These days few new works arouse audiences like those of Osvaldo Golijov; the Newton composer has become the star of his generation. Friday night at the local premiere of Golijov's latest piece, "Ayre," a 45-minute song-cycle for Dawn Upshaw and chamber ensemble, a roar of shouting and applause broke out after the third song, a reception that was replicated when the composer appeared onstage at the end. And then the third song was repeated as an encore.
Written to complement a mid 20th-century classic, Luciano Berio's "Folksongs," "Ayre" is an arrangement of 11 songs, mostly ancient and traditional, mostly Sephardic, although there is a pair of Christian Arab songs, and a new song and an instrumental interlude by Golijov's friend Gustavo Santaolalla.
The cycle is uneven, but Golijov is a diligent reviser of his own work, and it may yet evolve into the early 21st-century classic it was clearly intended to be, and that some of it already is.
Golijov is a great synthesizer of many kinds of music, some from his own unusual heritage (Argentinian and Jewish) and some from a wide range of world music that has attracted him.
Parts of his work exert immediate and immense popular appeal, but Golijov is ambitious, gifted, and complicated enough to write resistant music too.
That third song, based on an ironic 18th-century Sardinian song, locks into an irresistible rock/jazz/fusion groove and in it Upshaw barked like a dog, meowed like a cat, and ululated to the top of her range.
All of "Ayre" reflects virtuoso compositional chops and an amazing ear. The unusual chamber ensemble, filled, he said, with "monster players," includes harp, klezmer clarinet, accordion, guitar and electronics (giving us at one point multiple Dawn Upshaws) as well as flute, horn, viola, cello, and bass.
The best music is full of passion, humor, tragedy, and all the complexity of life.
A mistake, maybe, was to incorporate a spoken text into a sung work (a Palestinian poem by Mahmoud Darwish), always a risky procedure, and here coming off as both sentimental and pretentious. And although the electronic element was exciting, it runs the danger of becoming dated, fast.
Upshaw scored through fearless versatility, intense involvement, and willingness to discard the sound that made the world love her. And the playing by the individual "monsters" and the ensemble was simply astounding -- among them, especially, clarinetist David Krakauer, Santaolalla on ronroco/guitar, and genius accordionist Michael Ward-Bergeman. We can take local pride in harpist Ina Zdorovetchi, Eric Ruske (horn), and Jeremy (Jay) Flower (laptop/sound design).
Upshaw began the evening with the Berio "Folksongs." Game as she was, she couldn't pull off the hat-trick of sounding like 11 different singers with 11 different voices, but the songs she was able to deliver in her own range as Dawn Upshaw were cherishable.