Thursday, November 5, 2009

New Classical Music: La Pasion Segun San Marcos by Osvaldo Golijov

What if Bach had lived today and grown up in Latin America? What would his music sound like? In case this question has ever occurred to you (it didn't to me), it is the question Osvaldo Golijov might have laid to rest.

For the 2000 Oregon Bach Festival, the German conductor Helmuth Rilling commissioned four composers to recompose the passion plays which Bach set so eloquently for the new millenium. Three of them: Wolfgang Rihm, Tan Dun and Sofia Gubaidulina, had international names and were not questioned. But one was still barely known. The other three works are basically forgotten, but La Pasion Segun San Marcos is increasingly regarded as the first masterpiece of the twenty-first century.

(The first 91/2 minutes)

It is a retelling of Christianity's most basic story through the ears of a Jewish outsider. It is an encyclopedia of Latin-American popular music filtered through the ears of a classically trained composer. It is the first of Golijov's successful dissolutions of the line between popular and classical music after a century of many musicians doing everything they could to keep the two resolutely apart.

(bad sound, but still...)

Osvaldo Golijov grew up in Argentina, the son of Yiddish-speaking Romanian immigrants. He then moved to Israel to pursue composition and after obtaining a degree at the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem moved to America. His music is a crossection of the four cultures in which he was immersed. He has been called, time and again, the way forward in classical music (and by plenty of people who didn't grow up in Yiddish speaking houses too).

Thomas Ades is our great synthesizer. He takes influences from every walk of life and integrates them seemlessly into a compositional whole. But there is never any doubt that what he's doing is completely within the classical tradition. Whereas Osvaldo Golijov is our greatest pioneer. Boldly erasing distinctions that no musician has yet had the nerve to erase. Before he's done, perhaps classical music will be popular music again.

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