Osvaldo Golijov has become major figure in contemporary music by developing a polystylistic method, variously based on Western music of many centuries, on traditional Judeo-Christian liturgies, on folk traditions of several countries, and on Latin-American influences, paying particular attention to the tango as developed by Astor Piazzolla. Golijov transforms these diverse materials into entirely new forms and sounds without obvious references to their sources.
Born into an Eastern European Jewish family in La Plata, Argentina, Golijov first studied music with Gerardo Gandini, a pupil of Alberto Ginastera, whose music combined a nationalistic idiom with advanced European procedures, such as the twelve-tone system. In 1983, Golijov moved to Israel, where he took up studies with Ukraine-born musicologist and composer Mark Kopytman, whose pieces include graphic notation and chance elements. Golijov came to the United States in 1986, and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied with George Crumb, then later continued his studies at Tanglewood with Lukas Foss and Oliver Knussen.
In 1990 Golijov was named a Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center. That year, he became acquainted with the Kronos Quartet, for whom he wrote K'vakarat for string quartet and cantor, and in 1997 composed Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind for string quartet and clarinet. Other artists for whom Golijov has written include the Rumanian Gypsy band Taraf de Haïdouks, the Mexican rock band Cafe Tacuba, tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, and fiddler Alicia Svigals.
His breakthrough score, La Pasión Según San Marcos (2000), commemorated the 250th anniversary of J.S. Bach's death. It was commissioned by Helmuth Rilling for the European Music Festival, which also included works by Wolfgang Rihm and Sofia Gubaydulina. In 2002, the Haenssler recording of La Pasión Según San Marcos received Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations.
In 2006, Golijov's opera Ainadamar (Fountain of Tears), was produced at Tanglewood by Peter Sellars and was released on CD by Deutsche Grammophon, featuring Dawn Upshaw, Kelley O'Connor, and Jessica Rivera in the lead roles, supported by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, under Robert Spano. The recording won two Grammy awards, for Best Opera Recording and Best Contemporary Composition.
Golijov has received numerous commissions from major ensembles and institutions in the United States and Europe. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and several other awards. He has taken up duties as composer-in-residence for many major festivals and workshops, and has worked extensively with the Silk Road Project. He has been a member of the music faculties at Holy Cross College, the Tanglewood Music Center, and the Boston Conservatory. His works have been published by Ytalianna Music Publishing.