Last month, “Sidereus” was played by the Eugene Symphony in Eugene, Ore., and two men in the audience — Tom Manoff, a critic for NPR, and Brian McWhorter, a trumpet player — were startled to recognize large parts of Michael Ward-Bergeman’s “Barbeich.”
Manoff, shocked, wrote a long blog post claiming plagiarism. He could not reach Golijov for comment, but Ward-Bergeman did respond by e-mail and Manoff quoted him: “I wanted to confirm that Osvaldo and I came to an agreement regarding the use of Barbeich for Sidereus. The terms were clearly understood, and we were both happy to agree. Osvaldo and I have been friends and collaborators for years.”
Golijov has actually been incorporating the work of composer friends for years, with their blessing, at first out of what appeared to be a fascination with juxtaposing styles in one piece (“La Pasion segun San Marcos”) and, more recently, because he acknowledges having a hard time meeting his deadlines.
Sections of “Ayre,” a folk-tune-based song cycle written for Dawn Upshaw, were the work of another composer, Gustavo Santaolalla, who was fully credited; a movement of “Kohelet,” a quartet for the St. Lawrence Quartet, did not credit its source and was withdrawn after one performance.
But if “stealing” is a hallmark of great composers, why is everyone upset? The real reason people get outraged, it seems to me, is a sense that they have been duped: A piece they enjoyed while thinking it was by one person is, in fact, the work of another. Plagiarism is, of course, a pernicious problem in the Internet age, but what Golijov is doing seems to me more a sign of his own creative blockage than A Bad Example for Young Artists. Young artists, after all, have been hearing those quotes about stealing for years.