The New York Times , March 8, 2012
Plagiarism? Excessive borrowing? The normal creative process?
Suggestions that Osvaldo Golijov, one of today's most sought-after composers, improperly incorporated
the work of another composer have stirred up a squall in classical music circles.
Critics have weighed in on the subject, prompting a discussion of what exactly is this strange thing called
the creative process and whether audiences know exactly what they are getting when an orchestra puts a
new piece on the program.
The controversy prompted a flurry of sometimes conflicting explanations from Mr. Golijov's defenders and
collaborators. On Wednesday, in a telephone interview, Mr. Golijov broke three weeks of silence and
offered a spirited defense of his methods.
In composing his overture ''Sidereus,'' the Argentine-born Mr. Golijov was said to have borrowed
excessively from a work for accordion and ensemble, ''Barbeich,'' by Michael Ward-Bergeman, a
composer, accordionist and close friend.
Mr. Golijov, however, said that both works, as well as a string quartet he recently wrote, were partly
derived from several discarded minutes of a film score that the two composers collaborated on. That
movie was ''Tetro,'' a 2009 film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Mr. Golijov has the film credit for original
score, although, he said, Mr. Ward-Bergeman helped out on sections.
''There was this beautiful material,'' Mr. Golijov said. ''It didn't work for the movie, but it worked for music.
We decided both: 'Let's grab it. Each one can do what he wants.' '' He said that the two had worked so
closely on the scene that it was impossible to separate who wrote what. ''Joint ideas, joint material, same
room,'' he said.
Mr. Golijov won a pair of Grammys in 2007 for his opera ''Ainadamar'' and received a MacArthur
Fellowship in 2003. He will be in residence at Carnegie Hall next season and will be an artistic adviser to
its Latin American festival.
He has long been known for his magpie technique of borrowing from various sources and different musical
traditions. And borrowing from other composers in classical music is as traditional as a Gregorian chant.
Bach, Schubert and Beethoven all did it.
''Sidereus,'' the subject of this fracas, is a nine-minute overture by Mr. Golijov that was commissioned by a
consortium of 35 orchestras to honor a music industry official, Henry Fogel. Mr. Fogel is the former
president of the League of American Orchestras, whose board put up $50,000 toward the commission.
The orchestras put up another $70,000, said Ryan Fleur, president of the Memphis Symphony and
coordinator of the commission. Mr. Golijov received $75,000, with the rest of the money going to
Tom Manoff, a composer and NPR music critic, wrote in his blog that ''at least half of the piece'' was
known to him as ''Barbeich'' by Mr. Ward-Bergeman, a work for accordion and ensemble.
Alex Ross, a critic for The New Yorker, said, ''To put it bluntly, 'Sidereus' is 'Barbeich' with additional
A politic Mr. Golijov said that Mr. Ross's description was ''not inaccurate,'' but continued: ''The question is,
What is 'Barbeich'? What did 'Barbeich' come from?''
The orchestra league and Mr. Golijov's publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, have stood behind the composer.
''Sidereus'' has been traveling the country since its first performance by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra
in 2010. Next up is a rendition by the Longwood Symphony Orchestra, an amateur group in Brookline,
Mass., on March 17.
The matter came to light as a result of weird serendipity. Mr. Manoff said he attended a concert by the
Eugene Symphony in Oregon with the trumpet player Brian McWhorter to hear a performance of a Haydn
trumpet concerto. ''Sidereus'' happened to be on the program.
And it also happened that Mr. McWhorter had recorded trumpet lines for ''Barbeich'' and had taken a
recording to Mr.