Osvaldo Golijov

Born 1960

Osvaldo Golijov



Osvaldo Golijev is a leading Argentinean-American composer known for combining a variety of styles to create a new, unique sound. His output includes instrumental solos, chamber music, operas, cantatas and film music.

Golijov was born in La Plata, Argentina in 1960 to Eastern European Jewish immigrant parents. He grew up listening to a variety of music such as classical chamber music, Jewish liturgical music, klezmer music and Argentinean tango, especially in the new style of Piazzolla. His mother was also a piano teacher, introducing him to the instrument at a young age.

Golijov studied piano at the local conservatory and followed composition lessons with Gerardo Gandini. In 1983, he moved to Jerusalem, where he studied with Mark Koytman at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy. After finishing his studies, Golijov travelled to the United States in 1986 to pursue a PhD in composition at the University of Pennsylvania under the guidance of George Crumb. He also studied with Oliver Knussen as a fellow at the Tanglewood Institute.

Golijov’s style is a combination of elements from diverse musical styles, such as klezmer, Caribbean, electronic, chance and extended techniques.

Since the 1990s, Golijov has been collaborating with both the St.Lawrence and Kronos quartets, for which he wroteThe Dreams andPrayers of Isaac the Blind (1994). They have also recorded many of his arrangements on the albumCaravan (2000). Golijov also worksclosely with soprano Dawn Upshaw, who has sung his Three Songs forsoprano and orchestra (2002), Ainadamar (‘Fountain of Tears’) (2003) andAyre (2004). She also premiered his work She Was Here (2008), based on Schubert lieder, together with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

For Ayre, Golijov founded his own ensemble, the Andalucian Dogs, who, together with Dawn Upshaw, premiered the work at Zankel Hall. They also made a Grammy-nominated recording of the work for Deutsche Grammophon in 2005.

In 2006, a recording of the opera Ainadamar was released by Deutsche Grammphon, featuring lead singers Dawn Upshaw, Kelly O’Connor and Jessica Rivera; the Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Robert Spano, is also featured. The recording received an astonishing two Grammy awards: for best opera recording and best contemporary composition. The hour-long opera features a libretto by playwright David Henry Hwang and is based on the life of Federico García Lorca, a great Spanish poet killed during the Spanish Civil War in 1936 by fascist rebels; this story is also featured inTosca. During the compositional process, Golijov found himself listening to Richard Strauss’s Daphne, the Transformation scene in particular. One critic wrote of Ainadamar that “the melodies shiver with erotic intervals and scales” while beautiful arias are “interrupted by exuberant outbursts of rhythm, orchestral colour and violence.”

Another one of Golijov’s most famous works is his La Pasión según San Marcos (St. Mark Passion)(2000), which was commissioned by Helmuth Rilling for the European Music Festival to commemorate the 250th anniversary of J.S. Bach’s death. This work uses an eclectic mix of Afro-Cuban styles andcapoeira inspired dance, along with bossa nova, tango in the style of Piazolla, rumba and flamenco, the accordion and electronically processed sounds are also present. This passion, which “took the music world by storm” was premiered by the Cantorum de Caracas with the Orquesta La Pasión, conducted by Maria Guinand. The recording of this work received both Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations in 2002.

The Los Angeles Times describes the work as “a triumph for Latin music” that “sums up a vibrant culture, captures an irresistible religious egalitarian spirit, and brings wondrous new vitality to classical music.” The performance in Stuttgart was also stunning, as the audience “instantly leapt to its collective feet and let loose with cheers, deafening applause, foot stamping and ululating that didn’t stop for nearly 20 minutes.” In 2010, the passion was also performed at Disney Hall in Los Angeles.

Another Grammy nominated recording, Yiddishbbuk, was produced in 2002. This album features clarinetist Todd Palmer and celebrates ten years of collaboration with the Lawrence String Quartet. The Kronos Quartet has also released three albums containing his works,The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind (featuring David Krakauer) (1997), Caravan (2000), Nuevo (2002) and Night Prayers(2004).

Golijov has received many commissions for his works. His cantata Oceana (1996) is one of his better known works, and features texts by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. The cantata was premiered at the Oregon Bach Festival. For Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Golijov composed the cello concertoAzul (2006). He also composed theRose of Winds (2007), which was premiered by the Silk Road Ensemble and the Chicago Symphony. Other interesting works includeOmaramor (1991) for solo cello which was premiered by Michal Schmidt. This work is a fantasy based on the songMy Beloved Buenos Aires by Carlos Gardel, a famous tango singer who died in a plane crash in 1935.

Also inspired by films, Golijov composed the soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola’sYouth Without Youth (2007) and Tetro (2009),  which have both been released by the Deutsche Grammophon label. He also composed Darkness (2002) in collaboration Gustavo Santaolalla for Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu and the music for Laura Poitras’ documentaryThe Oath (2010).

Golijov has also collaborated with a variety of groups worldwide including the Romanian Gypsy band Taraf de Haidouks, Mexican Rock group Café Tacuba, along with tablas virtuoso Zakir Hussain and composer/guitarist/producer Gustavo Santaolalla.

In addition to the Grammy awards and nominations, Golijov has received many other awards, such as the Vilcek Prize and the MacArthur Fellowship. He has been featured as a composer-in-residence at the Mostly Mozart Festival, Chicago Symphony, Spoleto USA Festival and Marlboro Music, among others. He has also formed his own virtuoso orchestras and worked with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the Atlanta Symphony, Boston Symphony and Chicago Symphony.

In 2006, the show, “The Passion of Oscaldo Golijov”, in which multiple performances of his works were given, was featured at the Lincoln Center, where it sold-out for every performance. At Carnegie Hall in New York, Golijov holds the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair.

One of Golijov’s future projects includes a new opera, which has been commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera of New York.

Since 1991, Golijov has been a Loyola Professor Music at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Header image courtesy of MTV Other images courtesy of Bluefat and the KC Metropolis