“El Cordero Pascual” from La Pasión según San Marcos by Osvaldo Golijov
Some background on the music:
In 2000, to celebrate the 250th anniversary of J.S. Bach’s death, the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart commissioned four composers from different countries (Germany, Russia, China and Argentina) to write four Passions in the tradition, but not necessarily the style, of Bach. One of these was La Pasión según San Marcos (The Passion of St. Mark).
Passions evolved from the tradition of singing through the text of the four gospels during Holy Week before Easter. By the time of Bach, a Passion was an oratorio depicting Jesus’ life using the gospels for text. An oratorio is a piece for orchestra, chorus, and vocal soloists that musically tells a story. In the case of the passions, the chorus might serve as the crowd, or reinforce the story told by the narrator. The vocal soloists might narrate, and also represent individual characters in the story as is needed to represent key dramatic moments. Bach wrote passions for all the gospels, but only two survive: St. Matthew’s Passion and St. John’s Passion.
Osvoldo Golijov is an Argentine composer (who now lives in Massachusetts) with Eastern European Jewish heritage. In La Pasión según San Marcos, he uses musical elements from the African culture in Latin America, mostly Cuban and Brazilian rhythms, as well as Middle Eastern and Arabic elements, and tells the story of Jesus through a constantly shifting web of characters and narrators. Sometimes soloists represent characters, sometimes the entire chorus speaks for Jesus, or Judas. The words are mostly in an Africanized Spanish, but at least one section is in Arabic.
It’s really an amazing piece of music, and in addition to all of the elements I mentioned above, there is a dance component to a full performance, and also many avant-garde musical techniques in the work. Golijov’s website has lots of information about the piece and its conception, and there is a commercial recording available, as well as another one to be released this year.
Also, if anybody is in the greater LA region in late April, the LA Philharmonic will be hosting two performances of La Pasión performed by the group that rehearsed and premiered the work under the oversight of the composer. That will be April 24 and 25, and there is information here.