While I continue to find Golijov's opera Ainadamar a seductive work, little else that he has composed seems to merit the media hype and number of commissions that he receives. He premiered Azul, an atmospheric "concerto" for solo and exotic percussion, at Tanglewood in 2006, with Yo-Yo Ma as the cellist: like so much of Golijov's work, including Ainadamar, it was finished at the last minute, and the composer later revised the work for another cellist, Alisa Weilerstein. Since then, orchestras all over the place have performed the work, the latest being the NSO. The piece is about a half-hour of not that much: a pleasing melody or two, some snappy rhythms, the reedy sound of the "hyperaccordion" of Michael Ward-Bergeman, and a children's treasury of odd percussive effects (wielded theatrically by soloists Cyro Baptista and Jamey Haddad).
The sounds are initially quite alluring -- of the "world music" sort that one might call NPR Music, but really not many steps above Yanni -- but then nothing really happens; themes are merely repeated, not developed, resulting in a sort of lush stasis that eventually collapses like a meringue. Golijov chose to rework some ideas from a previous piece, Tenebrae, and imported some melodic and harmonic ideas from Couperin's Leçons de ténèbres. The appeal of the forms referenced here, the repeating harmonic patterns of the passacaglia and chaconne, is not in their repetition, however, but in the variation introduced with each repetition. The big finish of the final movement, a resolution to the tonic that dissolves into a few minutes of shapeless glissandos, ultimately collapsing into the amplified repetition of sounds whispered into a microphone by one of the percussionists, gave the impression of a big tire or balloon expelling all of its air. The orchestra, reduced basically to being a sort of backup chord machine, must have been bored to tears.
Anne Midgette, In performance: NSO and Yo-Yo Ma (Washington Post, June 30)