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22.2.12

Osvaldo Golijov, Still Behind Schedule

Over the weekend there was more bad news for Osvaldo Golijov, from an article in the Register-Guard. It picked up observations by Tom Manoff that "at least half" of Sidereus, a recent piece by Golijov, is the work of another composer. The borrowing has since been acknowledged by the composer whose work was lifted, Michael Ward–Bergeman, as approved in advance. Golijov has said nothing publicly, but responses came from publicist Amanda Ameer and Anne Midgette yesterday, noting that borrowing music from other sources is part of Golijov's process, which is true. Still, when even Alex Ross admits that it does not look good for Golijov, one has to wonder if this is not so much a case of borrowing but more like the ghost writing of a new work with a looming deadline. Sidereus, which was commissioned by a consortium of thirty-some orchestras, has been played twice in the Washington area in the past year, by the National Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. We have not managed to cover either one of them, but no composition by Golijov has particularly impressed me (or some other critics) for the last few few years.

This development -- which just keeps getting worse -- follows Golijov's recent failures to deliver commissions on time, which a composer friend of mine assumes must be the kiss of death for future commissions. Sure, Golijov is not the first to pass off other people's compositions as his own. He is also not the first to cut it close with the completion of new pieces. Preparing for a review of Mozart's 23rd piano concerto, heard from Lise de la Salle and the BSO, I came across Leopold Mozart's description of the world premiere of that piece, with the composer at the keyboard (in a letter to his daughter, Nannerl, quoted by John Irving):
[On February 11 1785] we drove to his first subscription concert, at which a great many members of the aristocracy were present. Each person pays a souverain d'or or three ducats for these Lenten concerts. Your brother is giving them at the Mehlgrube ... The concert was magnificent and the orchestra played splendidly ... we had a new and very fine concerto [K. 466] by Wolfgang, which the copyist was still copying when we arrived, and the rondo of which your brother did not even have time to play through, as he had to supervise the copying.
If Mozart ever actually got around to copying down the cadenzas he played at that performance, they have not survived. At least the piece that Mozart came up with was actually all his (after he had absorbed the achievements of Gluck, Paisiello, and others, of course).

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