Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Golijov under attack and defended

Osvaldo Golijov programme

By Andrew Clements - Friday February 3, 2006
From the Guardian

Osvaldo Golijov's cheerfully eclectic style has been hailed as the future of contemporary music, a future in which stylistic boundaries will be abolished and world music, pop, rock and the classical avant garde can come together in life-affirming union. Let's hope not. The Barbican's lavishly assembled all-Golijov programme was the first of two there showcasing his music - the second, in three weeks' time, will be the British premiere of the multimedia St Mark Passion - but it raised more questions than it answered.

Perhaps one of the problems was the unvaried diet of Golijov's music; in the context of a mixed programme, one of these glossily packaged pieces might have offered a welcome change of focus. A composer who lists both Astor Piazzolla and Gyorgy Kurtag among his musical heroes ought to have something going for him, but Golijov's music is so keen to wear all its stylistic badges at once that you to wonder where his affiliations really lie. His 2004 song cycle Ayre, for instance, commissioned as a companion piece to Berio's Folk Songs, reworks a collection of songs and poems from the Sephardic culture of medieval Spain into a freewheeling stylistic mix skilfully enough, but hardly touches any of the cultural issues involved.

Golijov certainly seems to inspire commitment from his interpreters. Dawn Upshaw, for whom Ayre was written, always puts heart and soul into everything she sings, and with the Andalucian Dogs, an ensemble put together by Golijov specifically for that work, her performance had style and panache. Upshaw was joined by soprano Jessica Rivera and mezzo Kelley O'Connor for the premiere of Aindamar Arias and Ensembles, a suite of extracts from the opera Aindamar, built around the violent deaths of the 19th-century Spanish revolutionary Mariana de Pineda and the poet Lorca. These samples suggest that the opera is another Golijov patchwork of styles - music that relies on its cultural baggage to make an effect rather than on any intrinsic expressive power or beauty.


Right of reply

By Robert van Leer, head of music at the Barbican - Wednesday February 15, 2006
From the Guardian

The composer Osvaldo Golijov has been described as "the future of contemporary music", Andrew Clements wrote in the Guardian on February 3, adding: "Let's hope not." Clements felt that Golijov's music, performed at the Barbican, was too "unvaried", and that "it relies on its cultural baggage to make an effect".

Robert van Leer, who programmed the concert, responds:
Osvaldo Golijov admits drawing strongly from his personal history, which begins in Argentina and ends in the US via Israel. His teachers are indeed eclectic, ranging from George Crumb to Oliver Knussen. In lesser hands, this almost over-diverse set of cultural and pedagogical influences might well have ended in an unidentifiable pastiche. However, what becomes clear as one listens to more of Golijov's compositions is the unmistakably first-person voice identifiable throughout his works.

Clements implied that the event suffered from an "unvaried diet" of Golijov's music and that a mixed programme of composers might have improved the experience. To this I must plead guilty. When we began to programme these concerts two years ago, virtually no one recognised the name of Osvaldo Golijov - much less knew how to pronounce it. In this context I felt it essential to provide an introduction without apology. To hear a new creative voice for the first time is obviously an unrepeatable opportunity and I wanted to ensure that all those present, either in person or via the Radio 3 broadcast received a full opportunity to experience this already iconic voice. Golijov and the listening public deserve nothing less.

Let me not be mistaken: I agree with Clements on a number of issues raised. Golijov's work does indeed raise many questions, not all of which have yet been answered; a composer of 45 years has not yet fully realised his potential and therefore a tendency "to wear all his stylistic badges at once" does exist. But this speaks to me of a professional creative force that is still not yet fully resolved and therefore promises much for the future.

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