October 24, 2006

STATES OF THE SPIRIT:

Golijov plants seeds of hope as a composer (Kyle MacMillan, 10/21/06, Denver Post)

At a time when ethnic differences and ancient religious rifts are tearing apart countries, roiling European suburbs and igniting forms of previously unimaginable terrorism, Osvaldo Golijov's messages of inclusion could hardly be more timely.

"I believe in the possibility of music as hope," Golijov said. "I don't believe in music as a Hallmark card. But, look, all Bach has higher ideals. Mozart's operas have higher ideals. And why not? Why shouldn't music have those ideals today?"

Gramophone magazine emphasized that point earlier this month when it granted one of its prestigious annual awards to a recording of a new song cycle by the composer, who weaves compositions with threads from a rich diversity of musical traditions.

Classical audiences in Colorado will be among the first in the country to have the opportunity to hear a newly orchestrated version of "The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind" (1994), one of Golijov's best-known and most frequently performed works. [...]

"I don't believe in the modernist dogma," he said. "That's the difference, maybe, between me and other 20th-century people. Why not beauty? And by the same token, why not ugliness, things the neo-romantics wouldn't do? Everything is part of the human experience."

The composer has created a very personal style that derives from his unusual upbringing in an Eastern European Jewish household in La Plata, Argentina.

As a child, he was surrounded by chamber music, Jewish liturgical and klezmer music and innovative tangos by Astor Piazzolla. These idioms and others he would encounter later, such as Gregorian chant and flamenco, have become the building blocks of his compositions.

"What makes him particularly special is his ability to synthesize so many different kinds of music, so many different languages and styles," Kahane said, "and to do so with a kind authenticity - musical authenticity but also an emotional and spiritual authenticity."

Rather than fabricate pastiches, Golijov goes much further, exploring the expressive power that derives from the unexpected intersections of different, sometimes even seemingly contradictory, musical traditions.

"It's not a matter of just a collage," he said. "It's a matter of transforming each of those symbols, of putting them in new constellations. To me, it's equivalent to Mahler going from C minor to E major.

"Composition means to put things together - that's the root of the word - so I'm putting things together. Other people put chords (together). I put styles (together). I modulate between cultures, but it's the same musical process."

While Golijov does not see himself as a kind of musical Mahatma Gandhi, he is not oblivious to the potential healing effect that his inclusive music can exert on a divided world.

"If music can represent the ideals to which mankind can aspire, this composer manages to pull in a multitude of strong and individual cultures," wrote the editors of Gramophone magazine. "Although they each always retain their own identity, they are harmonized to create a greater whole.

"And what better example for today can music set?"

Among the first works Golijov composed in the synthesized style for which he is known was "Isaac the Blind," originally written for klezmer clarinet and string quartet. It was inspired by the 13th-century writings of Isaac the Blind, a cabalist rabbi who asserted that all things in the universe are the product of combinations of the Hebrew alphabet's letters.

"It's the first piece that I still identify myself with," Golijov said. "There are other earlier pieces that I really like, but I feel like they are by somebody I knew but not me. Of course, I also moved on from 'Isaac,' but I feel, 'Oh, here is where I found myself.' Not so much in the mixture of the idioms but in the possibility of encompassing all kinds of states of the spirit, of the mind."

The big turning point in the composer's career came in 2000 with the premiere of the "St. Mark Passion," which was commissioned to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach's death. It created a sensation and vaulted him to the top of the classical world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 24, 2006 8:31 AM
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