Azul, Osvaldo Golijov’s highly acclaimed cello concerto from 2006, is available for the first time as a commercial recording. Released in March 2017 on the Warner Classics label, the album was recorded by The Knights with soloist Yo-Yo Ma.
Hailed by NPR as "one of the finest cello concertos so far this century," Osvaldo Golijov’s Azul was recently recorded for the first time by cello legend Yo-Yo Ma, for whom the piece was written, and acclaimed Brooklyn-based music collective The Knights. The world-premiere album, named after Golijov’s work, was released at the end of March 2017 on the Warner Classics label. Azul is the centerpiece of the album, with the rest of the wide-ranging "concept album" having been curated around the piece and the way it evokes an otherworldly spiritual journey and the vastness of the cosmos.
Commissioned for Yo-Yo Ma by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in celebration of its 125th anniversary, Azul received its world premiere performance on August 4, 2006, at the Tanglewood festival, led by Sir Donald Runnicles. In fact, the title refers to the composer’s time as a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, listening to music while lying in the grass and looking up at the sky at dusk. Golijov said about Azul, "I wanted to replicate the experience of gazing up at the sky in the form of a journey—a sort of cosmic birth, flying into the universe." The piece also takes inspirations from Pablo Neruda’s poem "The Heights of Macchu Picchu."
With influences from Western classical, tango, klezmer, gypsy, and Middle Eastern music, Azul is laid out in four connected movements: "Paz Sulfurica", "Silencio," "Transit," and "Yrushalem". Drawing on Baroque instrumental forms, Golijov includes a small continuo of soloists in addition to the cello: a hyper-accordion (invented and performed on the album by longtime collaborator Michael Ward-Bergeman), and a collection of exotic percussion instruments (performed by Cyro Baptista and Jamey Haddad). As with a Baroque continuo, the featured soloists are given room to improvise within the musical structure.
Since its premiere, Azul has been roundly praised by critics and audiences. The Chicago SunTimes wrote, "Golijov’s score makes magical use of his orchestra, from a full complement of cellos to a vivid brass section, to produce richly layered suggestions of natural sounds that range from birds and insects to a more momentous sense of the shifts in the greater cosmos from agitation to calm." The Los Angeles Times remarked, "What is remarkable is how smoothly Golijov ties everything together and the chunky richness of his sonic soup." NPR, in reviewing the newly released album, wrote, "Azul is Golijov’s masterwork."
Azul was additionally televised in a special PBS New Year’s program as part of the "Live from Lincoln Center" series. (The program was a broadcast of the New York Philharmonic’s 2013–2014 opening gala concert, featuring Yo-Yo Ma as soloist and Alan Gilbert as conductor.) PBS also produced the video "A Kind of Blue: Osvaldo Golijov’s Azul" through "Live from Lincoln Center," which explores the composition process behind the work.
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Photo (L to R): Osvaldo Golijov with Colin Jacobsen and Eric Jacobsen of The Knights
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