The commissioned world premiere of Avner Dorman’s “Uriah” by the San Francisco Symphony next week continues a centuries-old tradition of mixing music and politics.
Beethoven had problems with Napoleon (and wasn’t shy to say it in words and music), Verdi agitated against Austrian rule, Prokoviev and Shostakovich had a life-and-death struggle with Stalin, and so on.
Dorman’s work isn’t directed against a contemporary political figure, but it evokes a story from history used to make social commentary about leaders who, for personal gain or increased power, send soldiers to die.
“Uriah: The Man the King Wanted Dead” is a symphonic poem about the last day in the life of Uriah, a Hittite, who lived in Syria around 2000 BC. King David, of Israel and Judah, in love with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba (later to become mother of King Solomon), sends Uriah to battle in a situation certain to cause his death.
Dorman, 35, Israeli-born and a Juilliard graduate, has become a major new composer, with an unprecedented eight premieres around the world this season. They include “Azerbaijani Dance” in Carnegie Hall by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta; “Astrolatry,” in the Alys Stephens Center, Birmingham, Ala.; and a yet-unnamed work for violin and piano commissioned by Orli and Gil Shaham, for performance at the 92nd Street Y in New York.
Next week’s symphony program, conducted by St. Louis Symphony Music Director David Robertson — a frequent guest to The City — also includes Paul Dukas’ 1897 “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and two Prokofiev works, the 1917 Symphony No. 1 (“Classical”), and Violin Concerto No. 2, which features soloist Leonidas Kavakos, an Athens-born, Indiana University-trained musician who rose to fame by winning a half dozen major competitions in the 1980s.
The “Fantasia”-featured “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and brief, frequently played “Classical” Symphony seem an unusual program for Robertson, who is known for supporting contemporary music.
Not defensive, he describes the pieces as good music and entertaining, providing a good mix for a program against the world premiere and the 1935 Violin Concerto, which is more conventional than the composer’s other bold compositions.
Robertson finds the balance satisfying, even if he often leads programs of particularly demanding music.
IF YOU GO
Conducted by David Robertson
Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday; 6:30 p.m. Jan. 28
Tickets: $15 to $135
Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org