The mood backstage at the Rose Theater was euphoric. Soloists, choristers, and well-wishers congratulated one another and sipped champagne. The evening’s performance of Osvaldo Golijov Gr’91’s nuevo oratorio La Pasión Según San Marcos marked the conclusion of a month-long Lincoln Center festival featuring works by the 46-year-old Argentinean composer of earthy, eclectic—and uncharacteristically popular—classical music.

Earlier that month Lincoln Center audiences had heard performances of Golijov’s one-act opera Ainadamar (“Fountain of Tears,” 2003), which is based on the life of the Spanish playwright/poet Federico García Lorca, as well as chamber works played by the Kronos and St. Lawrence quartets, and Ayre (2004), a 40-minute song cycle with settings of traditional Jewish, Arabic, and Christian folk melodies performed by soprano Dawn Upshaw with an instrumental ensemble called The Andalucian Dogs.

The perfect piece to end the festival, La Pasión is a typically complicated Golijovian production which was originally commissioned by Bach choral specialist Helmuth Rilling in 2000. Based on the New Testament text, the work is sung in Spanish, Latin, and Aramaic, and incorporates a mélange of musical idioms, ranging from Brazilian samba and Afro-Cuban drumming to Gregorian chant. La Pasión is world music in the literal sense. Onstage that night were flamenco and classical vocalists, several choruses, an Afro-Cuban percussion ensemble, a berimbau soloist, a capoeira dancer, and a chamber ensemble from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra led by renowned conductor Robert Spano. The hall was packed with classical music cognoscenti, and more: David Bowie was spotted in the audience; the women seated beside me had flown in especially from Venezuela. There was a 10-minute standing ovation.

To be the subject of a major festival at such a relatively tender age is an astonishing achievement, but the honor came as no surprise to fans of Osvaldo Golijov (pronounced “golixof”), whose career has blossomed steadily since he graduated from the Penn Ph.D. program in 1991. Golijov enjoys the kind of success undreamed of by most classical composers: His works are staged by superstar director Peter Sellars, sung by top divas like Dawn Upshaw, performed by Yo Yo Ma, recorded by EMI and Deutsche Grammophon, and—perhaps the ultimate litmus test for a serious artist entering the popular imagination—tracks from several of his albums can be downloaded from the iTunes Music Store. He’s currently composing a full-length commission for the Metropolitan Opera and writing a film score for Francis Ford Coppolla, and he was named 2006 “Composer of the Year” by Musical America, the classical-music industry’s bible. In a word, Golijov is hot.

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©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 08/31/06

Retiring Ringmaster
By Karen Rile

Photo by Jared Leeds

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