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Concertos for Mandolin

Album Summary

>Dorman, Avner : Mandolin Concerto
>Dorman, Avner : Piccolo Concerto
>Dorman, Avner : Concerto Grosso
>Dorman, Avner : Concerto for Piano in A
Performers Conductor Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

A graduate of the Juilliard School, where he earned a Doctorate in Composition, and a protege of John Corigliano and Zubin Mehta, award-winning Avner Dorman is emerging as one of the leading composers of his generation. His music has been championed by many of the world's finest conductors. The diverse concertos presented here combine the excitement and spontaneity associated with jazz, rock or ethnic music within an engaging neo-baroque idiom. Dorman writes: "I have always loved baroque music... the clear rhythms, the strong reliance on the bass, and the extreme contrasts."

"Avner Dorman is a major compositional talent. Sure, we've heard plenty of Baroque-inspired pieces before(ranging) from superbto junkHappily, Dorman's pieces clearly stand closer to the former category than to the latter. He describes his style as a combination of Baroque, jazz, rock, and ethnic (Middle Eastern) influences, and that's exactly what it is, but happily his own personality is strong enough to absorb and synthesize these various elements into a convincing personal idiomThis is really good stuff, a genuine discovery, beautifully played and excellently engineered. It will make you feel good about the future of contemporary Classical music." - Classics Today (10/10)

The New York Times - Allan Kozinn
Avner Dorman, a 35-year-old Israeli composer who completed his studies at the Juilliard School in 2006 and now lives in Los Angeles, writes with an omnivorous eclecticism that makes his music both accessible and impossible to pigeonhole. Themes with a modal, Middle Eastern accent often weave through sharp-edged, modernist harmonies; and the influences of jazz, pop and Indian music often crop up as well. Consistent hallmarks are the vigor of his writing and the virtuosity it demands of its interpreters.

Baroque music has been another fascination of Mr Dorman's: an early prelude, included on a 2006 Naxos recording of his piano works, was based on a Bach figure, and in the four concertos here, composed between 1995 and 2006, Mr Dorman lets his neo-Baroquery run wild. The works are concise three-movement forms in the standard configuration, and though Mr Dorman has not entirely jettisoned the rhythmic complexities that drive his other works, he has made them subsidiary to the chugging rhythms of the Baroque style.

Lest that suggest that these concertos are lightweight pastiches, listen to the finale of the Piccolo Concerto (2001), a propulsive, harmonically acidic Presto that has the soloist, Mindy Kaufman, leaping perilously through her instrument's range. In the Mandolin Concerto (2006), the colorful solo line, played with stunning agility by Avi Avital, draws on all the usual mandolin techniques - chordal tremolandos, singing melodies - and adds bent pitches, high-velocity scampering (against sliding violin figures) and dynamic nuance.

The Piano Concerto (1995) owes an obvious debt to Bach, but its solo line is restless: it makes its way from Bachian clarity to 19th-century storminess and contemporary brashness before returning to its neo-Baroque starting point. Eliran Avni is the eloquent soloist here, and Andrew Cyr's Metropolis Ensemble, a New York group, provides crisp, energetic support throughout the disc.

Even in the 20th and 21st centuries, Baroque music and Baroque forms have retained their power to inspire composers - such as Avner Dorman (born 1975), who has written concertos that draw on Baroque models for formal structure and even sometimes for harmony, but use the rhythms of jazz, ethnic music and rock 'n roll for their communicative effects. This can be an uneasy combination, and Dorman's music will not strike all listeners as having managed it effectively - this CD gets a (+++) rating. But in Dorman... there is a great deal worth hearing... The Mandolin Concerto - performed by Avi Avital, who commissioned it - is a particularly interesting throwback... it certainly has interesting sonic moments. The Piccolo Concerto is in traditional fast-slow-fast form and shows closer ties to Baroque and Classical times, although it also features prominent polytonality. Dorman's Concerto Grosso - a Baroque form if there ever was one - actually includes a harpsichord and a little of Handel's Concerto Grosso, op. 6, no. 4, but it is more driven rhythmically than a work of the Baroque era. The Piano Concerto, written when Dorman was 19, is inspired by Bach and dedicated to Vivaldi, and it is something of a mashup, including bits of jazz, pop, rock and other 20th-century forms while maintaining some elements of Baroque style. All these pieces - all of which are very well played by soloists and ensemble alike... have effective moments... Dorman has some interesting compositional ideas

David's Review Corner - David Denton
Born in 1975 and a product of the Juilliard School, Avner Dorman has become one of the most fashionable composers in the United States.
A pupil of John Corigliano whose influences are heard throughout this disc, the rhythmically potent opening movement to the Mandolin Concerto has the pile-driving force that lodges quickly in the memory. In contrast to the conventional concerto form, it is the slow movement that forms the finale. The Piccolo Concerto is a most imaginative score, the seldom heard smooth beauty of the instrument low down for the slow movement is surrounded by music in the perky upper realms. Dorman moves to minimalism for an update of the Baroque idiom for the thematic music of the Concerto Grosso. With a hectic central Presto, it is a score of outgoing happiness. Finally a Piano Concerto whose opening movement almost crosses into the world of Hollywood films, eventually reaching a finale with Bach in a modern guise. Avi Avital is the mandolin soloist who can draw so many hues from his instrument; Mindy Kaufman, who became principal piccolo of the New York Philharmonic at the age of 22, has extremely fast fingers, and Eliran Avni seems well acquainted with the many styles required for the Piano Concerto. A new orchestra on the New York scene, the Metropolis Ensemble, is a slick and virtuoso group of twenty-one strings, and apart from the need to adjust your volume control when you move into the Piano Concerto, the sound and balance is first rate.

San Francisco Chronicle - Joshua Kosman
The music of Israeli composer Avner Dorman is so vivacious and so technically proficient that it's hard to resist... Bach is a constant presence, especially in the Piano Concerto, but Dorman also leaps happily around among jazz, pop, Romanticism and Middle Eastern strains... Most rewarding is the Mandolin Concerto, which fuses Baroque and Middle Eastern gestures in unusual ways, and which ends with a surprising flourish.

ClassicsToday.com - David Hurwitz
Avner Dorman is a major compositional talent. Sure, we've heard plenty of Baroque-inspired pieces before, from the opening of Tippett's Second Symphony, tons of Martinu and Stravinsky, to Karl Jenkins' "Diamond Music" commercials. As this list suggests, the quality of such music ranges from superb (Tippett, Stravinsky, and Martinu) to junk (Jenkins). Happily, Dorman's pieces clearly stand closer to the former category than to the latter. He describes his style as a combination of Baroque, jazz, rock, and ethnic (Middle Eastern) influences, and that's exactly what it is, but happily his own personality is strong enough to absorb and synthesize these various elements into a convincing personal idiom.

As CT.com readers probably already know, I'm not generally a fan of concertos for silly solo instruments, whether these be percussion (Dorman has two of those), tuba (except for Vaughan Williams), contrabassoon (Aho-yecch!), double bass, or what have you. That said, I have to confess that Dorman's Mandolin and Piccolo concertos are terrific. The former finds more timbral variety in this recalcitrant instrument than you would ever believe possible, and it seems to have been conceived with its potential in mind so as to turn any limitations to maximum expressive advantage. Soloist Avi Avital wails away at his mandolin as if his life depended on it. The same observations apply to the Piccolo Concerto; sure, it's sprightly (it has to be), but soloist Mindy Kaufman has a wonderful tone, an amazing facility with flutter-tonguing, and Dorman's sensitive use of such modernistic devices (or "ethnic," depending on your frame reference) as pitch-bending imbues the piece with real poetry.

The Concerto Grosse takes Handel and Vivaldi as inspirations, but the slow-fast-slow form is quite unconventional, and the mixture of minimalist techniques, modernist tone clusters, and frankly melodic passages is exquisitely balanced for maximum variety and color. Dorman was only 19 when he wrote his Piano Concerto; it's the most conventional work on the disc, clearly neo-Baroque, but no less charming for that in soloist Eliran Avni's capable hands. The pianissimo conclusion reveals a composer of real sensitivity and wit. None of these pieces lasts longer than seventeen minutes, all bear repetition, and the Metropolis Ensemble under Andrew Cyr sounds absolutely terrific no matter what Dorman asks them to do. This is really good stuff, a genuine discovery, beautifully played and excellently engineered. It will make you feel good about the future of contemporary Classical music.

MusicWeb International - Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International Recordings of the Year 2010
Is it hyperbole to call this my favorite disc of music by a living composer? No, because I play it more often, and enjoy it more happily, than any other. Avner Dorman's concertos are a winning combination of modern, "neo-baroque," jazz, and folk idioms which never sounds forced or weird, and they are written with those rarest of compositional gifts: grace and wit. I particularly love the piccolo concerto and the homage-to-Ravel slow movement of the piano concerto. In a decidedly humorless new-music climate, Dorman is a breath of fresh air. Outstanding performances, too.

The Jewish Daily Forward - Eileen Reynolds (The Arty Semite)
One might be forgiven, upon first listening to the NAXOS recording of Avner Dorman's concertos performed by Andrew Cyr's Metropolis Ensemble, for not feeling immediately convinced that these are, in fact, concertos in any traditional sense. There are no buoyant Mozartian introductions here, no grand orchestral pauses to launch soloists into rapturously virtuosic cadenzas before a triumphant final cadence. Those squeamish about contemporary orchestral music might initially recoil from what is strange and new in Dorman's work: unsettling harmonies, unusual pairings of instruments, extended instrumental techniques. Ultimately, though, there is plenty here that is familiar. Dorman, a 35-year-old Israeli composer and protégé of John Corigliano and Zubin Mehta, has an eclectic approach - borrowing elements from jazz, pop, and Middle Eastern musical idioms - that makes his music surprisingly accessible.

If these four concertos - for mandolin, piccolo, piano, and concerto grosso - don't remind us of the tried-and-true warhorses by Beethoven and Brahms, it's because Dorman draws his primary inspiration from a much older source. In the Baroque era, when the concerto form first emerged, composers experimented with an array of different musical textures by alternating between tutti passages, featuring a full orchestra, and other sections featuring a soloist or small group. In these early concertos as well as in Dorman's neo-Baroque works, these contrasts in color - rather than the clever development of a given theme, as in later concertos - are what make the music dramatic. Instead of merely writing exciting, flashy solo passages that could be played on any instrument, Dorman embraces the peculiarities of the instruments that he has chosen: the mandolin concerto offers a meticulous exploration of the tremolo; the piccolo concerto calls for flutter-tonguing and other idiomatic techniques; and the piano concerto shows off the soloist's dexterity with brisk passages of ascending and descending scales.

Israeli mandolin player Avi Avital was nominated for a Grammy Award (Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra) for his performance on this recording, an honor that he deserved for his richly expressive playing. The mandolin concerto starts out with Avital playing a quiet, nervous tremolo - first on a single note, then in major and minor seconds - for nearly two minutes before the orchestra enters with angry interjections from the strings. The piece is no doubt technically difficult (there are plenty of the usual rapid pizzicato passages), but what makes Avital's performance special is its sensitivity: The tremolo passages feature minute gradations in dynamics, and later, in the more melodic sections, Avital makes the mandolin sing, drawing out each phrase with the right amount of rubato. There is no explicitly programmatic music on this disc, but the mandolin concerto, with its alternating sections of movement and calm, suggests a suspenseful pursuit. Thrumming bass and shrill violins lend the tutti sections an ominous quality, and the tremolo of the mandolin calls to mind a fugitive slipping away on tip-toe; one is struck with an image of the soloist being chased down by the orchestra. I like to think that Avital gets away in the end.

Steadily pulsing bass notes return in the piccolo concerto, this time serving as the chugging engine beneath jazzy, syncopated rhythmic patterns. Mindy Kaufman is a nimble soloist, pecking out melodies that jump all over the range of the instrument. In this piece and in the concerto grosso (for string quartet and harpsichord), Dorman uses Baroque harmonic sequences in surprisingly fresh and gratifying ways, layering in lush jazz harmonies that Bach didn't use but might have liked if he'd heard them. (Dorman probably isn't the first to note the similarities between jazz bass lines and Baroque figured bass, but he blends the two particularly well.) In the second movement of the flute concerto, Dorman also borrows ornaments and rhythms from the Middle East; Kaufman plays a sweet, mournful melody in the rarely-used bottom octave of the piccolo, which, to Dorman's ears (as explained in the liner notes) sounds a bit like shepherd's flute.

Of the four pieces, the piano concerto sounds the most like an exercise in imitating the Baroque style; Dorman notes that he composed the piece, at just 19 years old, after hearing Bach's keyboard Concerto in A Major on the radio. Bach's influence can be heard throughout, especially in the idiomatic writing for keyboard, but the piece is also filled with Dorman's signature syncopations. (Those pleasing jazz/Baroque sequences crop up here as well.) Dorman cites allusions to Nina Simone, The Police, The Cure, and Stravinsky; I also hear, in the first movement, something that sounds like Gershwin. The second movement, which Dorman calls a "song without words," marks a rare step away from the Baroque aesthetic: Here is a slowly unfolding, stirring Romantic tune that might have been written by Mendelssohn or Schumann. Pianistic fireworks (flawlessly executed by Eliran Avni) and Baroque figurations return in the third movement, which, after growing increasingly stormy (and briefly Romantic again), concludes with a scale passage even more demure than the one that began the piece.

It would be interesting to see if listeners' reactions to this album would vary if the order of the pieces were changed. As it is arranged now, the most challenging piece (the mandolin concerto) is first, with the concertos that are somewhat easier to swallow (like the one for piano) coming at the end. Avi Avital may have been nominated for the Grammy, and the mandolin concerto is perhaps a better, more interesting composition, but there's also something terribly infectious about that piano concerto. It's the one I'm tempted to set the CD player to repeat.

Fanfare - Phillip Scott
Members of the new generation of the 1920s were called bright young things. There is also an old expression where I come from to describe a person who is sharp and in your face: a bright spark. Avner Dorman, having been born in 1975, is perhaps too advanced in years to be a bright young thing - he just makes it into Generation Y - but he writes young music that is bright in every sense and definitely creates sparks.

The description applies strongly to his Piano Concerto, composed in 1995 when the Israeli-born composer was only 19. He has since gone on to attract several awards and a number of commissions (including scores for film). In his booklet note, he explains that the Piano Concerto was the first time he wrote in a neobaroque style, although more recent musical genres like jazz, rock, and even minimalism are much in evidence in his musical armory. Schoenberg famously quipped that there was plenty of music left to write in C Major (actually, did Schoenberg ever quip?) and many 21st-century composers are proving him prescient. In this case the key is A Major; the final twist of Dorman's piano concerto includes a delightful example of how to extend a straightforward cadence without being totally predictable.

The Mandolin Concerto is of necessity a quieter affair, beginning with mysterious chords from the soloist and leading into a limpid, Satie-esque waltz in the second movement. Dorman's irrepressible exuberance soon takes over; in fact, exuberant is the most apt general description of his music. The work closes with string solos and a gentle mandolin tremolo on single notes, an eerily understated conclusion.

Hybrid influences again color the opening of the Piccolo Concerto, which features a piano obbligato. A bass note chugs away à la Vivaldi while the chords above accent off beats in a lively jazz/rock riff, bringing to mind the chamber pieces of Michael Torke. The sentimental and ethnic-sounding slow movement makes telling use of the piccolo in its lower register; the composer exploits a Middle Eastern quality in the instrument's timbre. High spirits and high notes return for the chase-like finale, whipped along smartly by the piano.

The Concerto Grosso is more Baroque and more serious in tone. Dorman takes Handel's Concerto Grosso op. 6/4 as his starting point, but gradually stretches the music into a contemporary world of fragmentation and "sound for its own sake." The energy of the middle movement becomes increasingly violent, while the floating string textures of the slow finale are far removed from an 18th-century style. Composers simply did not have this stylistic diversity to draw upon until the communication revolution made everything immediately available; Dorman's choices manage to be both surprising and satisfying.

The various soloists and Metropolis Ensemble (a chamber orchestra based in New York) show tight discipline. Pianist Eliran Avni plays expressively in both fast and slow passages; his contribution is outstanding. Naxos's close sound... emphasizes the attack in Dorman's punchy rhythms... many will respond to the joyousness of the writing and youthful enthusiasm of the performances on offer

Winnipeg Free Press - James Manishen
WATCH the name of Avner Dorman, a composer not afraid to wear his musical debts on his sleeve, and who delights in looking back to the familiar here, mostly the Baroque era, to simply entertain with grace, wit and skill. Dorman studied with John Corigliano and shows no less a fund of invention as his celebrated mentor in these concertos for mandolin, piccolo and piano. Both Dorman and Corigliano appeared at the New Music Festival this week.

Much of the fun is picking out the influences: Vivaldi and Bach, dustings of Piazzolla and Rodrigo in the Piccolo Concerto, Ravel in the Piano Concerto's centerpiece and much more. Sometimes they spin by, other times expand, all the time charged with an engaging vitality that never lets up. It's thoughtful too, as the Mandolin Concerto's more expressive moments of tremolo flank a driving Middle Eastern central movement.

The performances by the superb soloists and hair-trigger orchestra are stunning. Grab this and enjoy.

Allmusic.com - Uncle Dave Lewis
Although composer Avner Dorman was apparently born in the United States - meriting his inclusion in Naxos' esteemed "American Classics" series - he has for the most part made his career in Israel. Although his initial course of study was with John Corigliano at Juilliard, perhaps the strongest impact made on Dorman was the result of instruction with ex-Soviet, Georgian composer Josef Bardanashvili in Israel at Tel Aviv University. Dorman refined his skills as composer in a residency with the Israel Camerata between 2001 and 2003, and this helped transform his reception back home; between 2003 and 2005 Dorman won ASCAP's Morton Gould Young Composer's Award three times in a row. Naxos has already released a disc of Dorman's piano music as played by Eliran Avni; this disc focuses on the concerted music Dorman has written. In keeping within the chamber orchestra dimensions of Dorman's usual ripieno the accompaniment is provided by the expert New York-based Metropolis Ensemble, led by Andrew Cyr.

It is not hard to understand the level of enthusiasm about Dorman's music in some quarters; it is contemporary, accessible in style but not slavishly ingratiating, often speaking in modal, folk-influenced harmonic language embracing both Hebraic and Arabic elements but also incorporating some measure of Astor Piazzolla's preferences in scoring and rhythm. Dorman's fondness for rapid ostinati and rich textures may evoke a hint of minimalist style, but his music isn't minimalistic; while there is definitely a sense of stasis in the Adagio cantabile in the Piccolo Concerto (2001) and in the opening Adagio - Allegro drammatico - Adagio of the Concerto grosso (2003), it is not achieved through repetition. There is an attractive brightness about several of his melodic ideas, particularly in the opening Allegro of the Piano Concerto in A (1995). This is like a postmodern take on Mozart's piano concerti, whereas the Concerto grosso was by design based on Vivaldi and Handel... Overall, though, Naxos' Avner Dorman: Concertos is eminently listenable and serves to deliver on the great promise of this young composer, and all of the featured soloists acquit themselves well in these twenty first century compositions. This serves as a great antidote to the protestations of the "classical music is dead" folks; it certainly seems very much alive here.

Sequenza21.com - Christian Carey
On the second Naxos CD devoted to the music of Avner Dorman, concerti take center stage. At first blush, the composer seems to display a palpable streak of traditionalism. Triadic language abounds in his works and he makes many tips of the hat to Baroque music and neoclassicism. But there's much more beneath this attractive, if familiar, surface. Dorman is also interested in uncovering some of the undiscovered potential of the concerto, exploring its capacity for different narrative arcs and recasting the genre with some unusual protagonists.

Indeed, it was for a work with an unlikely soloist, the Mandolin Concerto, written in 2006 for Avi Avital, that the disc has received the most attention. Avital's incisive and nuanced performance has garnered a Grammy nomination. The Mandolin Concerto itself is one of the most adventurous works Dorman has yet composed. Its explorations of many timbres, orchestral effects, and myriad shifts of tempo & demeanor make it a dazzlingly mercurial and potent essay.

There's more on the CD to recommend as well. Metropolis Ensemble, with a passel of soloists in concertino tow, sparkle in the Concerto Grosso (2003).The work features virtuosic string writing and cinematic sweep. Indeed, here Dorman displays a fluency of orchestration that in places reminds one of John Corigliano, his teacher during doctoral studies at Juilliard.

One would be forgiven if they assumed going in that a Piccolo Concerto would be a piercing prospect and too limited a palette to work satisfactorily. I'm still not convinced that this is a genre that requires a plethora of options, but soloist Mindy Kaufman's rendering of the Dorman concerto for the instrument reveals striking versatility. The piece itself combines jazzy rhythms, neo-Baroque signatures, and resonances of the pipes and whistles found in a variety of folk music traditions.

Written when he was just 20 years of age, Dorman's Piano Concerto in A Major is a splashy technicolor work that embraces virtuosic showmanship, combining a prevailingly Neo-romantic aesthetic with occasional post-minimal ostinati. Pianist Eliran Avni captures the concerto's spirit, performing its often dizzyingly paced passagework and cadenzas with pizzazz. While no one will mistake it for the mature voice found in the Mandolin Concerto, the youthful exuberance of the Piano Concerto is frequently charming.

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: SUNY Purchase, New York, USA (10/12/2007-10/13/2007).


A Great Album!
I'll just point out my favorite things about this album. This album is definitely unique. One thing that stands out is the use of the mandolin with the orchestra. (Something you don't hear everyday) The beginning of the first composition begins with a haunting, and slowly rising and falling series of chord progressions. Followed by the introduction of the orchestra. That, at first, provides a full and ambient texture to the composition. Turns into sharp bursts of energy with the orchestra. Which, soon, leads into a soulful interplay of (timing in particular) between the bass section of the orchestra and the mandolin, with beautiful, harmonically rich, and almost atmospheric sounding high notes within the orchestra. The songs fades into the second movement of the composition. At this point the composition raises it's tempo, with what I would describe as distressing awareness, it grabs your attention. Quickly though, it becomes somewhat majestic sounding in nature. With some Middle-Eastern influenced approach, this piece has the ability to take you on a journey into your imagination, and tell a story. The third movement becomes somewhat meditative and restful to finish out the composition. Overall, I absolutely LOVE the Mandolin Concerto. Definitely a highlight of this album. The Piccolo Concerto is fairly upbeat and uplifting for the First and Third Movements. With the Second Movement being less dynamic and much more soothing than the other two. Acting as kind of a complimentary interlude between the two more upbeat movements. The Concerto Grosso features brief points where it seems to be heading into a fast paced and joyful Movement, but denies your expectations, and instead turns into a series of tension building, and almost dismal structures that become short and maniacal crescendo's that quickly fade. This Concerto also has great examples of very smoothly transitioned sections of the orchestra. I also really liked Piano Concerto in A on track 11. It's sounds very reminiscent of the 19th century Romantic style approach to the Piano. In summary this is a Really Awesome album, with plenty of variety!
Submitted on 02/04/10 by Keelan Taylor 
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Works Details

>Dorman, Avner : Mandolin Concerto
  • Performer: Avi Avital (Mandolin)
  • Conductor: Andrew Cyr
  • Ensemble: Metropolis Ensemble
  • Notes: SUNY Purchase, New York, USA (10/12/2007-10/13/2007)
  • Running Time: 17 min. 6 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Form: Concerto
  • Written: 2006

>Dorman, Avner : Piccolo Concerto
  • Performers: Eliran Avni (Piano); Mindy Kaufman (Piccolo)
  • Conductor: Andrew Cyr
  • Ensemble: Metropolis Ensemble
  • Notes: SUNY Purchase, New York, USA (10/12/2007-10/13/2007)
  • Running Time: 15 min. 1 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary

>Dorman, Avner : Concerto Grosso
  • Performers: Lily Francis (Violin); Aya Hamada (Harpsichord); Michael Korman (Cello); Eric Nowlin (Viola); Arnaud Sussmann (Violin)
  • Conductor: Andrew Cyr
  • Ensemble: Metropolis Ensemble
  • Notes: SUNY Purchase, New York, USA (10/12/2007-10/13/2007)
  • Running Time: 13 min. 40 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary

>Dorman, Avner : Concerto for Piano in A
  • Performer: Eliran Avni (Piano)
  • Conductor: Andrew Cyr
  • Ensemble: Metropolis Ensemble
  • Notes: SUNY Purchase, New York, USA (10/12/2007-10/13/2007)
  • Running Time: 15 min. 12 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary