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Golijov: Ayre; Berio: Folksongs / Dawn Upshaw, Andalusian Dogs

Release Date: 09/27/2005 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 000478202   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Osvaldo GolijovLuciano Berio
Performer:  Jeremy FlowerTara Helen O'ConnorDavid KrakauerDawn Upshaw,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Andalucian Dogs
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The recording of Osvaldo Golijov's "Ayre" on this album was nominated for the 2006 Grammy Award for "Best Classical Contemporary Composition."

R E V I E W S:

Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960) is by now the Designated Leading American Younger Composer. I’m being a bit flip, but he does seem to have captured the public imagination and hunger for a classical composer who is smart, multicultural, and expressive. And he has consistently delivered on all these fronts. Let there be no mistake, Golijov is a thorough musician, and deeply musical. Whatever griping you may hear about him (mostly from inside the profession), there’s little challenge about his Read more gifts, and frankly, in interviews he seems to suggest that he has a somewhat bemused attitude toward his current status, a refreshing modesty in the face of celebrity being thrust upon him.

As everyone probably knows by now, Golijov is an Argentinian Jew who lived a while in Israel before he settled in the States, studying with George Crumb and taking a teaching position near Boston. He’s had the good fortune to have his talent mesh with the Zeitgeist ; his cosmopolitan background syncs beautifully with the new globalism. Thus, klezmer and tango dance together in his music, the Latin and Semitic forge an alliance with the art music tradition, and the result is a powerful metaphor for a revived classical practice, energized from both its core and the margins.

Ayre (2004) is a song cycle commissioned by Carnegie Hall for Dawn Upshaw that proposes a tour of the Mediterranean, specifically the blend of Spanish, Jewish, and Arab influences that once co-existed (relatively) peacefully in the Spain before the Reconquista. (The blurb on the CD box is a little inaccurate, describing the work as a “journey around the Jewish Mediterranean”; yes, but there are Arab songs and poetry here, both Christian and Muslim. It seems that the very point of Golijov’s piece is how all these faiths and ethnicities are part of a larger family. His perspective is of course Jewish, but he seems to be aiming for larger connections.) The piece is expertly orchestrated for its small ensemble, and particularly innovative in its subtle use of technology. Two of the songs, “Tancas seradas a muru” (Sardinian) and “Wa Habibi” (Arab) use a laptop programmed with electronica “beats” to provide a driving rhythmic backdrop, augmented by live percussion in a seamless blend. The latter also features a “hyper-accordion,” whose sound is fattened and delayed. The results are exhilarating (my companion was in another room, and hearing the Sardinian tune, shouted, “Wow, that was wild!”). (True, one can probably hear very similar sounds on AM radio throughout the Middle East nowadays, but the jangly, slightly rough sounds are still a kick.) The penultimate song, “Yah, annah emtza’cha,” pits Upshaw against three other pre-recorded tracks of herself, ululating and keening in a manner that made me think immediately of a Shirin Neshat video installation I’d just seen.

Overall, the piece is a success. At the same time, I found myself feeling something similar to what I’d written back in Fanfare 26:2, when I reviewed a disc of Golijov’s chamber music on EMI 75356. When the composer takes his source materials and refracts through the prism of either his own very personal modernist fracturing technique, or in this case, technology, the results are consistently fresh and invigorating. When he sets them in a more “straight” manner, the music is always pleasing, lyrical, and passionate, but it also feels a little more generic. In the lullaby “Nani” and the concluding ensemble piece “Ariadna en su labertino,” I start to feel that the point is not how these settings are original, but simply that they are appearing in a classical context. For some, this is innovation enough. For me, I wish there was one further step taken. I admit it’s a tightrope Golijov has to walk here, as audiences want to hear the world-music blend in his music (a little bit like an ethnographically savvy DJ) they’ve come to expect. But as noted earlier, when he really cuts loose and makes music that’s fearless in its embrace of the unusual and personal, I think it’s even more spectacular, and ultimately will win an even wider audience.

Ayre was commissioned to be a companion work to the Luciano Berio Folk Songs (1964), which rounds out the disc’s program. These are sparkling gems, Berio’s compilation of 11 folk-song arrangements ranging from the US Appalachians to Azerbaijan. They are imaginatively but subtly orchestrated, and they treat their sources with a respect one might not imagine of a composer with such an avant-garde reputation. There’s nothing superfluous or pretentious here. They remind us of how open and attracted Berio was to music “of the earth,” and what a non-doctrinaire modernist he was.

The performances and sound are consistently superb, but attention must be paid to Dawn Upshaw. Possessed of what some in the voice business might term a “small instrument,” she has moved from being a highly intelligent and imaginative singer who could always be counted on to stimulate, to being one of the great vocal artists of our age. Few singers are so fearless in their choice of repertoire, but also so fearless in the way she can identify with a vocal part and render it utterly her own. Upshaw is a great singing actress, in that she’s able to reshape her whole vocal mechanism to bring out a particular color or character. In both the Golijov and Berio, she moves into a low register I never imagined hers, and changes her color into that of a “crone” in a way that’s utterly convincing, and that sounds like a natural folk-music practice. Her sense of adventure and deftness of execution seem to know no bounds.

I’d like to return to Golijov and conclude my remarks on two points. The first is that one thing I still lack for evaluating his music is that I’ve not seen any of the large pieces that carry so much theatrical and visceral impact (such as the Saint Mark Passion or the opera Ainaadamar ). I think there’s an element of theater in all of his works, and I want to experience that to see if some of my reservations voiced above are ultimately swept away or not.

The second has to do with Golijov’s use of collaboration with ensembles, which moves beyond the usual realm of the composer-performer relationship. Two of the pieces in Ayre are actually written and performed by Gustavo Santaolalla, and the Passion for the moment seems unthinkable without the Caracas choir that performs it. Some have groused that Golijov doesn’t really compose all his own music, that he relies too much on other performers to realize his vision. For now, at least, I don’t buy that criticism. Golijov’s use of folk sources has a deep and honorable tradition within classical music, and in the last century, Bartók and Stravinsky make for an awfully compelling precedent. And as for giving a certain freedom of creation to his performers, one need look no further than Duke Ellington as an example of a certified genius who tailored his music to the exact strengths of his musicians. It can be a measure of the security of an artist that s/he is willing to cede a certain amount of control to others, and is secure enough in a vision to allow others to participate in its creation, without fear of it being compromised.

Despite these ruminations, this is an important release that will entertain and reward, and I have no qualms recommending it. Finally, since even though they appear to be an ensemble of freelancers assembled for this particular work, the Andalucian Dogs still qualify as an ensemble and as such can’t be listed in the headnote. And so I conclude with their names in the text: Tara O’Connor, flute; David Krakauer, clarinet; Jamie Sommerville, horn; Ljova, viola; Erik Friedlander, cello; Mark Dresser, bass; Bridget Kibbey, harp; Michael Ward-Bergeman, hyper-accordion; Gustavo Santaolalla, guitar and ronroco ; Jamie Haddad, percussion; and Jeremy Flower, laptop and sound design.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Ayre by Osvaldo Golijov
Performer:  Jeremy Flower (Sound Effects), Tara Helen O'Connor (Flute), David Krakauer (Clarinet),
Dawn Upshaw (Soprano), Erik Friedlander (Cello), James Sommerville (French Horn),
Michael Ward-Bergeman (Accordion), Jeremy Flower (Laptop), Jamey Haddad (Percussion),
Lev "Ljova" Zhurbin (Viola), Mark Dresser (Double Bass), Gustavo Santaolalla (Guitar),
Gustavo Santaolalla (Ron Roco), Bridget Kibbey (Harp)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Andalucian Dogs
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2004; USA 
Date of Recording: 08/2004 
Venue:  The Hit Factory, New York City 
Length: 38 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Notes: This selection is sung in Arabic, Hebrew, Ladino and Spanish. 
Folk Songs for Mezzo Soprano, Flute, Clarinet, Viola, Cello, Harp and Percussion by Luciano Berio
Performer:  Lev "Ljova" Zhurbin (Viola), Dawn Upshaw (Soprano), Tara Helen O'Connor (Flute),
Erik Friedlander (Cello), Todd Palmer (Clarinet), Gordon Gottlieb (Percussion),
Bridget Kibbey (Harp), Eric Poland (Percussion)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Andalucian Dogs
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1964/1973 
Date of Recording: 08/2004 
Venue:  The Hit Factory, New York City 
Length: 22 Minutes 52 Secs. 
Notes: This selection is sung in Armenian, English, French, Italian and Spanish. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 New music worth high consideration March 30, 2012 By David P. (Grand Haven, MI) See All My Reviews "Beautifully engineered recording of American composer Osvaldo Golijo's world premier Ayre. The chamber musicians are in top form led by the inestimable Dawn Upshaw. The writing is rich, varied, exciting, jarring, infinitely varied and sad. Ms. Upshaw's gorgeous soprano metamorphoses on some tracks so that one doubts this is no longer she. I've not heard a "straight" classically trained singer do this. I don't understand how. It is not however for us to fathom, only to listen and marvel. The pairing with Berio Folks Songs is inspired. They are music from different times, yet they are at heart the same. The Gold Standard for me is sonic brilliance with great artists ripping the top off great music. Any less than that, on a disc created post 2000, for me disapoints. This does not disappoint." Report Abuse
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