VISIT WESTCORKMUSIC.IE

LATEST ADDITION TO THE ARCHIVE

The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind

Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960)

Christoffer Sundqvist (photo credit: Heikki Tuuli)

Christoffer Sundqvist (photo credit: Heikki Tuuli)

Composer
Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960)
Composition Year
1994
Work Movements
Prelude: Calmo, sospeso
I Agitato – Con fuoco – Maestoso – Senza misura, oscillante
II Teneramente – Ruvido – Presto
III Calmo, sospeso – Allegro pesante
Postlude: Lento, liberamente
Artists
Jupiter String Quartet (Nelson Lee, Meg Freivogel McDonough [violins] Liz Freivogel [viola] Dan McDonough [cello]), Christoffer Sundqvist [clarinet]

Programme Note Writer:
© Osvaldo Golijov

As he describes below, Golijov’s intention in this piece is to fuse thematic elements of the Jewish klezmer tradition with the form of the string quartet as found in Brahms and Mozart. The clarinettist takes on the role of roaring biblical prophet in the savage, uncanny sonorities of the Aramaic Prelude and first movement, playing B flat, A and bass clarinets. In the second movement, a Yiddish klezmer dance like no other is created using the C-clarinet while the quartet pumps and stomps for dear life. The third section takes on the aspect of a Hebrew prayer with the bass-clarinet prominent, leading to something like a rabbinical blessing at the end. All this demands extraordinary concentration and physical effort from the clarinet player, who is required to maintain a controlled fusion of styles on four different instruments, while leading the klezmer band in an explosive performance of this remarkable score, which is played without a break.

Golijov himself describes his work in more temperate tones: Eight centuries ago Isaac The Blind, the great kabbalist rabbi of Provence, dictated a manuscript in which he asserted that all things and events in the universe are the product of combinations of the Hebrew alphabet's letters. Isaac's lifelong devotion to his art is as striking as that of string quartets and klezmer musicians. In their search for something that arises from tangible elements but transcends them, they are all reaching a state of communion. If communion is not the reason, how else would one explain the strange life that Isaac led, or the decades during which groups of four souls dissolve their individuality into single, higher organisms, called string quartets? How would one explain the chain of klezmer generations that, while blessing births, weddings, and burials, were trying to discover the melody that could be set free from itself and become only air, spirit, ruakh?

The movements of this work sound to me as if written in three of the different languages spoken by the Jewish people throughout our history. This somehow reflects the composition's epic nature. I hear the prelude and the first movement, the most ancient, in Arameic; the second movement is in Yiddish, the rich and fragile language of a long exile; the third movement and postlude are in sacred Hebrew.

The prelude and the first movement simultaneously explore two prayers in different ways: The quartet plays the first part of the central prayer of the High Holidays, We will observe the mighty holiness of this day..., while the clarinet dreams the motifs from Our Father, Our King. The second movement is based on The Old Klezmer Band, a traditional dance tune, which is surrounded here by contrasting manifestations of its own halo. The third movement was written before all the others. It is an instrumental version of K'Vakarat, a work that I wrote a few years ago for Kronos and Cantor Misha Alexandrovich. The meaning of the word klezmer: instrument of song, becomes clear as one listens. This movement, together with the postlude, bring to conclusion the prayer left open in the first movement: Thou pass and record, count and visit, every living soul, appointing the measure of every creature's life and decreeing its destiny.

But blindness is as important in this work as dreaming and praying. I had always the intuition that, in order to achieve the highest possible intensity in a performance, musicians should play, metaphorically speaking, 'blind'. That is why, I think, all legendary bards in cultures around the world, starting with Homer, are said to be blind. 'Blindness' is probably the secret of great string quartets, those who don't need their eyes to communicate among them, with the music, or the audience. My hommage to all of them and Isaac of Provence is this work for blind musicians, so they can play it by heart. Blindness, then, reminded me of how to compose music as it was in the beginning: An art that springs from and relies on our ability to sing and hear, with the power to build castles of sound in our memories. 

FULL DETAILS SEARCH FOR MORE

The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind

Composer: Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960)
Performance date: Wednesday 3rd July 2013
Venue: Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,

Share on Twitter | Share on Facebook
http://archive.westcorkmusic.ie/details/view/cmf/332

Composer Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960)
Work Title The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind
Composition Year 1994
Work Movements Prelude: Calmo, sospeso
I Agitato – Con fuoco – Maestoso – Senza misura, oscillante
II Teneramente – Ruvido – Presto
III Calmo, sospeso – Allegro pesante
Postlude: Lento, liberamente
Artist(s) Jupiter String Quartet (Nelson Lee, Meg Freivogel McDonough [violins] Liz Freivogel [viola] Dan McDonough [cello]), Christoffer Sundqvist [clarinet]
Performance Date Wednesday 3rd July 2013
Performance Venue Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,
Event Main Evening Concert
Duration 00:37:00
Recording Engineer Damian Chennells, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Small Mixed Ensemble
Instrumentation 2vn, va, vc, cl
Programme Note Writer © Osvaldo Golijov

As he describes below, Golijov’s intention in this piece is to fuse thematic elements of the Jewish klezmer tradition with the form of the string quartet as found in Brahms and Mozart. The clarinettist takes on the role of roaring biblical prophet in the savage, uncanny sonorities of the Aramaic Prelude and first movement, playing B flat, A and bass clarinets. In the second movement, a Yiddish klezmer dance like no other is created using the C-clarinet while the quartet pumps and stomps for dear life. The third section takes on the aspect of a Hebrew prayer with the bass-clarinet prominent, leading to something like a rabbinical blessing at the end. All this demands extraordinary concentration and physical effort from the clarinet player, who is required to maintain a controlled fusion of styles on four different instruments, while leading the klezmer band in an explosive performance of this remarkable score, which is played without a break.

Golijov himself describes his work in more temperate tones: Eight centuries ago Isaac The Blind, the great kabbalist rabbi of Provence, dictated a manuscript in which he asserted that all things and events in the universe are the product of combinations of the Hebrew alphabet's letters. Isaac's lifelong devotion to his art is as striking as that of string quartets and klezmer musicians. In their search for something that arises from tangible elements but transcends them, they are all reaching a state of communion. If communion is not the reason, how else would one explain the strange life that Isaac led, or the decades during which groups of four souls dissolve their individuality into single, higher organisms, called string quartets? How would one explain the chain of klezmer generations that, while blessing births, weddings, and burials, were trying to discover the melody that could be set free from itself and become only air, spirit, ruakh?

The movements of this work sound to me as if written in three of the different languages spoken by the Jewish people throughout our history. This somehow reflects the composition's epic nature. I hear the prelude and the first movement, the most ancient, in Arameic; the second movement is in Yiddish, the rich and fragile language of a long exile; the third movement and postlude are in sacred Hebrew.

The prelude and the first movement simultaneously explore two prayers in different ways: The quartet plays the first part of the central prayer of the High Holidays, We will observe the mighty holiness of this day..., while the clarinet dreams the motifs from Our Father, Our King. The second movement is based on The Old Klezmer Band, a traditional dance tune, which is surrounded here by contrasting manifestations of its own halo. The third movement was written before all the others. It is an instrumental version of K'Vakarat, a work that I wrote a few years ago for Kronos and Cantor Misha Alexandrovich. The meaning of the word klezmer: instrument of song, becomes clear as one listens. This movement, together with the postlude, bring to conclusion the prayer left open in the first movement: Thou pass and record, count and visit, every living soul, appointing the measure of every creature's life and decreeing its destiny.

But blindness is as important in this work as dreaming and praying. I had always the intuition that, in order to achieve the highest possible intensity in a performance, musicians should play, metaphorically speaking, 'blind'. That is why, I think, all legendary bards in cultures around the world, starting with Homer, are said to be blind. 'Blindness' is probably the secret of great string quartets, those who don't need their eyes to communicate among them, with the music, or the audience. My hommage to all of them and Isaac of Provence is this work for blind musicians, so they can play it by heart. Blindness, then, reminded me of how to compose music as it was in the beginning: An art that springs from and relies on our ability to sing and hear, with the power to build castles of sound in our memories.