The Passion of Osvaldo Golijov|
Composer's version of the Gospel according to Mark is transcendent, a triumph for Latin music.
by Mark Swed
STUTTGART, GermanyPorsches are made here, on the edge of the Black Forest. The Stuttgart Opera, under the leadership of Pamela Rosenberg (who takes over the San Francisco Opera next season), is one of Europe's most imaginative companies. The local state-run radio station sponsors exceptional festivals of new music. The International Bach Academy, run by Helmuth Rilling, is not only completing an ambitious recording project of the complete works of Bach but has a venturesome notion about what Bach means to the 21st century.
And yet, artistically advanced as Stuttgart may be, it was still a shock to witness, Tuesday night in the Liederhalle, a magnificent triumph of Latin American music. Osvaldo Golijov's "La Pasion Segun San Marcos," his version of the Gospel according to Mark, sums up a vibrant musical culture, captures an irresistible religious egalitarian spirit, and brings a wondrous new vitality to classical music.
The score, sung in Spanish, is infused with the spirit of Afro-Cuban music, bossa nova, the "new tango" style of Astor Piazzolla, rumba and flamenco. It is so infectious and heartbreaking, this musical tale of miracles, that it seemed almost another miracle that a large German audience could maintain stony silence for 90 minutes without tapping a foot or dabbing an eye.
It turned out that the crowd had simply absorbed so much musical energy that as soon as the concert ended it instantly leapt to its collective feet and let loose with cheers, deafening applause, foot stamping and ululating that didn't stop for nearly 20 minutes. Golijov's passion incorporates musical styles we all recognized, but they were put to entirely new uses. And as everyone clapped and shouted bravos, smiling at their neighbors, I think we all had the same thought: This is a marvelous new voice for expressing the joy and sorrow of a boisterous multicultural world, and it traverses ethnic walls as if they didn't exist at all.
Golijov, who was a composer-in-residence last year at the La Jolla SummerFest, is Jewish, an Argentine of Russian and Romanian ancestry, and now an American living in Boston. His most celebrated work is for string quartet and klezmer clarinet. He is currently the Kronos Quartet's favorite arranger, equally adept at adapting pop music, Middle Eastern music and Latin music. Passion-writing was not his idea.
To celebrate the 250th anniversary of Bach's death this year, Rilling's Bach Academy commissioned four new passions, in the spirit of the ones Bach wrote on the Gospels of Matthew and John, and they are being premiered over a span of 11 days. On Aug. 29, Passion 2000, as the project is named, began with German composer Wolfgang Rihm's studious, high modern "Deus Passus" (after Luke). Next was Sophia Gubaidulina's apocalyptic, sonically incandescent, Russian "Johannes-Passion" (after John), which was gloriously performed by a chorus, orchestra and soloists from the Kirov Opera, led by Valery Gergiev. And tonight will be the premiere of Tan Dun's ritualistic "Water Passion after St. Matthew," which features a Western chamber choir, percussion music in the style of Beijing opera, and parts written for cellist Yo-Yo Ma and country fiddler Mark O'Connor.
For "Marco," Golijov also had a sensational team of performers. As soloists there were the Brazilian soprano Luciana Souza and the multitalented Cuban singer, dancer, choreographer and percussionist Reynaldo Gonzalez Fernandez. The chorus, the Schola Cantorum of Caracas, was astonishing, whether chanting (Gregorian or Osvaldian), calling in antiphonal responses, or sending out many of its singers to the front of the stage for transfixingly hot solos. The orchestra had a dozen classical strings (half of them members of the Lotus and the St. Lawrence string quartets) and a dozen jazzier Latin brass and percussion players (including, of course, accordion and guitar). The exceptional conductor, Maria Guinand, also from Caracas, seemed at ease with every stylistic situation.
Golijov is as fluid in his techniques for explicating the Christian passion story as he is in his musical style. He begins with a vision of Christ on the cross, and then follows Mark's often bluntly brutal account of Jesus' last days with a seamless flow of Latin dances. When he needs some instrumental stitching, he finds Steve Reich's style of pulsing swells effective. Sometimes he surprises with a seemingly upbeat, intoxicating swaying choral song to accompany, say, Jesus' betrayal, but that only makes Judas all the more seductive. The Sermon on the Mount is a howling song sung by Fernandez, standing and dancing on risers high above the stage, accompanying himself with a rattle.
Jesus' agony ebbs as an achingly beautiful new kind of Bachianas Brasileira for soprano, chorus, strings and guitar. The chorus can hardly speak of Jesus' death, vocally trapped in keening phonemes and swaying from side to side, until it eventually finds a voice and a rhythm, overcoming grief through transforming song. "Marco" ends boldly and movingly with a Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead that was likely recited by Jesus' disciples.
One more oddity: The biography in the program of Golijov and local newspaper profiles of him mention that he will have a residency with the Los Angeles Philharmonic this season. The Philharmonic, however, says that the residency may not begin until next season, and as yet it has made no announcement about what it will entail. So far they have no plans to mount "Marco," which the Boston Symphony will perform early in 2001. But for a major Los Angeles arts institution to ignore so great and important a celebration of Latin cultureto say nothing of a genuine classical music event with a huge appeal to a new young audiencewould be equivalent to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art deciding not to bother with that Diego Rivera after all.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times. Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times
Resurrection: Golijov's Pasión
by Alex Ross
When Osvaldo Golijov's "La Pasión Según San Marcos," a setting of the Passion of Jesus Christ according to St. Mark, was presented by the Boston Symphony two weeks ago, the crowd made a sound that will echo in the musical world for some time. It was a roar of satisfaction, rising up from all corners of Symphony Hall. At first, the ovation seemed to be directed mostly at the performersa throng of Venezuelans, Brazilians, and Cubans, augmented by Boston Symphony musicians, and conducted by Robert Spanobut the noise turned to thunder when the composer walked onstage. This level of euphoria is sometimes encountered at the Met, when a favorite singer has an exceptional night. It is not found at concerts of new music.
Skeptics may ask whether there is anything newsworthy about an ovation in Symphony Hall, where the audience rises to its feet a little too routinely. As rumors swirl that James Levine is poised to take over the orchestra, Boston is enjoying the sensation of being once again at the center of things. But Beantown boosterism doesn't suffice to explain the scale of Golijov's triumph. When "Pasión" had its première, in Stuttgart last summer, audiences reacted with even greater abandon, applauding and shouting for twenty minutes. "War Madonna im Saal?" asked the Stuttgarter Nachrichten. "Oder wenigstens Michael Jackson?" Noin the house was a thirty-nine-year-old Argentinian of Eastern European Jewish descent, who, until "Pasión," was known as the composer of a piece for string quartet and klezmer clarinet.
Any work that causes hysteria in both Boston and Stuttgart is worth a close look. And this Latino Passion carries two messages: one is that Golijov is a huge talent, with limitless possibilities in front of him; and the second is that Latin America has a fabulously rich tradition, one that will become a dominant force in coming decades. "Pasión" drops like a bomb on the belief that classical music is an exclusively European art. It has a revolutionary air, as if musical history were starting over, with new, sensuous materials and in a new, affirmative tone.
The Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas was the first to signal that Latin-American music would follow its own path. He died in 1940, at the age of forty, leaving behind a handful of masterpieces and a mess of possibilities. An alcoholic leftist, he revelled in the noise of the street, re-creating the sounds of mariachi bands, military marches, and Amerindian percussion. His best work was, fittingly, a film score, "Night of the Mayas," which ends with one of the sweatiest rave-ups in the literature. The power of Revueltas's accomplishment can be measured against that of his more disciplined contemporary Carlos Chávez, who made compelling abstractions out of primitive and popular sounds. Chávez's music is thought out, logical, composed; Revueltas's sounds as if it were being improvised on the spot.
In the middle of the century, Latin-American composers tended to follow Chávez's lead, weaving homegrown folk melodies and dance rhythms into classical genres. After the Second World War, with musical nationalism going out of style, many younger Latin Americans made dutiful appearances at the intellectual fashion shows of the European avant-garde. Others, however, immersed themselves in the overlapping worlds of Latin folk and pop, finding work as film composers or arrangers. The Cuban-American composer Tania León, for example, studied at N.Y.U. in the seventies and also served as musical director for "Godspell." Ricardo Lorenz, a Venezuelan now based in Chicago, writes for orchestra and also plays Latin jazz. The Mexican minimalist Javier Alvarez has written works for the Brodsky Quartet, the Mexico City subway system, and the horror-film director Guillermo del Toro.
Something in the Latin worldperhaps its respectful collision of culturesprompts artists to overrun the borders between genres. In the case of the tango composer Astor Piazzolla, the distinction between classical and pop vanished completely; Piazzolla's tangos are small expressionist dramas, laced with dissonance and circumscribed by irony. A different kind of genre meltdown was seen in Brazil in the sixties and seventies, as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Hermeto Pascoal, and Egberto Gismonti leapfrogged impudently from folk to pop, or from classical to jazz and back again. On his most recent album, Veloso sings a twelve-tone row over a techno beat, calling for a "gay Chicago Negro German bossa nova." This is as coherent a vision of the music of the future as any that has recently been offered.
Osvaldo Golijov is himself a polyglot creation: he was born in Argentina, grew up in the culture of Yiddishkeit, and now lives in the Boston suburbs. He first made his name with a hyperkinetic klezmer composition entitled "The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind." The Latin-American element of his heritage came to the fore in the cantata "Oceana," a setting of texts by Pablo Neruda. The Bach conductor Helmuth Rilling, who had commissioned "Oceana" in 1995, subsequently asked Golijov for a St. Mark Passion, to be presented in Stuttgart alongside new Passions by Wolfgang Rihm, Tan Dun, and Sofia Gubaidulina. Golijov had to buy a copy of the New Testament in order to begin work.
"Pasión" poses a question: How might Bach have composed if he had been born in Latin America toward the end of the twentieth century? Most likely, he would have steered clear of the late-modernist abstractions of Rihm; every bar of Bach's output is marked in some way by the airs and dances of his day. His first order of business might have been to learn the mambo. In any case, Golijov's work begins with a hypnotic montage of Latin sounds: Brazilian shakers and musical bows, conjuring an ancient world; eerie moans from the accordion, representing the voice of God; then the entry of the chorus, braying in Africanized Spanish over batá drums. The listener is thrown into the middle of a Lenten street festival, with three processions of singers converging in an antiphonal clamor.
Twentieth-century composers dreamed of a new kind of theatre that would bridge the gap between opera and ritual. This was Stravinsky's aim in constructing "Les Noces," and it is no accident that Stravinsky-like devices of hieratic repetition recur throughout "Pasión," alongside rippling minimalist canons in the manner of Steve Reich. But Golijov doesn't feel the need to assert himself with "wrong-note" sophistication, as Stravinsky did; instead, he trusts in the power of his material and in the instincts of his collaborators. Among them are the Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza; the Afro-Cuban singer and dancer Reynaldo González Fernández; the percussionist Mikael Ringquist; and, most important, the Schola Cantorum de Caracas, a Venezuelan choir whose repertory extends from the Middle Ages to the present day. In places, the printed score simply records improvisations for posterity.
"Pasión" is too specialized in its demands to become a repertory piece, at least in the short term. Its creative team plans to travel from place to place, like a Broadway troupe on tour. It might legitimately be asked whether Golijov is still writing classical music or whether, as one Harvard professor complained, he is merely transcribing sounds that can be heard in any marketplace in Mexico. Take your pick. Ultimately, I think, "Pasión" is more imagined than observed, more dream than reality. Toward the end, Souza sings a Bachian-Brazilian aria entitled "Agonóa," and the piece moves for a long spell into the interior world of Jesus's suffering. At the very end, Kaddish is sung for the man on the cross, and the music undergoes an even more mysterious metamorphosis: the language is now Aramaic, the cantillation is Jewish, and the centuries have slipped away like sand.
Alex Ross, The New Yorker
Osvaldo's Song: A Great "Pasion" in Boston
by Charles Michener
Perhaps only someone who was born a stranger in his own land can have the fortitude to reconnect music to the tumult of life in the largest sense. I am thinking of a 40-year-old composer named Osvaldo Golijov, who grew up Jewish in Argentina, in a family that had emigrated from Russia and Romania in the 1920's and that was strongly, atheistically Communist on one side and devoutly Jewish Orthodox on the other. Being surrounded by, yet alien from, a repressive Christian society that was as far removed from one's origins as possible might have crushed another sensitive child. But in the case of Mr. Golijov, it seems only to have spurred his imagination, his curiosity to know-about the wellsprings of both Christian belief and African ritual, as they were transplanted to the Latin American continent beyond Buenos Aires.
I had heard and admired this young man's early work in several haunting small pieces that have been recorded by the Kronos Quartet on Nonesuch. But nothing prepared me for the revelation of his biggest composition to date, a 90-minute setting of the mightiest story in the canon of Western music, the last days of Christ. Recently, I traveled to Boston to hear the North American premiere of La Pasion Segun San Marcos (The Passion According to St. Mark), and I came away inspired to make this prediction: 20 or 30 years from now, when music historians can look back at the turn of the millennium with equanimity, it is the Golijov Pasion that will be cited as the work which did the most to lead classical music out of its ivory tower.
No one can set this story unaware of the monumental shadow of Bach's St. Matthew's Passion; but while that work was a meditative call to prayer constructed on the terra firma of the four-part chorale, Mr. Golijov's work is a pulsating cry of anger and sorrow, constructed out of the slithering, swaying pageantry of a Lenten street festival. Bach's Passion takes a long view of Christ's betrayal, suffering and death, seeing in those events a story for profound contemplation. The new Pasion reenacts the action not just before our ears but before our eyes, using theater and dance to pull it into the here and now, and banishing contemplation in favor of sensuous, spellbinding spectacle.
If this Pasion is the great popular masterwork I suspect it to be, it is because it is at once familiar and strange. In an interview in The Boston Globe, Mr. Golijov described his process of composing as that of a "sponge to absorb [the Latin American and African culture] and from it to distill a narrative." He readily admitted that everything in the work was "modeled on an existing piece or on an established style." Afro-Cuban patterns of drumming, supplemented by Brazilian shakers and scrapers, supply a dappled, forest-like ground of running feet. Popular dance styles-the mambo, the rumba, the bossa nova-lighten the deepening tragedy. Flamenco foot-stomping, at the point of Pilate's interrogation of Jesus, raises tension to the breaking point. Quivering accordion licks add nighttime luridness. Tito Puente arrives in a braying of trumpets. Languorous ballads add a sorrowful sweetness. The magnificent Kaddish (the Jewish prayer for the dead) which ends the work comes out of the composer's own ancestral roots.
Elevating the work above any hint of pastiche is Mr. Golijov's deft use of contemporary classical idioms. Totemic repetitions of Stravinsky, the minimal churnings of Steve Reich and the wistful figuration of Arvo Part are woven into the translucent fabric, not as quotations but as enrichment. The effect is at once raw and sophisticated, and thanks to the composer's skill at modulating moods-clamor gives way to quietude with the suddenness of stars coming out after a storm-riveting. Mr. Golijov has said that his Pasion isn't about "personal expression" but about "people's lives," and I cannot think of another recent work that so thoroughly dissolves distinctions between "classical" and "popular," "contemporary" and "traditional."
It is also a work that must have been immensely difficult to prepare. The Boston performances, in Symphony Hall, came four months after the Pasion's highly acclaimed world premiere in Stuttgart, where it was heard as part of a multinational festival of four new Passions commissioned by the conductor and Bach specialist Helmuth Rilling. (The other Passion composers were Sophia Gubaidulina, Wolfgang Rihm and Tan Dun.) In Boston, Mr. Golijov, who is currently on the faculties of Holy Cross College and the Tanglewood Music Center, had the services of the Boston Symphony, the intrepid American conductor Robert Spano, and the same chorus, dancers and Latin-American instrumentalists who were heard in Stuttgart to such sensational effect.
All of them performed with unflagging generosity of spirit, but particular mention must be made of the choristers from the Schola Cantorum de Caracas. Despite some marvelous solos-an aria about Peter's tears, "Colorless Moon," sung by the soprano Elizabeth Keusch, recalls Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas Brasilieras" in its sorrowing luminosity-this Pasion is essentially a dialogue between chorus and percussion. In Boston, the interplay between the two was electrifying. The Venezuelan choristers, a multiracial assemblage of men and women who can clap and stomp as well as they can sing, must be counted among the handful of the world's great vocal ensembles, and they may be unrivaled for the range of sounds they can produce. Mr. Golijov has said that one of his inspirations was Picasso's Guernica, and I can only imagine how astonished the painter would have been to hear the silent shriek in his great canvas made audible by the collective power of these singers.
Plans are in the works for them to take Pasion on the road, and whenever it happens to roar through town, it is not to be missed.
Charles Michener, The New York Observer. Copyright 2001 The New York Observer
Tabbed by critics worldwide as "the first masterpiece of the 21st century," Osvaldo Golijov's vibrant, exuberant setting of the final ordeal and death of Jesus Christ as detailed in the Gospel of St. Mark began its latest campaign of conquest this past weekend at Orange County's "Eclectic Orange Festival." As before at the Stuttgart premiere in the summer of 2000 and at later performances by the Boston Symphony at its home base and at its Tanglewood summer festival the work drew an ecstatic, stunned reception from the near-capacity audience at Costa Mesa's Segerstrom Hall.
Golijov's score was one of four Passion retellings commissioned by Stuttgart's International Bach Academy to honor its revered composer on the 250th anniversary of his death; Bach's own setting of the "St. Matthew" and "St. John" versions rank as peaks on the classical landscape. (Composers Sofia Gubaidulina, Wolfgang Rihm and Tan Dun were also commissioned. All four works were recorded at their 2000 premieres: the Tan by Sony, the others by Haenssler Classic.)
Of the four, the Golijov strays furthest, and most enterprisingly, from the biblical source. Drawing on his own backgrounds Russian-Jewish by birth (1960) and Argentine by adoption Golijov has recast the narrative as a vivid South American street festival, with old-and-new poetry co-opted from various Latino sources, the words of Jesus and his tormentors spread among solo singers and a vivid, chanting chorus whose members sway and writhe to the music's urging.
At one moment the phenomenal singer/dancer/acrobat Reynaldo Gonzales Fernandez embodies the Savior's suffering outcries in an agony both visible and audible; at another, soprano Luciana Souza turns the repentance of the contrite Peter into a lament that seems to hang motionless over the heavily populated stage. At the end, as the dead Jesus lies still, a discarded heap of humanity, the solemn words of the Hebrew Prayer for the Dead float at the very edge of silence, and the final "Amen" seems to rise from a listener's own consciousness.
The two Costa Mesa performances mark the start of a five-stop tour that ends with three performances at the Brooklyn Academy's "Next Wave" Festival beginning Oct. 30. Performing forces were, for the most part, veterans of the Stuttgart performances and, hence, the recording: the vivid young singers of the 53-voice Caracas Schola Cantorum and the 13 percussionists and brass performers of the "Orquesta La Pasion" all under the energetic leadership of conductor Maria Guinand, with their ranks further filled out by local string players enlisted at the various venues. In Costa Mesa the members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet filled those roles; Brooklyn's string players will come from that borough's Philharmonic, whose music director, Robert Spano, will take over for Guinand on the podium. Okay, but it can't get any better than it was this past weekend.
Alan Rich , Variety. Copyright © 2002 Reed Business Information
Every half century, history rolls at us another wave of composers who will change the way music is heard and played... The 20th century's revolutions were led from Europe and then the United States; now may come the turn of China, Australia and Latin America.
This, in fact, seems to be happening. When the Bach Academy of Stuttgart commissioned four new settings of the Passion for the millennial year 2000 and the 250th anniversary of Bach's death, the roaring success was the score by the Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov. He was not unknown. The Kronos Quartet had been presenting his work for several years. But "La Pasion Segun San Marcos" took his work to a new level...
Paul Griffiths, The New York Times
...Golijov's St. Mark Passion is a rich musico-dramatic stew in which seemingly incompatible styles are jammed together like the sounds you might hear through the open window of a fast-moving car on a hot summer night. Classical strings, chattering brass, Afro-Cuban percussion, flamenco guitar, a Venezuelan chorus that struts and hollers like a gospel choir-you name it, Golijov has stirred it in, not merely for effect but with the shrewd self-assurance of a composer who knows exactly what he's about...It's as if the whole thing comes at you in a single communicative flash and makes itself manifest instantaneously-which is, lest we forget, the mark of a masterpiece.
Terry Teachout, The Washington Post
...There was no mistaking the audience's reaction: Those in the packed hall stood and cheered as though they were witnessing the future of classical music. Perhaps they were.
Keith Powers, Boston Herald
Like the tale of Jesus' final days on Earth that makes it sing and shout, Osvaldo Golijov's "La Pasion Segun San Marcos" is one for the ages. For an hour and a half, it seems to gather all of humanity in a riveting embrace of song, dance and pounding percussion-an exultant fresco of faith. Its unabashed populist appeal makes it a natural for Ravinia, where the local premiere Tuesday so moved the large, diverse throng that the performers and the festival's resident composer received a prolonged ovation...
...This is the ecstatic musical theater of "La Pasion Segun San Marcos" an oratorio by Osvaldo Golijov that comes from across Latin America, via suburban Boston. In it is a melding of Latin popular forms, North American minimalism and high baroque flamboyance that seems inevitable and startling at the same time. "Pasion" was composed in 2000 and already it has become a classic.
Justin Davidson, Newsday
...This piece reaffirms music's power to stir the imagination and to reach our deepest and most powerful emotions. Premiered in Stuttgart last September, the "Pasion will stand, I believe, as the first indisputably great composition of the 21st century...
Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe
"La Pasion Segun San Marcos" by Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov which exploded on Ravinia's pavilion stage Tuesday night, was both exciting and baffling, intricately polotted and reckless, a combustible mix of Latin American rhythms and song that lingered in the memory long after the last rumba and tango notes had faded... Bravo to Ravinia for bringing this important work to Chicago audiences. And bravo to Golijov for giving us a passion resounding with Latin America's rambunctious, vital 21st century voice."
La Pasion is a vibrant, dramatic, pan-Latin American liturgical work that lifted a crowd of roughly 1,800 to its feet last night in the University of Arizona's Centennial Hall and left this writer feeling that if I were struck deaf tomorrow, it would be no loss. I have now heard the best this world has to offer...
Daniel Buckley, Tuscon Citizen
...the crossover in La Pasion is an electrifying culture clash that brings audiences to their feet in explosive applause. Tanglewood's semi-staged version of the 90-minute oratorio, following last year's in Boston and preceding this autumn's in the Brooklyn Academy of Music's, was a revelation to elated listeners in Ozawa Hall... samba drummers, maracas, slow breakdancing called Capoeira, and ethnic vocals confront European orchestral instruments and art songs, while Latin rhythms capture the sacred narrative's poignancy and agony in vernacular imagery and sound...
Daniel Buckley, American Record Guide
...Golijov's composition stands as one of the most sensational works of recent years: musically exciting, emotionally engaging, and (at least potentially) intellectually explosive...
A marketing overture: Boston Symphony courts Latino community with a 'Pasion'
by Joseph Khan
As they sat in Symphony Hall on Wednesday, heads bobbing to the Latin-spiced rhythms of Osvaldo Golijov's new symphony "La Pasion Segun San Marcos," Anthony and Nieve Leonor marveled at the majesty of the hall and the clarity of its acoustics.
"I would flip to see this type of equipment in my church," said Anthony, a 16-year-old junior who sings in his choir and is learning the piano. "It's beautiful. I've never been inside this hall before."
More than anything, though, the two siblings, both students at Lawrence High School, marveled at the music itself, which was unlike any classical fare they had heard beforeor that they had been conditioned to expect from a venerable ensemble like the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
"It felt like hearing what all the ancestors used to sing," said Nieve, a sophomore who is also 16. Her brother, dressed casually in cargo pants and a green sweater, added that for pleasure, he listens mostly to gospel music and Latin pop. "But now that I'm getting exposed to more classical music," he said, "I'm into it."
The Leonors, who are Dominican-American, did not fully appreciate the degree to which they represented a demographic group of keen interest to the BSO: Latinos, young and old, for whom orchestral music and its formal trappings have often seemed as culturally alien as a night at the Grand Ole Opry.
Yet the BSO is not taking their interest, or lack thereof, lightly. Yesterday, it dispatched Golijov and several "Pasion" chorus members to Lawrence High to discuss the work with students who had attended Wednesday's rehearsal at the BSO's invitation. And in mounting the first US production of Golijov's salsa-flavored, Spanish-language symphony, which concludes tonight, the BSO has aggressively marketed the work through a host of organizations and media outlets serving the Latino community.
At least implicitly, the BSO's message seems to be: Taste our "Pasion" and you'll be back for our Bach. "Concentrating some of our promotion on the Latino community, which may not sound like rocket science, is an important part of our outreach effort," Anthony Fogg, BSO artistic administrator, said this week. About Golijov's work, Fogg added, "The fact that we're doing it as part of our main subscription season is an important statement in itself."
BSO bassist Larry Wolfe said it was not only essential for Boston's premier performing arts organization to mount such an effort but "to be seen doing it."
"Whether existing barriers are cultural or generational is a good question," said Wolfe. "But we're probably reaching a potentially new audience here, and we had better."
Like many local arts organizations, the BSO is striving to broaden its subscriber base and to appeal to younger patrons. The median age of BSO subscribers is 59, according to BSO officials, 10 years younger if Friday afternoon subscribers are not included in the equation. A breakdown of the group by ethnicity was not immediately available, officials said.
Going back four decades at least, the BSO has taken its missionand its musiciansdirectly into Boston's minority communities. Last July, for instance, the Boston Pops played a concert in Franklin Park as part of the city's B2K cultural diversity celebration, the first such concert since Elma Lewis brought Arthur Fiedler and the Pops to the park in 1968.
In 1999 the BSO played a free concert at Roxbury Community College's Reggie Lewis Athletic Center. Other outreach efforts have included the establishment of a gospel choir and a partnership program with seven Massachusetts school districts, Lawrence among them, that sends BSO musicians into classrooms to perform for and interact with students.
Yesterday's session at Lawrence High, whose student body is more than 80 percent Hispanic, was in some ways typical of the BSO's ongoing outreachand in some ways strikingly atypical. The morning session lasted more than an hour, weaving between Spanish and English and between performance and analysis as a group of 30 music and drama students got a chance to debrief one of the hottest classical composers of the moment.
Golijov, a native of Argentina who now lives in Newton, spent the first 20 minutes or so discussing "Pasion" and its origins. Marcel Morel, a 17-year-old junior, asked Golijov what had prompted the composer to marry classical idiom with Latin-based pop in the piece. The story of Christ's last days is popularly told all over the world, answered Golijov, so he wanted to retell it in an accessible form that blended musical genres. "In pop music, you can have a series of great songs, one after another," Golijov observed, the students listening intently as he spoke. "What the classical tradition helps you do is build a huge song out of many. It is the possibility of musical architecture."
Golijov then went on to introduce the performers. Each spoke briefly about his or her own musical background and training. When chorus member Julio Felce grabbed a pair of maracas and began singing "Judas Iscariota," however, joined by other members of the "Pasion" troupe, the old basement music room truly began to rock.
At the end of the hour, members of the Lawrence High School Girls' Ensemble gathered in a circle and sang "Te Quiero," an a cappella song they had practiced only a few times before.
Celeste Brito, 17, a senior, delivered a haunting solo in the middle of the song that had Felce and other "Pasion" chorus members smiling in awe. Seated on a chair amid the group, meanwhile, his eyes closed in rapture, was Golijov himself, who only the night before had been saluted with a thundering ovation at Symphony Hall.
"For me, I was the happiest when I saw their faces at the rehearsal on Wednesday," Golijov said afterward, glancing around the room at the students. "And today I am even happier."
He added, "This is our world. In music, there are no differences in class or education. It isit isthe great equalizer."
His words were music to the BSO's ears.
Joseph Khan, Boston Globe. Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company