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Osvaldo Golijov at the Barbican 31 January 2006
and on CD

Last Round
Ainadamar Arias and Ensembles

Dawn Upshaw, Jessica Rivera and Kelley O'Connor
Andalucian Dogs/BBC Symphony Orchestra/Roberto Minczuk

As a small child, I endured hours of restless boredom in Synagogue every year, awaiting the one moment of relief and involvement on the Day of Atonement, the sounding of the shofar - music at last!

So it was a brief moment of excitement in nostalgic recollection to hear at the Barbican six shofars (not, I fear, genuine rams horns - have so many ever been assembled before?) featured in this concert alongside klezmer clarinet, hyper-accordion, ronroco and laptop "A 21st century folk instrument' (Osvaldo Golijov).

We felt we had wandered by mistake into a commercial cross-over evening, complete with coloured lights and pop-type stage production.

But let there be no question or doubt, nor is it fitting to be patronising. This concert was a sign of the times.

A substantial audience, who probably knew what they were coming to see and hear, was thoroughly engaged and satisfied, and doubtless thronged to Dawn Upshaw's CD signing session afterwards. And, to be fair, several regular concert-goers I know confirmed that they were enjoying themselves.

Nothing but praise then for the skill and audience control exercised by Dawn Upshaw and her supporting singers, who were discreetly amplified with state-of-the-art equipment; no distortion or untoward volume.

So rather than imposing on your time, I refer you to Hilary Finch, who expresses our own feelings about Golijov's "new flavour of fusion" eloquently in The Times.

Musical Pointers' vocal specialist, who was not present at the concert, will be bringing a fresh and open mind to the DG CD of Ayre and Berio's Folk Songs which was being launched for the Press on this occasion, and you can hear the concert for yourself on R3 16 February. PGW

Dawn Upshaw

Golijov – Ayre
for Voice and Chamber Ensemble

Mananita de San Juan ; Una madre comio asado; Tancas serradas a muru; Luna; Nani; Wa Habibi; Aiini taqtiru; Kun li-guitari wataran ayyuha al-maa; Sueltate las Cintas; Yah, anna amtza'cha; Ariadne en su laberinto


Berio – Folk Songs for Voice and Seven Instruments

Black is the color; I wonder as I wander; Loosin yelav; Rossignolet du bois; A la femminisca; La donna ideale; Ballo; Motettu de tristura; Malurous qu'o uno fenno; Lo fiolaire; Azerbaijan love song


Dawn Upshaw – soprano / The Andalucian Dogs


Deutsche Grammophon : CD 00289 477 5414 [World Premiere recording, 2005; 62 mins]

Whereas PGW in his youth was whiling away his time in the Synagogue, I was confined to a strict convent boarding school where, in our daily musical observance, plainsong heavily outweighed polyphony. Thus the traditional Sephardic music that forms the backbone of Osvaldo' Golijov's Ayre is known to me only as part of a multicultural diet that I may have subconsciously absorbed over the years. It appears to blend seamlessly with the Arabic, Christian and South American harmonies that are also involved.Certainly the tunes are haunting, and the work as a whole is extremely approachable.

Dawn Upshaw performs a gamut of vocal gymnastics with consummate skill and assurance, and the Andalucian Dogs ensemble include a wide range of instruments and electronic wizardry (amongst the items listed are hyper-accordion, laptop and sound design). It all sounds great through headphones and it is easy to imagine it becoming compulsive listening, for a while.

A couple of the individual pieces, Una madre comio asado and Wa Habibi perhaps deserve permanent favour, but generally I could find no great intellectual depth of inspiration, and my attention waned as the piece progressed. By the time I reached the section where singing is replaced by speech, with the repeated words “conquerors come, conquerors go” I felt that innovation and ideas had run beyond their limit.

I would certainly not wish to deter anyone from experimenting with this novel collection – especially since it widely available at a bargain price. It should particularly appeal to those who enjoy other albums with mixed or multicultural antecedents – Jerre Tanner's Boy with Goldfish , Simon Jeffes delightful ballet music for The Penguin Café, even Mike Oldfield's classic Tubular Bells springs to mind – but there is no true parallel.

Luciano Berio's Folk Songs have already carved out a safe place in the repertoire. This CD does not provide a particularly distinguished performance but, again, it is a work that many will be glad to have in their collection. The recording by Berio's wife Cathy Berberian (for whom the songs were written) is the “standard”, and likely to remain so.

Serena Fenwick

Osvaldo Golijov: La Pasíon Ségun San Marcos

The Barbican, London 25 February 2006
"- - South American street theatre, complete with solo vocalists, brass band, percussion group, a string orchestra to supply the "European" element, a sizeable chorus and a couple of capoeira dancers - - " (Andrew Clements in The Guardian)

The CD of this St Mark Passion was clearly inferior to those of Rihm, Gubaidulina and Tan Dun - all of them commissioned and premiered in Stuttgart to mark the 250th anniversary of Bach's death - but I thought Golijov deserved the benefit of the doubt because on CD we were deprived of the essential elements of dance and South American colour.

But these were no help, despite the commercial success of the hyping (in a pre-concert talk by Peter Sellars, Golijov was dragged in with Mozart for a preview of a Vienna arts festival which is to have a spin-off at the Barbican next year).

The evening was dire, more boring than that reviewed above, its pacing excruciatingly slow, the music so lacking in invention that one could think of half a dozen professional "arrangers" who could concoct it in a few days. It was received ecstatically, which says a lot about how South Bank and The Barbican have had to compromise themselves to try to balance the books.

°Read more about this latest Emperor's New Clothes in The Guardian.

°For a discussion of the staging of Golijov's Ainadamar at Santa Fe Opera opera see Opera or Musical Pastiche? in Nick del Vecchio's new website Living at the Opera.


© Peter Grahame Woolf