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Golijov's `Azul' appeals

LENOX -- When Osvaldo Golijov bounded onstage at Tanglewood after the world-premiere performance of his ``Azul," the audience -- 8 , 692 people -- greeted the composer like a rock star.

Golijov's music has instant appeal, a glowing surface of sound that recalls the work of one of his mentors, the late Luciano Berio . In some quarters that makes him suspect, but it shouldn't, because his music is at least as elusive as it is accessible. He's a serious composer and ``Azul" is a serious work, appealing on first hearing, but also puzzling.

Composed for cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, ``Azul" (the title means ``blue") is a meditative piece, mostly slow and quiet, beginning majestically in C major and built on the most common harmonic progression in Western music from Bach to the Beatles. But it isn't many seconds into the piece that stability is questioned by one of the several instrumental ensembles Golijov divides the orchestra into; he calls it ``Radio Galactica," which is viewing earthly matters from a different perspective.

The music is highly allusive -- the baroque past is invoked (Bach, Couperin), and so is futuristic electronic music. The timbres of the classical orchestra are extended by accordion and folk percussion instruments.

The most interesting parts of the piece are the most layered -- the strongest antecedent to ``Azul" is the music of Spain from the period when Christians, Jews , and Arabs lived in peaceful coexistence, and the music flowed from three cultural streams into one. All three influences are vividly present in ``Azul." One section of the piece is titled ``Yrushalem" and the cello part is marked ``Noble, like prayer fragments." At the end the music becomes like shooting stars before it is absorbed into what sounds like a wind tunnel -- a force field that is conveying it into some other, unknown dimension.

Allusive as Golijov's music is, all of it is recognizably his alone. Each new work contains elements of earlier ones, while lighting out for new territory. Most of the time he makes no effort to repeat his earlier triumphs, but he does repeat himself within works -- one day he should challenge himself by trying to write like Debussy, without a single ostinato, or repeating pattern.

And the structure of this particular piece is puzzling and hard to follow, at least on first hearing. In one episode, paradoxically called ``Silence," the music seems to be gazing at its own reflection in a pool -- a reflection disturbed by ripples (and by the sounds, the score says, of nocturnal tropical frogs).

In music written to emphasize the spiritual dimensions of Ma's art, the cellist played with profound expressivity, although amplification put a glare on a tone that usually glows.

There were prominent parts for guest percussion (Jamey Haddad ) and accordion (Michael Ward-Bergeman ), and two BSO brass players, horn James Sommerville and trombonist Ronald Barron . The expert, involved conductor was a major debut artist, Donald Runnicles . Golijov, Ma , and Runnicles repeatedly joined hands and raised their arms in response to the tumultuous ovation.

Earlier in the program Ma delivered an elegant, fanciful account of Haydn's First Concerto. The experienced and energetic Scottish conductor led off with four movements of an ``Idyll" by another composer profoundly influenced by folk culture, Leos Janacek , and concluded the concert with a rousing and nobly unsentimental performance of Elgar's ``Enigma" Variations. He's a good man.

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