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June 2, 2011

Mobtown Modern presents vivid performance of Golijov's 'Ayre'

Mobtown Modern closed its 2010-11 season in typically imaginative, rewarding form with a performance of Osvaldo Golijov's "Ayre" Wednesday night at the Windup Space.

This song cycle from 2004 is something of a cry in the wilderness, the composer's extraordinary plea for multi-cultural harmony.

That plea reverberates with voices and sounds from 15th-century Spain, a place where Christians, Arabs and Jews got a lot closer to coexistence than the three cultures can manage today.

Not that "Ayre" paints a rosy picture. We're still talking 15th century, after all. Some of the texts contain brutal images, some have a sardonic bite (one of the sweetest melodies is heard in a Sephardic song titled "A Mother Roaster Her Child").

Melancholy, fear and lamentation are addressed. Woven throughout the cycle is a sense of ...

yearning for answers from heaven, and from humankind.

Golijov's fusion of folk idioms and sounds creates a variety of arresting effects. The flavors of Arab and Jewish melodies, especially, blend together here, the common roots of both traditions somehow striking the same chords.

The composer surrounds a solo soprano with the distinctive tapestry of a chamber ensemble that includes a few winds and strings, accordion, guitar, harp -- and a laptop, for sampling sounds. The singer, too, is called on to create multiple aural colors.

Wednesday's performance featured soprano Lara Bruckman, who met the considerable challenges ably. She seemed as comfortable producing lullaby-sweet tones as guttural ones; she also recited the one non-musical passage -- a haunting poem by the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish -- effectively.

There was admirable fluency and a telling sense of spontaneity from the instrumentalists: Marcia Kamper (flute), Matthew Sikes (clarinet), Timothy Huizenga (horn), Elizabeth Jaffe (villa), Todd Thiel (cello), Lynn Fleming (bass), Meng Su (guitar -- the playing in "Sueltate las Cintas" was especially eloquent), Jacqueline Pollauf (harp) and Ruby Fulton (accordion). Mobtown curator and co-founder Brian Sacawa tackled the computer duties with aplomb. Conductor Julien Benichou kept everything flowing smoothly.

"Ayre" is an eclectic piece, wide-ranging in its moods and meanings. For all of its pleasantly lyrical moments, it is not, in the end, an easy-listening piece. The music communicates on many, often very subtle levels, a point driven home in Mobtown Modern's stirring concert.

PHOTO (Festival de Saint-Denis – Sébastien Chambert) COURTESY OF OSVALDOGOLIJOV.COM

Posted by Tim Smith at 1:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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