Grammy winning composer hopes crowd will be 'moved, enchanted'

By Dan McRoberts - Banff

The Banff Centre is hosting one of the world's most prominent living composers this week as he prepares a piece for the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Special Olympics in China.

Osvaldo Golijov is also working closely with Barry Shiffman, the Centre's director of music programs, and summer music participants for a gala concert that takes place this Saturday (July 7), as part of the annual "Taste of the Festival" weekend organized by the Centre.

Golijov is in Banff for only 10 days, but hopes to have the basis for his Olympic composition by the time he departs. He will work intensively with Wu Tong, a virtuoso sheng (Chinese mouth organ) player, for several days.

"He's really charismatic and a great musician," said Golijov. "We will come up with at least the structure of the music and then I'll write the detail."

Tong is part of the Silk Road Ensemble, a collection of musicians from around the world directed by famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Golijov has written compositions for the group in the past, and feels the Banff Centre will provide a good environment for the creation of this latest commission.

"It's amazing," he said. "This is the kind of place that you would dream about."

Part of what makes the Centre a good fit is Golijov's long relationship with Shiffman. Shiffman was a co-founder of the acclaimed St. Lawrence String Quartet, a group that has an extensive history with Golijov and his music.

"I've been involved in a dozen works of Osvaldo's," said Shiffman. "We've commissioned work from him, toured his work, performed probably over 500 concerts."

A similar approach to music is what has sustained their collaboration over the past 15 years, Golijov said.

"(We share) a sensibility that is broader than what is usually associated with classical music," he said. "There is an urgency to really express and, I think, a fearlessness to disturb, which is an important part of all art."

"We're a bit crazy," Shiffman interjects.

That comfort level is not exclusive to Shiffman, as many of the current faculty members at the Centre are regular performers of Golijov's music. These faculty members will join music program participants in a performance on Saturday night.

"I think that the chances are good for a great experience for the audience," Golijov said. "As a composer, you

depend a lot on how your music is put across and I couldn't hope for better performers. We are so familiar. It's like actors who have worked with a playwright for some time; they know the code so to speak."

Giving emerging musicians the opportunity to work with a composer like Golijov, whose work has won two Grammy Awards, is important to Schiffman, who said the urgency and passion Golijov shares with musicians can be applied to work with music from the past as well.

"He wrote this piece for us (the

St. Lawrence Quartet) and we didn't really understand it, and then Osvaldo came in and started to vocalize what he was actually looking for. That was pretty inspiring," said Shiffman. "You take that message and that kind of message and urgency and apply it to what you're doing with the music of dead people.

We have hundreds of musicians in our program that are focused on learning Mozart, Beethoven and then they work with someone like Osvaldo - it does definitely inspire their work on the music of the past."

Having an artist of Golijov's calibre at the Banff Centre working on a piece with an artist like Wu Tong will have an impact on the Centre's profile around the world, Shiffman believes.

"The Banff Centre is the leading place of its kind, undoubtedly. It's also challenged - we are in the middle of the Rocky Mountains and the awareness of the program is not as easy as it would be in New York with the Julliard School," he said. "The ability to bring someone like Osvaldo, who then brings the Silk Road Ensemble here, will only lead to a greater awareness.

"Many, many musicians know about the Banff Centre, but the musical world is exploding. When you look specifically at classical music, North America is a marginal player. It means a great deal to bring someone like Wu Tong here to work with Osvaldo. I'm sure he has many friends back in China he will tell about the Banff Centre."

As for Golijov himself, he has a simple hope for the audience at the gala concert that will take place this weekend.

"I hope that they will be moved, and enchanted," he said. "That's what we all hope."

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