Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Golijov, Edinburgh International Festival -

From Juliet Williams in Edinburgh

This 2011 work for string quartet by citizen of the world Osvaldo Golijov, entitled Quohelet, performed at the Edinburgh Festival by the St Lawrence String Quartet, is inspired by the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Best known for its third chapter:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.”

 This sense of duality pervades the work: stillness / movement; thought / action; slow / fast. Since the work's premiere, Golijov has switched the order of the quartet's two movements. The work now opens with the reflective slow movement. Just for fun, a Brazilian pop tune is inserted. The pulsing second movement which follows has been compared in the helpful introduction by first violinist Geoff Nuttall to riding a motorcycle. Again there is one track within the music which is characterised by the sense of movement whilst another element is like the mind being elsewhere whilst the body moves. The music comes to a sudden, almost abrupt end, the listener's attention left in suspense …...

Having listened to the movements in both orders (easily done using the BBC website), I think there are actually merits to each, and it is an intriguing experiment. The combination of Jewish themes and a sense of pulsing movement is remniscent at times of Steve Reich, such as Tehilim. There are also echoes of Golijov's earlier work, for Kronos, The Prayers and Dreams of Isaac the Blind.

The Stanford (California) - based St Lawrence String Quartet gave the premiere of this work in 2011, written for them in recognition of their achievement in the performance of an earlier companion piece, Yiddishbbuk, inspired by apocyphal psalms – recorded on EMI in 2002 and nominated for two Grammy awards.

They are also the dedicatees of Absolute Jest, a concerto for string quartet and orchestra  by John Adams to be performed on August 27 with the San Francisco Symphony at Edinburgh's Usher Hall. Their chamber recital included John Adams' first string quartet,and I intend to discuss the two works by Adams together later in the week. 

Although specialists in contemporary repertoire such as this,  in their tour to the Edinburgh Festival they included in the programme Saint Saen's late-written and rigorous First Quartet, and a very lovely account of the slow movement from Haydn's Op20 no1 as an encore. Their excellent performance in such more traditional repertoire showcases their versatility  and span of musical achievement. Their playing is characterised by energy and imagination.

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