features

“Falling Out of Time” Puts Audience in Touch with Universality of Grief

Kelly Gallagher ’22

Chief Features Editor

Falling Out of Time is aptly named. It’s easy to lose track of time while immersed in the stirring song cycle composed by Osvaldo Golijov, Loyola Professor of Music at College of the Holy Cross, and performed by Silkroad Ensemble, artists-in-residents at the College. Based on David Grossman’s book, also called Falling Out of Time, the song cycle explores the experience of parents grieving the loss of their child and the father’s journey to find his son. The world premiere of Falling Out of Time on Thursday, October 31, in Brooks Concert Hall was highly anticipated by the lucky audience members of the sold-out concert – and still exceeded expectations. 

Rev. Philip L. Boroughs S.J., president, welcomed the audience to the concert, reflecting on what an exciting opportunity it was for Holy Cross to host the premiere. The College has provided ample creative space for the development of the show since Prof. Golijov began working with Silkroad Ensemble in 2017, as part of the group’s residency at the College. Father Boroughs shared that as part of the creative process, Prof. Golijov and the Ensemble were joined by author David Grossman on a retreat to the Joyce Contemplative Center in January 2019, which was followed by a workshop performance of the work-in-progress in Brooks Concert Hall. 

Father Boroughs also thanked Trudie and Cornelius B. “Neil” Prior, Jr., Esq. ‘56 for their support of Silkroad Ensemble’s multi-year residency at the College. Mr. Prior’s vision and generosity also initiated the Performing Arts Center, which is currently under construction at the College. The pair were in attendance at the premiere. 

Thirteen singers and musicians commanded the stage, the latter performing with instruments from around the globe, characteristic of Silkroad’s style. Prof. Golijov’s music drew inspiration from Delta blues and ballads of Central Asia, which are styles that are especially well equipped to wrestle with the topic of grief. Co-Artistic Directors of Silkroad Ensemble, Nicholas Cords and Shane Shanahan, noted in the performance’s program that they are: “two traditions which have relentlessly explored grief through a musical lens.” They also noted that: “[g]rief is a journey towards breathing again,” and invited the audience to join the performers in a “collective, melodic breath forward.” 

The operatic music was in turns bittersweet, hopeful, beautifully sorrowful, and agonizingly raw. The music rose and fell throughout the program, swelling in intensity as more instruments blended with the vocals before all ceased. Some of these climactic moments were followed by a short, complete silence which was then broken by a startling blast from a sheng, a Chinese reed instrument consisting of vertical pipes. Audience members appeared transfixed, eyes glued attentively to the stage, and once the music ceased for the final time, listeners rose to their feet for a standing ovation.

A wide variety of community members packed the concert hall, including professors, students, and members of the Board of Trustees. Natasha Rollo ‘23 celebrated getting one of the coveted tickets after being placed on the waitlist. A music lover, she attended the concert out of personal interest, rather than for a class. She told The Spire: “I thought it was a beautiful, insightful piece that encapsulated many different levels of emotions and thoughts.” 

The music had the most marvelous sense of being in contact with universality. Of course, the varied nature of the instruments suggested this as the bass guitar, Chinese pipa, and Iranian kemancheh joined in unlikely harmony. In addition, the singing was conducted in both English and Hebrew, the latter being the language the original book was written in. But the performance didn’t just represent universality, it put its audience in touch with universality, creating an effect similar to how one might feel below a vast, starry night sky. The concert did a sublime job of making its audience not just understand, but actually feel the universality of grief.

About half the audience stayed for the Q&A following the performance, eager to discuss the creative process and resulting piece with the composer and performers. One of the questions addressed the relationship between the song cycle and the book it was inspired by. Prof. Golijov elaborated on this relationship, identifying his work as a different experience than the book. He pointed out that Grossman’s book is itself an interpretation of grief, and the two pieces ultimately interpret grief differently. One of the common threads between the two works is their exploration of grief as both an individual and universal experience.

The show has garnered national attention in the music world. Earlier this fall, Falling Out of Time was previewed by the LA Times as one of “The 13 best classical music concerts to see this fall,” an article by classical music critic Mark Swed. The show will likely gain further attention on its national tour during November, visiting Germantown, TN; Wolf Trap, VA; and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. 

Arts Transcending Borders, which ardently supported the event, provided the campus community with the opportunity to engage with the performance beyond its premiere, which was live-streamed as part of a Holy Cross Online Learning initiative. Alumni, parents, students, and other interested parties were welcomed to participate in the three-week online program, which grants access to a recording of the premiere and encourages participants to connect with Prof. Golijov, Silkroad Ensemble, and Holy Cross faculty and administrators. According to their webpage, the final week’s content, featuring a talkback with Prof. Golijov and Silkroad Ensemble, was released November 7, “[leading participants] on an exciting tour of how creative work comes into being.”

Photo courtesy of the Silkroad Ensemble

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