Osvaldo Golijov
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Ayre (2004): Reviews
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From: Newsday (Justin Davidson)

A few minutes into Wednesday's world premiere of Osvaldo Golijov's masterful new song cycle, "Ayre," the soprano Dawn Upshaw caressed a sensuous Sephardic melody and a text that began like a gruesome joke: "And a mother roasted and ate her cherished son."

Then a percussionist laid down a gleefully noisy groove, the band cranked up a jangling accompaniment and Upshaw began to rasp and bellow, like a rhinoceros in heat. In her first New York appearance after a long and frightening inflammation of the vocal cords, the platinum-toned soprano made a thrillingly nasty sound. As the music leapt from wispy to raucous, you could feel a shiver run through the audience: the visceral recognition of a work of freshness and genius.

Golijov moves about the topography of music more fearlessly and unself-consciously than any other composer working today. "Ayre" is a deliriously disjunct excursion around the Jewish Mediterranean, gathering up Sephardic folk tunes, Semitic electronica, Arabic poetry and songs of Solomonic sensuality.

Another composer might have arranged this material into a sterile pastiche; Golijov follows his ears, scooping up whatever he feels like hearing and molding it with the strength of memory. Golijov does not enshrine or elevate the music he finds lying around the world. He composes the way well-traveled people furnish their houses, with objects collected en route and arranged according to an idiosyncratic logic, unified not by origin or style but by the collector's sensibility.

If he feels like exploding a reverent atmosphere with a burst of computerized Middle Eastern dance rhythms, simultaneously unleashing the clarinet and accordion into a dervish-like frenzy, then he does so - no explanation required. And having proved early on that he can do a big finish, he avoids it at the end, preferring to leave Upshaw's voice hanging softly by itself and letting the final song flicker into silence.

Carnegie Hall commissioned "Ayre" for Upshaw, who sang it with fierce beauty and not a trace of the hesitancy that a six- month rest period might induce. Golijov framed her mother- of-pearl voice with a throbbing, gaudy accompaniment - a pocket orchestra supplemented by a roaring accordion, a Latin guitar and a battery of digital percussion. This is a work that would be as much at home in a jazz club as it was at Carnegie's Zankel Hall.

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