‘Ayre:’ Sephardic songs of exile

Is it possible to talk about Jewish history and experiences without touching on the horror of the Holocaust? Many would think not. Yet Argentinean composer of Jewish descent Osvaldo Golijov talks about the Jewish genocide in a more distanced manner. That is not because it doesn’t concern him, of course, but because Argentina, his homeland, was quite a long way away from all that horror, in more ways than pure geography. «It is true that the news about the existence of the death camps came to Argentina, too,» he said in a phone interview to Kathimerini. «It should be noted that Argentina has a large Jewish community. But there is a great difference in the way that Argentinean Jews perceived the Holocaust compared to New York Jews, for instance. That is because, after the war, few survivors of the concentration camps came to Argentina. In essence, they all went to New York.» Golijov will present «Ayre,» a performance with Sephardic Jewish songs, at the Pallas Theater tonight. The Sephardic songs are the musical tradition of Spanish Jews, or Mediterranean Jews. This doesn’t mean that Golijov’s work does not touch upon other issues – he has composed an imposing work inspired by Auschwitz, titled «Tekyah» and featuring clarinetist David Krakauer and accordion-player Michael Ward-Bergeman. The accordion is a musical instrument closely linked to Argentina and not just France. Golijov, born in 1960 in La Plata to Jewish parents from Romania and Ukraine, was caught up in the magic of the bandoneon – an instrument similar to the accordion – at a young age. He was particularly taken by the use of the instrument by Astor Piazzolla, whom he considers a contemporary composer of classical music who managed to bring together Argentina’s folk music and elements from Bela Bartok and Stravinsky. That is also what Golijov does, in a way, though his work belies a stronger classical training and his Jewish heritage, which are obvious in his wonderful «Ayre» songs. (The album of the same title is available from Deutsche Grammophon.) He said there is no central motif in these songs. «They are about jealousy, pain, tragedy, loneliness and love – there are many motifs. Deep down, it is a journey across the Mediterranean, starting from Spain, with the Christian and Arabic songs and going as far as Sardinia and Jerusalem. The element of exile is very strong, as it is a well-known fact that Sephardic Jews were deported from Spain. But, in this case, I am not just interested in the experience of the Jews but in all feelings of exile. Today, that feeling is more pressing than ever. There is always a nation in exile throughout history.» Presented for the first time in Greece, «Ayre» is a cycle of Sephardic songs written for a singer and a chamber music ensemble. Soprano Dawn Upshaw will perform tonight, accompanied by the Brodsky Quartet and the Andalucian Dogs ensemble. Pallas Theater, 5 Voukourestiou, tel 210.321.3100. The performance starts at 9 p.m.