The Rambler :: blog

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Osvaldo Golijov reaches London 

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For a few months now I've harboured a suspicion that Osvaldo Golijov is to the 2000s what Krzysztof Penderecki was to the 1960s. Both composers rapidly developed a worldwide, word-of-mouth enthusiasm for their music, which was seen by some as a new hope for a contemporary music that speaks to the heart as much as the head. That enthusiasm grew immensely with the composition of a Passion by each composer: Passio et mors Domini nostri Iesu Christi secundam Lucam (1967) by Penderecki, and La Pasión Según San Marcos (2000) by Golijov. By the time each composer's music reached the UK, an almost unsustainably high level of expectation had been set up; what's more, to borrow some reception theory, a particularly focussed horizon of expectation now existed, which the work in performance was unlikely to be able to meet.

The arrival of Penderecki's Passion was his first big shot at breaking the UK; despite much intelligent and enthusiastic previewing, the work didn't have the desired impact - in this case because of the choice of the acoustically dry Festival Hall for the first performance, which pretty much killed the nebulous washes of sound that the piece relies so heavily on. A few weeks later, at the Albert Hall, the piece was better received, but suspicions had already been sown amongst the British press. The patchy opera the Devils of Loudon also failed to seduce the critics a year later, and Penderecki's reputation in London never recovered.

Golijov's first major impact in the UK bears a similar stamp. Enthusiastically previewed, last week's concert pretty much bombed amongst critics for the Telegraph, Independent, Guardian and Times. Some of the comments bear comparison too - perhaps an opera house would have been a better venue, for example.

Having not seen last week's Golijov concert I can't pass judgment on his music; but I will note that even if Penderecki has pretty much lost the goodwill of British critics, after studying his Passion for several years now, I can say that it, in spite of its major flaws, that work continues to impress me. See what you make of Golijov's own Passion, which will be at the Barbican on 24th February, but if Penderecki's example is anything to go by, it had better be good.

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