What Is The Sound Of Grief? Osvaldo Golijov Puts It To Music In his newest work, Falling Out of Time, composer Osvaldo Golijov explores a painful subject — the death of a child. He was inspired by a unique literary work by Israeli writer David Grossman.

What Is The Sound Of Grief? Osvaldo Golijov Puts It To Music

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Osvaldo Golijov is a MacArthur Genius composer who's written for Yo-Yo Ma and the Kronos Quartet. But in 2012, he was falsely accused of plagiarism and disappeared. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas reports he is only now reemerging with a work about grief and loss.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Osvaldo Golijov says that his own thoughts about grief go back to his childhood in Argentina, when his Eastern European Jewish immigrant great-grandfather was mourning the imminent death of his son.

OSVALDO GOLIJOV: And I remember waking up in the mornings and seeing him next to the window praying. And even if I was only maybe 7 years old, I remember asking myself, how does a person keep praying after losing a child?


TSIOULCAS: Decades later, Golijov picked up a book, the Israeli author David Grossman's "Falling Out Of Time." It's part poetry, part play, part novel - a chronicle of a man out of his mind with grief for his dead son. Grossman himself lost his son, a soldier who was killed in action.

GOLIJOV: The first time we met, he told me that he and his wife were at home one night when two messengers came to tell them the news of the death of their son. And as soon as they heard that, they went upstairs to wake up their younger daughter, who was 12 at the time. And the first thing she said to them was, but we shall live.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in non-English language).

TSIOULCAS: Golijov's meditations on grief and loss are at the heart of his latest work "Falling Out Of Time," a musical setting of Grossman's text. The composer has often been moved to address enormous ideas in his music. His best-known work is "La Pasion Segun San Marcos" - "The Passion According To St. Mark" - a Latin American depiction of the last days of Jesus before the crucifixion.


TSIOULCAS: "The Passion" (ph) was hailed as a masterwork for the 21st century. Other big projects followed. Then came the accusation of plagiarism made by two critics, which turned out to be a misinterpretation of an arrangement between Golijov and one of his collaborators. Still, the composer went silent. He missed deadlines, including a commission from the Metropolitan Opera. "Falling Out Of Time" marks his return.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in non-English language).

TSIOULCAS: The work was supposed to tour in 2020, a year of so much mourning and isolation. It was written for the Silkroad Ensemble. Violinist Johnny Gandelsman remembers one of the pre-pandemic performances.

JOHNNY GANDELSMAN: There was something about Osvaldo talking about the piece and talking about David's experience and then us playing. When we finished, you could hear the artists sobbing, which just doesn't happen very often.

TSIOULCAS: But the work, says its composer, is about accompanying the isolation of grief.

GOLIJOV: David Grossman said to the Silkroad and to me - he said, even the father and the mother that are grieving the same child are each of them in their own island of exile, right? So we are alone. And yet the rest of us - I think it is our duty to accompany.


TSIOULCAS: The Silkroad Ensemble recorded "Falling Out Of Time" for Johnny Gandelsman's label.

GANDELSMAN: I started working on the album, you know, in February or March. Having something of this meaning and quality to do gave my life some meaning.

TSIOULCAS: And the work seems to have opened a well of inspiration for Osvaldo Golijov in the midst of the pandemic.

GOLIJOV: It's interesting that when there is no distractions or anywhere to go to, the music keeps coming and coming and coming. So the faucet opened, and it's flowing.

TSIOULCAS: Golijov says he's made a certain peace with the ebbs and flows of his creativity. And he says that his next work is light and bright.

Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.

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