Arts & Culture

Soprano Ava Pine to perform with SLO Symphony

This coming Saturday, the SLO Symphony plans a very attractive program that blends the familiar with the new. The Brahms Serenade No. 1 is one of that great Victorian composer’s most melodic pieces, as cozy and comfortable as your favorite stuffed sofa. But the orchestra will spotlight the music of our own time, too, when it performs the heartbreakingly moving “Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra,” a 2002 work by Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov.

The work, which will be receiving its local debut, was written for Dawn Upshaw, who has recorded it. It offers lush, melancholy settings of three poems: “Lullaby,” in Yiddish, by Sally Porter; “Lua descolorida,” in Galician Spanish, by Rosalia de Castro; and Emily Dickinson’s “How Slow the Wind.” This last setting is a memorial to a friend of Golijov’s.

“I had in mind one of those seconds in life that is frozen in the memory, forever — a sudden death, a single instant in which life turns upside down,” wrote the composer regarding the mood of the work.

For this listener, Golijov’s vocal music carries reminders of Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde.” As in that masterwork, one senses that the music’s depth comes about as a response to a wound, whether personal or metaphysical, and that the music seeks to create an act of healing in its listeners.

The orchestral opening offers eerie and compelling rhythms that suggest a world swirling with menace and excitement. Then the soprano begins, and we feel the ache of the eternal feminine.

The guest soprano on Saturday will be the Grammy-winning Ava Pine, a first-time visitor to the Central Coast. I was able to reach this vocalist as she waited in a Texas airport between planes.

“Golijov’s music is melodic, not esoteric, and the poems he sets — as a singer, I can just dive into them,” she said.

“The languages in this piece offer a challenge. Yiddish is a Germanic language, and the expression in the voice comes through in the consonants. Rosalia de Castro’s Spanish is much more romantic.

“The poems rejoice in the uncertainty of human life. They touch on different themes, but the beauty of the piece is that we get to discern the meaning for ourselves through the emotions the music brings up.

“Music is totally about emotion, for me. Acting and singing are ways of showing feeling, and when I’m feeling the music, I’m not ‘acting’ in the sense of pretending to feel something. I’m getting energy from the audience and the music.

“I feel the same way when I’m in costume to sing an operatic role. When I sing Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, I’m right there in the moment. It’s real.”

Pine’s intensity is balanced by her wide tastes. A Handel specialist, she’s gotten rave reviews singing an unusually wide range of roles, from Mozart and Gounod to Angels in America, and the experience has clearly bolstered her confidence. Commenting on the recent death of songwriter Lou Reed, she said, “If someone wrote an opera that used Velvet Underground songs, I’d be glad to sing in it!”


Classics 2 —  A Sentimental Journey

8 p.m. Saturday

Cohan Center, Cal Poly

$20 to $75

756-4849 or