by Philippa Kiraly, special to the Sybaritic Singer
Prepared to be harrowed. Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov’s Falling Out Of Time is a narration of unbearable grief, a tale first heard by Golijov from Yitzak Frankenthal in 2002, of a man so devastated by the death of his son that he stayed day and night by the grave until eventually, he felt able to leave. Israeli author David Grossman, who himself lost a son, wrote a novel on the same theme, and Golijov’s work is a distillation in music and words of the book’s essence, though here the bereaved man walks in ever widening circles, one step in front of another, looking for the Where and the Who of his son.
The music veers suddenly from despairing anguish to bluesy almost jaunty phrases
We hear the immediacy of the grief in Golijov’s 2017-2019 work, commissioned and performed by the Silkroad Ensemble. It is powerful, haunting and painful, and it inexorably draws in the listener. Falling Out of Time is 80 minutes long, in 13 uneven segments, composed for the international combination of instruments which is the hallmark of Silkroad, and for three voices. These are the Walking Man, sung by Chinese Wu Tong, The Woman, also Woman Atop Belfry, sung by Biella da Costa from Venezuela, and The Centaur, sung by Nora Fischer from the Netherlands. None of their voices could be described in conventional singing terms, all are ideal for Falling Out of Time, especially the versatile Wu Tong with his extraordinary vocal techniques, expressive range and artistic differentiation of styles to suit the moment.
This is not an easy work to hear and takes many repeats to absorb. Musically, from the first mourning chords and Wu Tong’s first words, it veers suddenly from despairing anguish to bluesy almost jaunty phrases, from high grieving wails by the Chinese seona to a long tonal violin solo, to rhythmic percussion, much of the time with the sound of slow walking feet or a heartbeat underneath and many long slow flowing segments. It ends with the fading voice of a boy repeating “Where are you? Who are you there?”
A brilliant, compelling performance of a brilliant, compelling, highly unusual work
It repays reading the beautifully illustrated brochure’s liner notes by Leah Hager Cohen and David Grossman, the synopsis, and the words. Most of Falling Out of Time is sung in Hebrew, with a little in English, largely from the Centaur who has a descriptive role. Despite having the English words in the brochure, it would make the work even more immediate to those who understand Hebrew. This is a brilliant, compelling performance of a brilliant, compelling, intensely moving, highly unusual work, unlike anything else. It leaves echoes in the mind for days. I hope Falling Out of Time is considered for a Pulitzer Prize.
Philippa Kiraly has been writing classical music criticism since 1980, for several newspapers in northern Ohio and Seattle, magazines, both local and national, and blogs. She is passionate about the importance of independent criticism for the fine arts.
Pippa is a keen gardener, a keen grandparent, and can get lost in a good book.