A blind medieval rabbi inspired Friday’s Sunset Center concert.
Thursday, April 15, 2004
Combine one part klezmer dance music, one part Latin influence and one part classical training and the result might be Osvaldo Golijov, recipient of a recent MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant and one of today’s hottest composers.
Raised in Argentina by Jewish parents—dad a doctor, mom a piano teacher—Golijov learned early on to appreciate not just his own culture’s musical traditions, but those around him.
The result is music like “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind,” a 40-minute opus combining klezmer clarinet with a string quartet. The piece will have its Central Coast premiere Friday at 8pm at the Sunset Center in Carmel to conclude Chamber Music Monterey Bay’s 2003-04 season.
An ode to the 12th-century Provencal kabbalistic rabbi and mystic, “Issac the Blind” will be performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, longtime collaborators with Golijov. The quartet, formed in Toronto in 1989, is composed of lead violinist Geoff Nuttall, violinist Barry Shiffman, Lesley Robertson on viola and cellist Christopher Costanza. (Blowing the clarinet during Friday’s performance will be Todd Palmer.)
The quartet started out in Canada playing standard quartet fare like Beethoven, and would have been happy to continue in that vein if they had not been tapped by Golijov to perform the premier of “Yiddishbuk” at the prestigious Tanglewood music festival in 1992.
Things got off to a rocky start as Golijov was late completing the piece. What he did have ready the quartet couldn’t make sense of. “We were like, forget it man. The music looked like nothing on the page,” recalls Shiffman, who then challenged Golijov to hum a few bars. Rising to the occasion, Golijov started in, and the quartet soon became true believers. “Suddenly you’re on another planet in his presence. He elevates the performer to some beautiful world that is in his head.”
The ensuing rave reviews for the piece launched the quartet on a national tour and an ongoing association with Golijov—definitely a win-win situation. Golijov has gone on to have his music performed all over the world, and the quartet has done a lot of that performing. Last year their CD Yiddishbuk was nominated for two Grammys.
Now settled in as the quartet-in-residence at Stanford University, the St. Lawrence String Quartet also continues to play more traditional classical music—Friday’s program includes Haydn’s String Quartet in B Minor, Op. 64, No. 2 and Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major. “70 percent of the music we play are dead guys. And then 30 percent are living and breathing,” says Shiffman.
It’s not necessary to know anything about Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism to appreciate “Issac the Blind,” Shiffman says. What is important, he believes, is appreciating how Golijov weaves ecstatic cries of religious prayer together with klezmer tunes. “Many composers have felt pressure to put string quartet and whatever else in a blender, hoping that the outcome makes the music more appealing,” Shiffman says. “That’s not Ozzie’s shtick. He writes the music of his life, and the music of his life includes klezmer.”
The St. Lawrence String Quartet performs Friday, April 9 at 8pm at Sunset Center, San Carlos at 9th, Carmel. $22-32. 625-2212.