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The 2024 Edinburgh International Festival opens its concert series in spectacular fashion with La Pasión según San Marcos by Osvaldo Golijov. This powerful and vibrant score offers a unique blend of Latin American, African, European and Hebrew traditions, brought together at the Usher Hall on 3 August.

The opening concert of this summer’s Edinburgh International Festival sees performers from Scotland, South America and the Caribbean join forces on 3 August for Osvaldo Golijov’s La Pasión según San Marcos (The Passion according to Saint Mark). This Scottish premiere performance follows the recent acclaimed staging of the composer’s Lorca-inspired opera Ainadamar, toured by Scottish Opera and Welsh National Opera.

In Golijov’s transformative interpretation of Christ’s crucifixion, the composer crosses cultural boundaries. His dramatic score combines Latin American and Afro-Cuban musical styles – including samba, tango and son cubano – with contemporary classical expressions. His text is equally eclectic, grounded in Old Testament extracts and the Hebrew Kaddish (prayer for the dead), all offset by modern-day Spanish poetry.

Acclaimed Portuguese conductor Joana Carneiro directs the Orquesta La Pasión with musicians from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. They are joined by the Schola Cantorum of Venezuela, the National Youth Choir of Scotland and a line-up of soloists including Brazilan jazz vocalist Luciana Souza, Cuban vocalist and dancer Reynaldo González-Fernandez, and Puerto Rican-American soprano Sophia Burgos.

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Osvaldo Golijov composed La Pasión según San Marcos in 2000 to a commission from the International Bach Academy in Stuttgart on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s death. Since then it has been heard 70 times around the world including notable performances in Caracas, Boston, Chicago, New York, Sydney, Madrid, Amsterdam, London, Mexico City and the Teatro Colón in Golijov’s native city of Buenos Aires. The work has been released on two recordings to date: by Hänssler Classic in 2001, and by Deutsche Grammophon in 2010 with performers including Reynaldo González-Fernandez, the Orquesta La Pasión and the Schola Cantorum of Venezuela, also heard in Edinburgh.

As time has passed across a quarter of a century since its premiere, Golijov’s La Pasión según San Marcos has increasingly been viewed as a major breakthrough score to remove barriers and bring diverse cultures together. As a 2020 article in The New York Times noted, “with La Pasión, Mr. Golijov became the evangelist of a new musical syncretism, a blending of the Old and New worlds, that seemed to offer a way out of the sectarianism and musty habits of the classical industry”. A leading interpreter of Golijov’s music, conductor Robert Spano, has described how the composer “reinvigorated in Western music’s notated tradition a respect and a sensitivity for how the oral tradition is just as real” and how Golijov was “a pioneer of grouping things together that you wouldn’t obviously see belonging together without his vision”.

Further performances of Golijov’s opera Ainadamar are planned this autumn with its first staging at the Metropolitan Opera. The nine performances in New York, opening on 15 October, are conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya in the choreography-rich production by Deborah Colker, already presented by Scottish Opera, Detroit Opera and Welsh National Opera to acclaim from press and public alike. Also in October, Simon Rattle conducts performances in Munich and Bamberg of the suite Nazareno, drawn from the St Mark Passion and arranged by Gonzalo Grau for two pianos and orchestra, featuring the Labèque sisters and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.

> Listen to our Golijov playlist on Spotify

>  Further information on Work: La Pasión según San Marcos

Composer photo: Yoni Golijov

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