finalist, The American Prize in Orchestral Composition 2015

LOVE MAKES THE WORLD GO—PREMIERE! “Yes, yet another world premiere. And this was a good one. David Avshalomov, a transplanted New Yorker turned Californian, unveiled his “Pangs of Love (Romantic Variations on a Rachmaninoff Melody)” for string orchestra, the most passionate piece I have heard this winter. He built it on that rising Second Symphony “love theme” which you can readily pick out as C-E-G-B-C-A. It’s all about passion. Avshalomov peruses here every facet of the love relationship, from the ardent courtship to discord to vehement argument, and on to apparent aloofness and separation. The Rachmaninoff theme goes ever madder and more frenetic—now schmalzy, now sped up, now converted to a tango, now unsettled with tremolos, now dissenting on the low violins, gutteral on the G string, disputative to the core.

There are hysterical high dissonances, plus the famous musical signature of Shostakovitch, surreal effects as in a painting by Salvador Dali, and boulevard chansons. The composer also forays into the musical styles of Bartok, Schoenberg, Brahms, Strauss and others in a highly diverting and imaginative half-hour piece.”

Paul Hertelendy, artssf.com, independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music
San Jose Chamber Orchestra, Jan. 24, 2005

“In his notes the composer ‘warns’ that ‘this is an old-fashioned, romantic piece.’ And so it is! Lush, tonal, seductive, soaked in nostalgia, and steeped in melancholy, yet never trite or insincere. The lengthy work abounds with rich imagery and allusion. The string writing, while demanding, is idiomatic and always serves the musical needs first. The start of the second half, ‘Rach meets Shosti’, is especially charming and full of wit. As with Rachmaninoff (whose ‘love’ theme from the Second Symphony is explored), the work seems to project a sense of loss; blissful existence that is no more . . .

American Prize Judge (anonymous), 2015

SACRED WINDS, Flute Orchestra with Percussion
Finalist, American Prize 2015 for Large Chamber Ensemble Composition
“Writing for this kind of ensemble is difficult, as listeners can quickly get used to the flute sonorities; the composer has solved the problems of a potentially limiting sound world quite effectively. There is a sense of organic development in everything the composer writes in this piece. His ability to build tension and work with dynamic and rhythmic elements is very mature. I liked how each idea (color, melodic motive, new effect, rhythmic motive, new instrumentation) was presented clearly and gradually to the listener so that they can absorb it. A sense of organic coexistence of various elements reinforces this composition, which draws its inspiration from natural elements. The energy and colors are most stunning in the last movement.”

American Prize Judge (anonymous), 2015

ALLEGRO, PERCUSSION
A former student of Gaber’s who won the First Prize in Composition at the Aspen Music Festival this past summer, received a premiere performance of his work, also. David Avshalomov’s “Allegro” is a work with many glittering, rippling scale passages. The use of bells, vibraphone, and marimba over the timpani bass created a highly melodic, almost vocal quality.”

Susan Edelman, Indiana U Herald Times
Indiana University Percussion Ensemble, George Gaber, conductor, 1973

SINGER

“. . . soloist David Avshalomov, a veteran local bass, gave a completely satisfying performance . . . top-drawer . . .. individuality, musicality . . . highest professional standard.”

Camerata Does Justice By MessiahJim Ruggirello, Long Beach Gazette, Dec. 12, 2009

“Basso David Avshalomov as the Historicus narrator stood out for the vividness of his acting as well as for his distinguished vocalism.” [In Giacomo Carissimi’s “Historia de Jephte” with Camerata Singers of Long Beach/Istad]

Jim Ruggirello, Long Beach Gazette, March 24, 2010

“With every good wish to David, from another David, who was very grateful for this solo! . . . beautiful voice, right in tune, sang it straight and true.”
[Inscription in David Avshalomov’s score from Sir David Willcocks after he conducted Haydn’s “Lord Nelson Mass” with Cantori Domino, Santa Monica, in which DA stepped in at the last minute to sing the bass solos, May 2009 ]

CONDUCTOR

“. . . a particularly delightful concert . . . a crack little orchestra . . . David Avshalomov, who founded this splendid group . . . conducted from the harpsichord. The concert nicely honored the inner workings of the music.”

Alan Rich, LA Herald Examiner, Santa Monica Chamber Orchestra Oct. 1989

“David Avshalomov conducted the American premiere of Kabalevsky’s “About the Native Land”. It is no small task to take charge of a choir prepared by another director, but Avshalomov was equal to the challenge. . . an impressive concert of classical music.”

Larry Warkentin, Fresno Bee, Fresno Mozart Choir School and Fresno Philharmonic May 1989

“Conducting the concert in Sopron was David Avshalomov. In him, we came to know an expressive, sure-handed musician . . . Beethoven’s 2nd Leonore Overture stayed within European tradition. Jacob Avshalomov was born in China. From his Chinese memories he created his symphonic piece, ‘The Taking of T’ung Kuan’. Under David’s baton, the orchestra gave this well-structured, technically demanding work a lucid performance. Dvorak’s Symphony ‘From the New World’ . . . an excellent job . . . long applause from the audience . . . several encores.”

Sopron, Hungary, Kisalfold, Portland Youth Philharmonic on tour  March 1989

“Both technically and musically the performance demonstrated a remarkable level of achievement; Avshalomov had his young troops well in hand.”

Stuttgarter Nachrichten, Portland Youth Philharmonic on tour March 1989

“‘Phases of the Great Land’ by Jacob Avshalomov, colorfully scored, nature-based, was directed by David Avshalomov. After the concert, the solo pianist for the Bartok concerto, Endre Hegedus, called David’s performance ‘very artistic’.”

Oberoesterreichisches Tagblatt, Linz, Austria, Portland Youth Philarmonic on tour March 1989

“Avshalomov managed to do interesting things with the program. Beethoven’s third ‘Leonore’ overture received an impassioned performance and won prolonged applause. .  .  He has solid credentials as an interpreter of both early and modern music.”

David Levinson, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Long Beach Symphony, October 30 1988

“Maestro David Avshalomov delivers finely-tuned, energetic Kinderkonzert programs that dispel all notions of classical music as too heavy or too esoteric. Or, God forbid, boring. The programs include lively excerpts that entreat young audiences to tap their Reeboks and clap their hands. ‘Since last year, I’ve revised the program so now it’s as tight as a drum,’ says Avshalomov, founder and director of the Santa Monica Chamber Orchestra, and a man who believes passionately in planting musical memories early. ‘It’s designed to allow the students to become actively involved.'”

Janet Wiscombe, Long Beach Press-Telegram,  Long Beach Symphony Kinderkonzerts, “Let’s Grow an Orchestra”  April 29, 1990

“Let’s Grow an Orchestra . . . Commissioned by the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, the program displays each instrument’s sound by means of short orchestral excerpts, an imaginative script, and an original song by composer/conductor David Avshalomov. It brought the Long Beach gradeschool children as close to a full orchestra as they will ever get–short of playing in one. Kids sat on the gym floor, at most 5 feet from an instrument. They were also encouraged by the soprano/narrator Gwendolyn Lytle to mime the playing of different instruments and to sing along with the theme song. Midway through the program [supervised by their teachers] they were invited to stand up, dance, wiggle, and parade around the orchestra to the strains of the famous Grand march from ‘Aida’, also moving 180 degrees from where they sat during the first half, to see and hear different instruments up close. Avshalomov has fine-tuned his [standards-based] script to reflect the young audience’s capacity for understanding.”

Symphony Magazine, 1989

“Some of the best work in the show is done by the orchestra, which is called the Bearcats. Music Director David Avshalomov assembled his fine musicians from the Music School, and they played up a ricky-ticky storm.”

Wayne Johnson, Seattle Times, “The Boy Friend” at University of Washington Nov. 1975