At The BSO: The Passionate Musical World Of Osvaldo Golijov

Robert Spano leading the 2001 performance of "“La Pasión según San Marcos." (Miro Vintoniv)
Robert Spano leading the 2001 performance of "“La Pasión según San Marcos." (Miro Vintoniv)

BOSTON — The most thrilling concert I’ve seen in Symphony Hall in the 21st Century is returning there Thursday through Saturday nights courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra — Osvaldo Golijov's “La Pasión según San Marcos (The Passion according to St. Mark).”

For those who think classical music is too staid and buttoned-down, this is the concert for you. (The BSO had the U.S. premiere in 2001.) Golijov lives in the Boston area, but he’s a one-man advertisement for diversity of all kinds. His Jewish parents emigrated to Argentina from Romania and Russia. Golijov moved to Israel in the 1980s for a few years before coming to America.

And his music reflects all those moves and all the genres associated with those countries – klezmer, folk, tango as well as other forms of classical and world music. To some, this makes the music hopelessly eclectic, not spiky enough to stand beside the 20th and 21st Century modernist classics. To me, the blend of musics — and in this case, dance — is perfect, adding up to a tonal, dramatic, emotional, spiritual whole.

Take a look:

The BSO performances include many of the same artists as in the Deutsche Grammophon video, including conductor Robert Spano, soprano Jessica Rivera, Afro-Cuban singer and dancer Reynaldo González-Fernández, Orquesta La Pasión and members of the Schola Cantorum de Venezuela. In other words, this is the real deal.

Spano is a former assistant conductor of the BSO and his championing of Golijov and several other tonal composers, many of them American, at the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra is one of the reasons I was hoping he’d get the BSO job. Both times.

Be that as it isn’t, he joins a distinguished list of other assistant conductors who didn’t get the gig including Leonard Bernstein and Michael Tilson Thomas and, like those conductors, he makes each of his return trips to Boston an event.

Golijov was one of four composers chosen by the International Bach Academy of Stuttgart to mark the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death with a Passion. As quoted in the liner notes to the Deutsche Grammophon CD/DVD, “the main thing in this Passion is to present a dark Jesus, and not a pale European Jesus … It’s about Jesus’ last days on earth seen through the Latin American experience.”

Here's my Here & Now interview with Golijov from 2007:

And here’s a more recent interview with Brian Bell:

Golijov hasn’t been as prolific of late, his string of outstanding classical works interrupted by work on a couple of relatively obscure Francis Ford Coppola films, "Youth Without Youth" and "Tetro." He is, though, working on an opera based on Euripides’ “Iphigenia in Aulis” for the Metropolitan Opera. As pieces like “La Pasión" show, we need him back in the concert hall.

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Ed Siegel Critic-At-Large
Ed Siegel is critic-at-large for WBUR.



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