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“La Pasion Segun San Marcos” by Osvaldo Golijov is a work
commissioned by the International Bach Academy of Stuttgart,
Germany in 2000, commemorating the 250th Anniversary of Bach’s
death. Like three other similarly commissioned works by three
other composers, it is a setting of the Passion, a practice
that has continued for hundreds of years. Bach’s two settings,
known as the “St. Matthew Passion,” and the “St. John Passion,”
are the most famous examples of this tradition.

Golijov’s setting differs from the norm, as it doesn’t adhere to
the Western traditions of classical music. Instead, this son of Eastern
European Jews from Argentina relies upon his contemporary South
American roots, and creates a “Latin-tinged Passion Play,” with very
active performer participation.

For this reason, the work is best experienced by the eyes and the ears.
This set is on the Deutsche Grammophon label, and consists of one
DVD and two CDs. The DVD was filmed in 2008 at the Holland Festival
in Amsterdam and is footage of a single live performance, conducted
by Robert Spano. The CD recordings of 2007 and 2008 were from
sessions held in Caracas, Venezuela and Boston, Massachusetts.
Golijov dedicated the work to Marie Guinand who conducted the
CD recording sessions.

I began the set by listening to the CDs, and found similar participants on
the CD and DVD versions. While reading the CD liner notes, I noticed
that many members of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra were credited.
Later, while watching and listening to the DVD version, I became aware
of how few string players were used. This music is “percussion driven,”
providing a World Music sensibility. An accordion and electric guitar
were also used. At times, I couldn’t help but think of Santana!

The vocal soloists gave wonderful performances, and the Schola
Cantorum de Venezuela often moved in their places while singing
their parts. There was occasional dancing, and a mime
representing Christ entered during the “Crucifixion” segment.

This is a “street-level” Passion. Judging from his performance on the
DVD, conductor Robert Spano is a strong advocate of the 85-minute
work, having performed it several times.

The recorded sound for the CD and DVD performances was quite
dynamic, and the camerawork on the DVD was excellent. I’ve always
been curious to hear some of Golijov’s music, and it appears that
I’ve picked a good way to start! I highly recommend “La Pasion Segun
San Marcos.”