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Osvaldo Golijov’s “Ayre”

Ilana Davidson, soprano

Ilana Davidson, soprano

A stunning contemporary song cycle by Osvaldo Golijov for soprano and 11 players that weaves together Sephardic, Arabic, and Spanish traditions. Typical of Golijov’s compositional approach, this piece is about breaking down walls, political, cultural, and stylistic: it’s impossible to label Ayre as coming from any particular genre as it veers from classical to klezmer to pop and back, and therein lies its particular power. Ilana Davidson will be the soprano soloist who takes this work’s many challenges to heart, along with a superb cast of players ranging from klezmer clarinet to accordion to laptop-synthesizer. The concert begins with several works for solo accordion performed by world champion accordionist Alexander Sevastian. This performance is in collaboration with the Portland, Maine, Chamber Music Festival, where it will receive a second performance on Thursday, August 20, with the same performers.

Commissioned by Carnegie Hall at the request of Dawn Upshaw, Ayre — meaning “air” and “melody” in medieval Spanish — is a 40-minute cycle of 11 songs drawn primarily from a large body of 15th century Spanish folk songs. Representing the three prominent cultures in Spain at the time (Christian, Jewish, and Arab), the music is a lush mix of Spanish and Mediterranean influences and reflects a range of human conditions and emotions stemming from the cultural clashes and connections of the time. Tales of love and war, religion and rage are contained in texts sung in Ladino (the lost language of the Spanish Jews), Arabic, Hebrew, Sardinian, Spanish, and even the ancient Aramaic. Scored for clarinet, French horn, accordion, guitar, harp, flute, viola, cello, double bass, percussion, and laptop computer, Ayre’s instrumentation is as eclectic as its languages.

In his review of Ayre, Alex Ross of The New Yorker wrote: Ayre is not only an  aesthetically beautiful piece but also a radical and disorienting one. Many people…will be unsure whether they are listening to pop music or to classical music or to some folk ritual of indeterminate origin. However they answer, they will be right… If a modern classical work could ever crack the Top 40, this is it: Golijov has created a new beast, of bastard parentage and glorious plumage.”

Supported by

The Waldo and Alice Ayer Trust, Citizens Bank  |  The Bean Family Foundation  |  The Lizzie Cheney Trust  |  Citizens Bank & Getz Charitable Trust  |  The Putnam Foundation  |  The Gilbert Verney Foundation  |  The National Endowment for the Arts  |  The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation  |  The JWK Trust  |  Terra Nova Trust

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