Sunday, February 26, 2006

Pasion

A little behind the curve on Tuesday's "Pasion" but shall interject nonetheless.

I enjoyed the Pasion this time even more, I think, than I did two years ago at BAM. The star of the show is really the glorious choral writing, where Golijov's skills of hybridization shine the most. A-Ross ain't kidding when he mentions Bach in this review of the work's 2001 premiere. The double-choir numbers especially are as powerful and integral to this work as their counterparts are in the Matthew passion. While the material is basically the Latin American pop sound that appears in a purer form elsewhere in the piece, the counterpoint and and rhythmic complexity of the choral parts consistently bring them further into unexplored territory.

Tuesday night presented an exceptionally strong showing. The orchestra was brilliant. Spano was great, very confident and precise without giving up any looseness. The soloists were consistently strong, especially Reynaldo Gonzalez Fernandez. At times I loved Luciana Souza...at others I wondered what it would be like to have a more consistent voice doing the part. Some things lost, some things gained I imagine. She also probably suffered the most from too noticeable amplification. I feel there's a future for this piece where the amplification is perfectly deployed only to properly balance the electric instruments. This wasn't quite there yet. As for Ms. Anne-Carolyn Bird, what can be said about the sheer purity and heart breaking sweetness in that voice in the big "Lua Descolorida" aria? It made my room spin. But then again, she met David Bowie so she probably doesn't need my props.

I recall that after the BAM production I was fairly anti- the dramatic lighting and choreography elements, which I found half-assed. I didn't feel as strongly this time. I think the quasi-stagey elements make one focus on the importance of experiencing this live. Still, I would be interested to see the piece really set on its own two feet, perhaps with some slight cuts in the dance improvisation parts. I would venture it can more than handle it, and it would no doubt serve as a boon to the work's longevity.

As to the question of what the "Pasion" is exactly...I don't put much stock in the whole "Golijov is teaching classical music how to be entertaining and forcing it to reckon with popular sounds" line, whcih strikes me as too easy and several times too broad. I think it's better understood as a sort of musical conceptual art piece--through the careful juxtaposition of formal elements and musical material from disparate cultures, Golijov allows his audience to consider the sources in new ways. Approached in the Western concert hall, the fine-grained details and subtle turns of rhythm and tonality in Golijov's interpretation of his Latin source material sparks a new appreciation for the versatility and depth in that music that can't be found in casual listening. At the same time, the way Golijov's familiar sounds perfectly inhabit the Western liturgical oratorio tradition reconnects us with that tradition's great and accessible storytelling power, a feat unlikely to be achieved through the avant-garde heavy language of much contemporary Western music.

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