2.22.2012

Composer’s borrowing challenged in second work | After a piece played last week in Eugene is questioned, a composition performed last year also faces scrutiny

In the wake of claims that Grammy Award-winning composer Osvaldo Golijov used a lesser-known composer’s work without full credit in a concert here in Eugene last week, a Brazilian journalist on Monday said that Golijov last year similarly used two Brazilian composers’ work, without credit, in a different commissioned piece.

Lúcia Guimarães, a print and television journalist working in New York since 1985, told The Register-Guard that she attended a performance in New York state in December of Golijov’s “Kohelet,” written on commission for and performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet.

The second movement appeared to have been taken from a well-known Brazilian song, she said.

Guimarães’ comments come several days after Golijov’s nine-minute piece “Sidereus” was performed here Thursday by the Eugene Symphony. Golijov said in the concert’s program notes that he had used his friend Michael Ward-Bergeman’s melody for part of “Sidereus.”

Ward-Bergeman said in an e-mail to The Register-Guard over the weekend that he and Golijov had an “agreement” about the use of his music.

“Osvaldo and I came to an agreement regarding the use of ‘Barbeich’ for ‘Sidereus,’ ” he said. “The terms were clearly understood, and we were both happy to agree. Osvaldo and I have been friends and collaborators for years. I don’t have anything else to say about the matter.”

But Tom Manoff, a classical music critic for National Public Radio, and University of Oregon music professor Brian McWhorter, who were at Thursday’s concert, said the borrowing seemed far more extensive than simply using a melody.

“Close comparison of the scores showed that the musical content of ‘Sidereus’ includes substantial sections of Ward-Bergeman’s composition, including melodies, harmonies, counterpoint and notable musical structures,” Manoff later wrote on his blog at TomManoff.com.

Guimarães, meanwhile, wrote on her blog at a Brazilian newspaper in January about the New York concert and the use of the song in “Kohelet,” but did not then identify the composer or specify who played the concert, thinking Golijov, whom she knew from previous stories, might have made an honest mistake.

Then she saw The Register-­Guard’s story this weekend about Golijov’s use of Ward-Bergeman’s work in “Sidereus.”

“When I read your piece, I knew I had to speak up,” she said Monday evening.

After she called Golijov to ask about the music at the December concert, Guimarães said, the composer quickly changed the music in the second movement of “Kohelet.” Guimarães would not identify the Brazilian composers, saying she had promised Golijov she would not.

Golijov has not answered repeated e-mails from The Register-Guard for clarification of his use of other composers’ music. His management company said he is busy working on another composition and cannot be disturbed.

After Golijov’s “Sidereus” was performed here Thursday by the symphony orchestra, Manoff and McWhorter said they immediately recognized substantial parts of Ward-Bergeman’s short piece “Barbeich.”

Though few people outside the music world have heard of the composer, Manoff and McWhorter have been working on a recording of Ward-Bergeman’s “Barbeich” and are very familiar with his music.

Ward-Bergeman’s explanation raises the question of whether Golijov — who, according to multiple reports, has been late delivering several commissioned works in recent years — essentially hired another composer’s music for “Sidereus.”

“Sidereus” was a joint commission by 35 orchestras, including Eugene Symphony, to honor Henry Fogel, the former executive director of the League of American Orchestras.

Reached at his office in Chicago, Fogel said on Monday that he had not heard the Ward-Bergeman piece so could not comment directly.

But, he said, if the two works were as similar as Manoff and McWhorter claim, “It would be unusual practice.”

“I am sorry this (controversy) has come along,” Fogel said. “To say that I was touched when the league decided to commission a piece of music for me — well, I was overwhelmed.”

One member of the commissioning consortium for “Sidereus” was the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, whose music director, Marin Alsop, led the Eugene Symphony early in her career. The Baltimore Symphony performed “Sidereus” in June with Alsop conducting. Reached at home Monday, Alsop said she had never heard of Ward-Bergeman and has not followed the controversy about “Sidereus.”

She is a fan, though, of Golijov’s music and said “Sidereus” differed from the composer’s usual style.

“The works I have done of Osvaldo’s are definitely out of the normal box of what I do,” she said. “ ‘Sidereus’ seemed to be more traditional in many ways.”

Golijov has been known to take a whimsical approach to the truth in his art. A 2006 piece by writer Kevin Berger in Salon — reprinted on the composer’s website — describes Kronos Quartet founder David Harrington challenging Golijov’s claim that his composition “Yiddishbbuk” was inspired by a line mentioned by writer Franz Kafka.

Wrote Berger: “I’ve spent a lot of time reading Kafka,” said Harrington, “and I’ve never read that quote. So I called up Osvaldo, and I said, ‘You know that quote you attribute to Kafka in the program?’ There was a silence on the telephone, and he said, ‘Actually, I made that quote up.’”

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