Performance Monday, February 4, 2013 | 6 PM

Making Music: Osvaldo Golijov

Zankel Hall
In 1992, St. Lawrence String Quartet premiered Golijov’s Yiddishbbuk, the start of an artistic relationship that continues to this day. For this event, which closely examines Golijov’s aesthetic, the group performs the New York premiere of a new work, Qohelet, as well as the celebrated chamber piece Ayre, which originally premiered at Zankel Hall in 2004.

This concert is part of My Time, My Music.
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The Program


About the Composer

Osvaldo Golijov grew up in an Eastern European Jewish household in La Plata, Argentina, where he was surrounded by classical chamber music, Jewish liturgical and klezmer music, and the new tango of Astor Piazzolla. After studying with Mark Kopytman at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, he moved to the US in 1986 and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied with George Crumb. He was also a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Festival, where he learned from Oliver Knussen.

In the early 1990s, Golijov began to work closely with two string quartets, the St. Lawrence String Quartet and the Kronos Quartet. Both ensembles were the earliest to project Golijov's volatile and category-defying style in its true, full form. In 2002, EMI released Yiddishbbuk, a Grammy-nominated CD of Golijov's chamber music, celebrating 10 years of collaboration with the St. Lawrence String Quartet and featuring clarinetist Todd Palmer. The St. Lawrence String Quartet continues this partnership, having recently premiered the composer's Qohelet in 2011.

Golijov also collaborates closely with conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya; vocalists Dawn Upshaw, Jessica Rivera, Luciana Souza, and Biella da Costa; cellists Yo-Yo Ma, Alisa Weilerstein, Maya Beiser, and Matt Haimovitz; kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor; and percussionist Jamey Haddad; as well as with young, multitalented musicians who include Michael Ward-Bergeman, Gonzalo Grau, Ljova, Jeremy Flower, and Cristina Pato. He has worked with the Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago symphony orchestras; the Silk Road Ensemble; and eighth blackbird. He has also collaborated with the artist Gronk; playwright David Henry Hwang; and directors Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Sellars.

Golijov is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the Vilcek Prize. In 2007, he was named the first composer-in-residence at the Mostly Mozart Festival; and has held similar positions at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; LA Phil LIVE; and Spoleto USA, Marlboro Music, Ravinia, Ojai, Trondheim, and Holland festivals. Golijov is Loyola Professor of Music at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he has taught since 1991. He has also taught at Tanglewood and led workshops at Carnegie Hall with Dawn Upshaw. He continues to teach each summer at the Sundance Institute's Composers Lab.

Golijov has scored the soundtracks for Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth, Tetro, and Twixt. Other recent works include Azul, a cello concerto for Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Rose of the Winds, premiered by the Silk Road Ensemble and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; She Was Here, a work based on Schubert lieder premiered by Dawn Upshaw and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; and Sidereus, a piece commissioned by a consortium of 35 American orchestras in honor of Henry Fogel. He is currently working on a commission for the Metropolitan Opera.

His works are published by Boosey & Hawkes and recorded by Deutsche Grammophon. Additional albums have been released on the Nonesuch, Sony Classical, Hänssler Classic, Naxos, Koch, harmonia mundi, and EMI labels.


About the Work

Tonight's program opens with Golijov's K'vakarat, a work that he composed for the Kronos Quartet and cantor Mikhail Alexandrovich in 1994. Golijov later incorporated the music as the third movement of The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, and replaced the cantor with a clarinet.

K'vakarat interprets the last paragraph from the Jewish prayer known as "Un'tahne Tokef Kedushat Hayom" ("We will observe the mighty holiness of this day"), often prayed during the High Holidays: "As a shepherd musters his sheep and causes them to pass beneath his staff, so dost Thou pass and record, count and visit, every living soul, appointing the measure of every creature's life and decreeing its destiny."

While introducing the piece on WQXR, Golijov explained his ideas behind the music:

 is a prayer that means "Like a shepherd"; it is prayed on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement—the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar. It says, God, you as a shepherd count your sheep, your flock, and decide who's going to live and who's going to die. So in this prayer, I have a cantor singing the melody; at the beginning, the quartet accompanies the cantor as a flute, as shepherds play the flute. And for me, it's always interesting if I think of a flute to not actually use a flute, but to invent a flute with strings.

But then that same motive of a flute becomes a sword to fight against the message of the prayer. Because I think the message of the prayer is of an acceptance of fate, whereas there is a very important strand in Judaism starting with the patriarch Jacob of fighting even against God—as in, the famous struggle between Jacob and the angel. So the motive of the flute becomes the motive of the sword during the third time the cantor sings the prayer, as if rebelling against it.

© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation


In the Composer's Own Words

Qohelet is inspired by some of the teachings and poetic images in Ecclesiastes. I thought that this short book of experience would balance in some way the youthful innocence of Yiddishbbuk, through which I first met my friends of the St. Lawrence String Quartet 20 years ago.

The first movement of the work is a meditation on motion and melancholy. Those seemingly contradictory states actually feed each other here: A lyrical line emerges in the first violin from a gritty, ever more propulsive ride in the other instruments. The first violin finally lifts in flight and the movement ends suspended in mid-air, like the sword of Don Quixote at the end of chapter seven in that book.

The second movement flows like two slow river currents, perhaps memory and present. The merging and bifurcations of these currents are punctuated by cradling bells: reflection rather than action.

© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation


About the Work

"This is the piece that is closest to who I am," the composer has said of Ayre, and it may indeed be the prototypical Golijov work. He is best known for melding a variety of ethnic influences, and is considered a torch-bearer for the age of global music. Ayre expertly draws from several traditions at once, adopting and adapting melodies from Christian, Islamic, and Jewish cultures in 15th-century Iberia, with texts that span five languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Sardinian, Spanish, and Ladino (a near-defunct Judaeo-Spanish dialect). The song cycle incorporates folk material not in the forthright manner that Bartók and Stravinsky borrowed peasant songs from their regions, but in the more multicultural way that Luciano Berio wrote his masterful Folk Songs (1964), incorporating text and traditional tunes from a variety of European and American traditions.

Ayre infuses "folk" into "high art" not just through the reconstruction of traditional melodies, but in its instrumentation as well. To conventional classical string and wind instruments, Golijov adds three folk instruments with various roots: an acoustic guitar (closely connected to the work's Iberian nature), an accordion (admittedly more South American than Spanish, inspired by Golijov's love for tango master Astor Piazzolla), and a laptop sampler (which, as Golijov has noted, can be considered the primary folk instrument of today). Such hybridization of musical styles and instruments is no doubt a well-known trait of many of Golijov's works, but it is perhaps realized most vividly and consummately in Ayre.

Although not staged, the work is theatrical: Its setting is a medieval fair, where the singer recounts stories in dramatic fashion—at turns strident, pleading, infuriated, sardonic, blissful, and tearful.

A Closer Listen

Golijov opens the 11-movement cycle with "Mañanita de San Juan" ("Morning of St. John's Day"), written on a text from a traditional Sephardic romance. Over a series of active drones—held chords embellished by neighboring pitches—the singer and clarinet trade highly expressive melodies based on Sephardic street calls. The ensuing song, "Una madre comió asado" ("A mother roasted"), is a lullaby built around toy-like plucking of the harp and a double-bass solo in its high "falsetto" register. The simple melodies generate an impression of beauty, while the incongruous text, which describes a mother roasting and eating her baby, renders the song downright shocking.

 At its release, critics wryly noted that if any classical album could succeed in breaking into the Top 40, Ayre was it. "Tancas serradas a muru" ("Walls are encircling the land"), which has developed into a sort of classical hit, would surely have been responsible. While many other contemporary composers have layered electronic drum beats into their works, the results are often incoherent or lackluster messes; Golijov, however, uses them to great effect, augmenting a sense of energy already present in the work. At the close of "Tancas," he calls for guided improvisation, as he does often throughout the cycle. Here, the ensemble is asked to create an aura of "chaos and anarchy" with sounds inspired by "dog barks, horses and horse-whipping, cars honking, pots banging," and, perhaps most rousing of all, "chickens in fear."

"Luna" ("Moon"), one of two movements in the set composed by longtime Golijov-collaborator Gustavo Santaolalla, provides respite as an instrumental interlude. It leads directly into "Nani" ("Lullaby"), a traditional Sephardic lullaby in which an alto flute interacts with the heartfelt vocal melody. "Wa habibi" ("My Love"), the central song of the set, opens with an atmospheric improvisation by the laptop and accordion, and then alternates between a fiery, beat-driven unison melody and a simple vocal tune that resonates in the lingering "haze of smoke."

Next, "Aiini taqtiru" ("My eyes weep") refashions a traditional Christian Arab melody, highlighting the singer's low, dark register as she recites a prayer. The litany-like tone provides a smooth transition to "Kun Li-Guitari Wateran Ayyuha Al-Maa'" ("Be a string, water, to my guitar"), in which the vocalist does not sing, but speaks (for the first time) in English (for the first time) without any instrumental accompaniment (for the first time). The effect is stunning, and it serves the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish's text well.

After "Suéltate las cintas" ("Untie the ribbons"), the second of Santaolalla's straightforward (and rewardingly so) compositions, the singer expands upon the texture of Darwish's poem in "Yah, Anna Emtzacha" ("Oh, where shall I find you"). This number is also a cappella, but the vocalist's recitation here is augmented by pre-recorded and digitally processed calls to prayer.

The closing "Ariadna en su Laberinto" ("Ariadne in Her Labyrinth") combines several Sephardic melodies, both traditional and original. After the voice intones a single line of text ("I cry because you leave me"), it recedes into the role of an instrument, vocalizing syllables as it embellishes and develops the melodies along with the ensemble. By far the longest of the songs, and yet content to remain in one mood and one harmonic area, "Ariadna en su Laberinto" is defined by a sense of expansion and repose, a laying to rest after a tumultuous journey.

—Jacob Cooper

© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

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The Fast Forward series of concerts is sponsored by Ernst & Young LLP
Lead support for Carnegie Hall commissions is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Osvaldo Golijov is the holder of the 2012–2013 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall.
This performance is part of Fast Forward.

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