Carnegie Hall Live: Golijov's 'St. Mark Passion'Hear one of the most exciting pieces of 21st-century music: a new retelling of Jesus' last days, from Latin American and Jewish perspectives, courtesy of composer Osvaldo Golijov and collaborators.
With his St. Mark Passion, composer Osvaldo Golijov turns the traditional Passion (like those of J.S. Bach) on its head and gives it a spin or two. Here, Javier Silva performs in front of the Forest Hills High School Concert Choir, the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts Concert Choir and Songs of Solomon at Carnegie Hall.
Melanie Burford/For NPR
Conductor Robert Spano led a cast of some 195 musicians, including several choirs. Golijov's updated Passion, from 2000, seamlessly combines elements of western choral music, western orchestral instruments and deep folkloric Latin American rhythms, instruments and dances.
Although Golijov's St. Mark Passion requires a specialized orchestra of musicians, including Cuban and Brazilian drumming and dancing, it has been performed around the world some three dozen times.
More than 100 choristers from area high schools and the Songs of Solomon choir sang in the Passion, here representing the angry crowd at Jesus' crucifixion.
Melanie Burford/For NPR
Although Robert Spano has conducted Golijov's Passion before — and has made a recording — he says he still feels "totally intimidated" by the diversity of the score. "It was learning a new musical vocabulary," he said.
Members of the Forest Hills High School Concert Choir,the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts Concert Choir and Songs of Solomon singing in Golijov's St. Mark Passion.
Melanie Burford/For NPR
Vocalist Gioconda Cabrera with the local choristers, and the cello section of Orquesta Pasion.
Golijov's Passion calls for sacred Cuban bata drums, plus congas and a battery of Brazilian drums.
The St. Mark Passion incorporates Brazilian Capoeira (martial arts) and the traditional stringed percussion instrument the berimbau, both specialties of musician Deraldo Ferreira.
Deraldo Ferreira, left, pierces Jesus, played by Afro-Cuban singer and dancer Reynaldo Gonzalez-Fernandez.
Deraldo Ferreira, left, and Reynaldo Gonzalez-Fernandez, as Jesus, perform in the St. Mark Passion.
Brazilian singer Luciana Souza sings "Lua descolorida" (Aria of Peter's Tears), one of the Passion's most heartbreaking songs.
Soprano Jessica Rivera, left, Deraldo Ferreira, center, and Renaldo Gonzalez-Fernandez received enthusiastic applause after performing in Osvaldo Golijov's Passion according to St. Mark, with Orquesta La Pasion and conductor Robert Spano at Carnegie Hall, March 10, 2013.
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Robert Spano, conductor
Orquesta La Pasion (Mikael Ringquist and Gonzalo Grau, leaders)
Jessica Rivera, soprano
Luciana Souza, vocalist
Reynaldo Gonzalez-Fernandez, Afro-Cuban singer and dnacer
Deraldo Ferreira, capoeirista and berimbau
Members of the Schola Cantorum de Venezuela
Maria Guinand, chorus director
David Rosenmeyer, music supervisor
Chorus members of Forest Hill High School, Frank Sinatra School of the Arts and Songs of Solomon
Telling the story of Jesus' last days is not just a cornerstone of Christianity, but also of classical music. Just think of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, hailed and championed by everyone from Felix Mendelssohn to Leonard Bernstein. A very modern, multicultural version of that narrative, based on the Gospel of St. Mark, has been hailed as nothing short of a revolution — "as if musical history were starting over," wrote The New Yorker's Alex Ross.
La Pasión según San Marcos (The Passion According to St. Mark) written by the Argentine Jewish composer Osvaldo Golijov reinvents Bach's model in dazzling and deeply thought-provoking ways. In creating what he has called a "Latin American Jesus," Golijov interweaves choral singing and an orchestra with Afro-Cuban dance rhythms, Bahian drums and capoeira dancing from Brazil, and African-inspired call-and-response vocals. He also examines the narrative from a Jewish perspective, combining the Christian gospel with the Lamentations of Jeremiah and the traditional Jewish prayer of mourning called Kaddish, as well as achingly beautiful poetry by 19th-century Galician poet Rosalia de Castro.
In a recent interview I conducted with the composer, he said, "What interests me is not so much religion, as it is the questions that religion is a vehicle for — which are the questions that we all arrive at at some point in our lives." (To hear a bit more of this excerpted interview, click the audio link above.)
Commissioned by the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart to commemorate the 250th anniversary of J. S. Bach's death in 2000, Osvaldo Golijov's Passion has become without question one of the most popular and critically successful classical works of the 21st century. This Carnegie Hall performance marks the Passion's fourth full staging in New York alone, in addition to many productions across the U.S. and Latin America to London, Rome, Sydney and beyond.
For this performance, high school students from across New York City have been working on this piece daily through the school year. They will perform as the chorus, bringing their own experiences and vitality to this transformative piece.