While Mr. Golijov was hardly the first composer to draw on folk material, his process preserved much of the fluidity of oral traditions. “The printed word, the stone tablets — he doesn’t care about that,” Mr. Spano said. “You have to respond to the energetic musical thing that’s happening in the moment, in a way that cannot be recorded and cannot be repeated. He reinvigorated in Western music’s notated tradition a respect and a sensitivity for how the oral tradition is just as real.”
Thomas W. Morris, who as artistic director of the Ojai Music Festival put Mr. Golijov in charge of the festival’s 2006 program, said in an interview that works like “La Pasión” didn’t just challenge the listener to absorb new musical voices — they also required institutions to open their doors to different performers. “To me, that’s the essence of expanding curiosity.”
Mr. Golijov’s collaborative process and knack for collage got him in hot water in 2012, when his overture “Sidereus” — commissioned by a large consortium of orchestras for a considerable sum — was discovered to contain substantial amounts of material written with a fellow composer, Michael Ward-Bergeman. Critics including Alex Ross of The New Yorker faulted Mr. Golijov for insufficient transparency regarding his sources. Though others defended him, the episode was embarrassing.
“Did it contribute to my years of apparent silence?” Mr. Golijov wrote in an email. “Yes. How much? I don’t know. I know that there were other important reasons for my years of depression, so I don’t want to blow this reason out of proportion.” He maintains that both his “Sidereus” and the work that it referenced were “born from play, from the flowing exchange of ideas” during the collaborative composition of a film score.
He said that he never really stopped composing, starting “a million things” with results that felt “always half-baked.” When he discovered Mr. Grossman’s book, while still at work on the Iphigenia opera, he said, “I realized that this was much more personal.” “Falling Out of Time” dealt with tragedy, survival and the mystery of existence.
“I had been looking for the perfect story to ask all these questions,” Mr. Golijov said.
Mr. Grossman’s text imagines a bereaved father walking in ever-widening circles, driven by questions addressed to his dead son: Where are you? What are you? And who are you there? He attracts a disparate group of fellow travelers, all driven by private griefs. His wife, though, refuses to join him. Finally, the man returns to her; though answers have eluded him, he has carved out the space to breathe inside the pain.