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2010-06-23

Shofar in Music: Osvaldo Golijov, Composer

Golijov, "has blended Argentinean music, traditional Jewish idioms, and modern sounds into a distinctive style." Information on the composer, born 1960, is at his website. His works related to shofar include:
Osvaldo Golijov explains the Shofar to the Sinfonietta Krakovia. Photo: Caroline Irby, 2004

“The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” (1992). According to the composer,
"The whole first movement is a heartbeat that accelerates wildly…becoming frantic. It’s built on a single chord, rotating like a monolith. The Quartet obsesses in eighth notes, the clarinet starts a huge line in long notes, but zooms in and is caught up in the gravitational spin. The forces of God and man, they never unite, but they do commune; you can hear the dybbuk and the shofar, searching for a revelation that is always out of reach."
A reviewer has said that its third movement focuses on the ke-vakorat line of the U-Netaneh Tokef prayer from the High Holy Day liturgy which speaks of God watching over his people as a shepherd watches over his flock. The clarinetist, working in the high register, imitates the cry of the shofar."

It is recorded by Kronos Quartet.

"Rocketekya"(1998) The composer has said,
I was asked to write a celebratory fanfare. But then I thought it would be interesting to write a different sort of celebratory piece, and I had an idea: a shofar blasting inside a rocket—an ancient sound propelled towards the future. So, that is Rocketekya: a shofar blasting its t'ki'a (one of its prescribed pattern calls) inside a rocket. In the middle of its journey, the rocket meets a Latin band in orbit….
A reviewer comments:
Osvaldo Golijov mixes influences from his native South America (including Piazzola) with Bartók, Prokofieff, Bernstein, some George Crumb and a pinch of minimalism, and, of course, Eastern European klezmer and even Jewish liturgical music. I find him a little uneven, but at his best he wows me. Rocketekya falls unquestionably into the wow bin. Golijov explains its title by referring to the piece's origin in a vision of a shofar sounding in a rocket (the Hebrew tekya means "to blow"). Definitely odd, but there you are. It's a chamber quartet for the unconventional ensemble of clarinet, violin, electric viola, and bass. The sound is almost pure acid, accentuated by the sharpness and a repertoire of "alien" sounds (including 78 rpm record "crackle") from the electric viola. The piece opens with a jazzy, samba-like beat. One hears the heterophony of hard bop in many of the quieter parts. Rocketekya rockets along. I have no idea how it holds together or why it holds together so compellingly. Basically, it just scoops me up and takes me for an exciting ride. 
It is recorded on Klezmer Concertos and Encores, Naxos 8.559403

"Tekyah" (2005) This brief ensemble piece is described in a review of a Chicago Symphony Orchestra MusicNow concert on March 15 2010:
Of the six works on the program, the best [included]....Osvaldo Golijov's Tekyah for clarinet, hyper-accordion, and a small ensemble of brass/shofars... the spirituality of Tekyah is based in Golijov's quasi-Argentinean interpretation of Judaism. J. Lawrie Bloom's clarinet sang in a cantorial style, acting as the leader of a congregation of brass and shofars. The work opened with a keening clarinet lament, backed by the weird electro-acoustics of the hyper-accordian and brass. Glissandi morphed the accompaniment texture, blending together the brass and accordian into a mass of sound. Finally a shofar from the audience... broke through the texture, and a call-and-response rhythm emerged between clarinet and shofar. The brass section... switched to shofars and joined into the choir. Golijov based each rhythmic pattern on the shofar calls of the Rosh Hashanah service--Tekiyah, Teruah, Shevarim--with the clarinet playing the "word" and the shofars blowing their response. Unfortunately it ended too quickly, the short length making it less like a religious rite and more like a fanfare.
"Rose of the Winds" (2007) for ensemble and orchestra. The above piece, Tekyah, has been incorporated as the final movement of a this larger piece. It is scored for a 10 shofarot along with shakuhachi, sheng, ney, kamanche, bagpipes, pipa, percussion, and orchestra. A reviewer has said,
Rose of the Winds closes with Tekyah, a movement of surpassing tenderness. This, too, is an adapted earlier work; the original was for klezmer clarinet and brass. Golijov turns the solo duties over to kemancheh, and it concludes over a drone in the strings and clarinets with 10 brass players blowing on shofars. Principal horn Dale Clevenger was first to stand with the long ram's horn in hand, and led the ever-broadening calls from the middle of the stage.
Click here for a list of other composers using or influenced by shofar.

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For more information on shofar, download Hearing Shofar: The Still Small Voice of the Ram's Horn by Michael T. Chusid at www.HearingShofar.com, and subscribe to www.HearingShofar.blogspot.com.

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