When Osvaldo Golijov was a boy, his uncle gave him a desk to use for his homework. On the top was a map of the entire world with a beautiful rose of the winds-the historic compass rose-painted on the Pacific Ocean. "I spent more time imagining what was happening-what life was like-in every one of the places on the map than doing homework," Golijov recalls today. That childhood memory of the rose of the winds-and the fantasy of exploring a vast, unknown world-is the idea that inspired this new work for the Silk Road Ensemble and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to play together.
Golijov, who is one of the Chicago Symphony's Mead Composers-in-Residence, is already well known for writing music that reflects our complex modern world and that reveals traces of his own personal journey on three continents-from his boyhood in Argentina to Israel, where he lived in the early 1980s, and finally to the United States, where he settled in 1986. He continues to explore the world through his music: he has worked with the Mexican rock band Café Tacuba, the Argentine musician Gustavo Santaolalla, and the gypsy band Taraf de Haïdouks; he wrote the soundtrack for Sally Potter's film and for an eleven- minute movie on 9/11 directed by Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu; he first attracted attention with a klezmer composition titled The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, and made his rock-star breakthrough with a Saint Mark Passion, written to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Bach's death, that is sung in Spanish and ends with a setting of the kaddish.
The Rose of the Winds, based on the symbol of the compass that points not just to the four corners of the earth, but in all directions, is intended to offer a snapshot of who we are as people rather than trace a specific journey. As Golijov says, "The Rose of the Winds provides contrast without explanation." Two of the four movements are based on Golijov's Ayre, which will be performed on the Chicago Symphony's MusicNOW series in June.
Wah Habibi (My love) is based on a Christian Arab song for Easter Friday. Golijov has set the work twice, at first sounding Christian and then Arabic. The distinction is made through shifts in harmony, instrumentation, and inflection. "With the most minute changes, one culture becomes another," Golijov says. "This is a song of faith and love, surrounded by outbursts of violence and anger." After a wailing introduction for bagpipe, it highlights the Silk Road's kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor, as well as the brass, percussion, and woodwind sections of the orchestra.
The second movement, Kwadalupe, is based on a field recording of a ritual to the holy mother of Guadalupe, in Chiapas, Mexico. The voices in the ritual intone a meditative murmur that fluctuates between prayer and melody. The strings surround it with a chorale of alien, shimmering harmonies that is echoed by the shakuhachi, the flutes, and the marimba.
Also from Ayre, Tancas Serradas a Muru (Walls are encircling the land) is ecstatic and raucous. This movement is a protest song to unseat the feudal lords, and features the bagpipes, sheng, and the orchestra's percussion section. The words, here unsung but felt throughout, are:
Walls are encircling the land,
the land seized with greed and in haste,
if Heaven was on Earth,
they would grab it too.
Moderate your tyranny, Barons,
otherwise, I swear on my life:
I'll bring you down from your horses!
War is now declared
against your superiority!
You have exhausted
the people's patience.
Rose of the Winds closes with Tekyah, which features the kamancheh, leading the Silk Road Ensemble's strings in incantations, and a dirge for the brass. At the very end, Golijov writes a wailing wave performed by the orchestra, with ten shofars (the ram's horn blown during the Jewish high holiday services) played by members of the brass section. Rose of the Winds crosses cultures and portrays the many layers of human emotion. Golijov says "it provides an opportunity for the Silk Road Ensemble to shine in a program filled with works from cultures all along the Silk Road-from east to west, north to south, and all directions in between."
Phillip Huscher is the program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
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