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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov is one of the hottest young voices in classical music. His visceral compositions embrace influences from tango to klezmer. Didn't know you could embrace klezmer. One of his frequent collaborators is the superstar soprano Dawn Upshaw. The two have teamed up in a new song cycle called "Ayre," which has just been released on CD. Jeff Lunden has this report.

(Soundbite of unidentified song from "Ayre")

Ms. DAWN UPSHAW (Singer): Aaaah...

JEFF LUNDEN reporting:

There are plenty of moments in "Ayre" where Dawn Upshaw gets to show off the vocal qualities that made her famous. But composer Osvaldo Golijov says there's more to her than that.

Mr. OSVALDO GOLIJOV (Composer): Because of her incredible purity as a singer, composers tend to think of her as the angel. But Dawn has all these other areas in her voice that have never been explored before. She does have an ugly witch in her, and she's ready to show it.

(Soundbite of unidentified song from "Ayre")

Ms. UPSHAW: (Singing in foreign language)

Well, he certainly has gotten sounds out of me that I didn't know I had.

(Singing in foreign language)

LUNDEN: Listeners may well be surprised to hear Dawn Upshaw growling and swooping and sliding in Osvaldo Golijov's new song cycle, but for the composer, it's par for the course. Golijov is interested in the intersection between folk, pop and contemporary classical music and has written many pieces that meld these elements; his Brazilian pop-inflected setting of the "St. Mark's Passion," for instance. In "Ayre," which in medieval Spanish means `air' or `melody,' Golijov has for the most part either set traditional folk melodies or texts.

Mr. GOLIJOV: I decided that rather than go all over the world in looking for folk melodies, I would focus on the Mediterranean, and more specifically in medieval Spain, a place where Muslims, Jews and Christians co-existed and interacted in relative harmony and in great creative tension in the sciences, the arts and in life, and a place that later on became a place of bloodshed.

(Soundbite of "Dawn, St. John's Day")

Ms. UPSHAW: (Singing in foreign language)

LUNDEN: This song, "Dawn, St. John's Day," has a melody Golijov composed to a traditional Sephardic text. He says the words are surprisingly relevant.

Mr. GOLIJOV: It starts, `It was the morning of St. John and Christians and Moors went out to war. They were warring, they were dying, 500 on each side.'

LUNDEN: Dawn Upshaw says Osvaldo Golijov asked her to play a character when she sang this song.

Ms. UPSHAW: He told me to imagine that I was kind of on a soap box at a carnival or something and I needed to get people's attention. I needed everybody to listen to my story and I needed to tell this story with a lot of drama.

(Soundbite of "Dawn, St. John's Day")

Ms. UPSHAW: (Singing in foreign language)

LUNDEN: Another song, "Wa Habibi (My Love)," is a traditional Christian Arab Easter song.

(Soundbite of "Wa Habibi (My Love)")

Ms. UPSHAW: (Singing in foreign language)

LUNDEN: Osvaldo Golijov says he has Dawn Upshaw sing the same melody twice.

Mr. GOLIJOV: The first time, I asked her to sing in a sort of a Greek Christian Gregorian way, and the second way in totally Arabic with gleeces(ph), with a lot of--not growls, but a lot of--I don't want to call it dirt because it's n--but it--you know, things that come with the utterance of the voice. And that was to show how the same melody can be perceived in completely different ways.

(Soundbite of "Wa Habibi (My Love)")

Ms. UPSHAW: (Singing in foreign language)

(Soundbite of "Ayre" interlude)

LUNDEN: There's a completely different musical texture in the interludes between the "Wa Habibi" melody, which features what Osvaldo Golijov calls a contemporary folk instrument: the laptop computer.

Mr. GOLIJOV: I wanted to surround that beautiful melody with what I call the seething anger of the Arab streets, so to speak. So we took kitchen pots and knives and what not and sampled them and then created this very jarring groove.

(Soundbite of "Ayre" interlude)

LUNDEN: "Ayre" is all about juxtapositions, not only cultural, but emotional. Beautiful melodies are set to ugly texts. Expressions of doubt and wonder, love and anger live side by side. And in the end, there are no words, just a long vocalese that Dawn Upshaw sings to a Sephardic melody that Osvaldo Golijov discovered.

Mr. GOLIJOV: I created a sort of a musical building out of that little tune. To me it was the following image, that the groove, the bolero, is like a palace, so to speak, full of rooms and corridors and so forth. And the line that Dawn sings is like the princess lost in that humongous palace. And at times it seems like a lament. At times it's ecstatic.

(Soundbite of "Ayre's" closing vocals)

Ms. UPSHAW: Aaaaah...

LUNDEN: For her part, Dawn Upshaw is ecstatic about the piece and the recording.

Ms. UPSHAW: This is one of the greatest gifts I've ever received. I know it's for everybody, not just me, but when I look back on everything that I've done--all kinds of music--this one is really spectacular. And I feel like a very, very lucky girl.

(Soundbite of "Ayre's" closing vocals)

Ms. UPSHAW: Aaaaah...

LUNDEN: Dawn Upshaw is taking "Ayre" on the road across the United States and in England. And later this season, Lincoln Center's "Great Performers" series is presenting a festival of Osvaldo Golijov's compositions.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(Soundbite of "Ayre's" closing vocals)

Ms. UPSHAW: Aaaaah...

SIMON: And you can go behind the creation of "Ayre" on our Web site, npr.org. And to discover more new music, you can now download NPR's online music program, "All Songs Considered," as a podcast. That's an audio file that's automatically delivered to your computer or MP3 audio player. You can simply visit our Web site, npr.org, and click on `NPR podcast' to learn how to subscribe.

(Soundbite of "Ayre's" closing vocals)

Ms. UPSHAW: Aaaaah...

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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