Discovering Golijov a matter of trust

Note: I’ll be Twittering the Grammy Awards tonight, using the hashtag #grammys, if you want to join in the chat.

Discovering new music is often a matter of trust, particularly if you are interested in exploring something like contemporary classical music.

Osvaldo Golijov. Photo by John Sann | Deutsche Grammophon.

Osvaldo Golijov. Photo by John Sann | Deutsche Grammophon.

Yes, you can just dive in and start listening to any piece composed in the past 50 years – classical music is a field in which that would be considered “new.” But exploration is often more interesting if you find artists whose tastes you appreciate and you keep up with what they’re doing.

That’s how I discovered Osvaldo Golijov.

The Lexington Philharmonic audience will get its first chance to hear Golijov on Friday, when guest conductor Alastair Willis conducts the orchestra in a performance of Golijov’s Last Round, a piece that helped introduce the composer to many listeners in 1996.

“He looks to be a voice to be reckoned with,” London’s Independent wrote of the world premiere of Last Round, commissioned by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

The group was created by conductor Simon Rattle, an artist whose contemporary tastes I started following many years ago when he was making ear-grabbing recordings with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

But that is not where I found Golijov.

It was Kronos Quartet’s and Dawn Upshaw’s work with the composer that initially intrigued me, and when I heard it, I had to hear more.

Golijov is a cross-cultural creation, raised in an Eastern European Jewish family in La Plata, Argentina. Then, he moved to Israel and finally the United States, where he studied with George Crumb at the University of Pennsylvania.

If you’ve heard his music but never read up on his background, that paragraph in itself probably explained a lot.

Golijov’s music keeps you a little off kilter by frequently jump cutting between the lush orchestral sounds of symphonic music nurtured and honored by Eastern Europe and the sharper sounds of those countries as well as Argentina’s rich classical and folk heritage. He also brings a modern sensibility, often incorporating electronic sounds and recordings in his work.

Last Round is more traditional fare. You can hear it on Yiddishbbuk, a 2002 recording by the St. Lawrence String Quartet for EMI Classics.

The piece was inspired by the death of one Argentina’s musical icons, Astor Piazzolla. “Round” is a boxing reference, not drinking, as it makes reference to both Piazzolla’s tango music and penchant for getting into fistfights. So Friday’s concert will blaze to life with combative, flailing strings that eventually simmer into a gorgeous dance.

The piece should pair very nicely with this concert’s concerto, Alberto Ginastera’s classic piece for harp, which will be performed by soloist Yolanda Kondonassis. Piazzolla was a student of Ginastera.

Ginatera-Piazzolla-Golijov: a nice Argentine circle. And it is far from new music that would send audiences screaming out of the concert hall. If intrigued, here are a few other Golijov suggestions.

■ The album Yiddishbbuk is a comprehensive look at Golijov’s early string work by one of his strongest associations, the St. Lawrence Quartet.
■ Several of Golijov’s associations are highlighted in Oceana, a album featuring Kronos, Upshaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under conductor Robert Spano. There’s a literary theme going with the title piece being a setting of a Pablo Neruda poem that praises the ocean and Upshaw singing a poem by Emily Dickinson.
■ The globe- and time-trotting Youth Without Youth was a perfect film vehicle for Golijov to show off the breadth of his talent, offering a soundtrack that stands alone as an album and invaluably enriches the film.

Golijov’s works are also featured on a variety of other multi-composer recordings by Upshaw, Kronos, cellist Matt Haimovitz and others. They are recordings that show Golijov at his best and even introduce other composers and musicians. Flipping through their discographies can be an excellent adventure.

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