Editors’ NotesFalling Out of Time is a heartrending musical drama setting of David Grossman’s book, which was written after the loss of his son in the 2006 Lebanon War. It follows the Walking Man on an exploration of the soul as he grieves the death of his son. Composer Osvaldo Golijov’s music blends a dizzying array of styles, from pop and jazz to contemporary classical, to express the Man’s grief, confusion, frustration and, ultimately, inner peace. Throughout the story, the Walking Man and his wife, Woman, are divided, physically and emotionally, by their approaches to their pain—he walks, but she refuses to follow. Through his walking, the Man encounters a variety of characters, each of whom has lost a child—and they each walk, attempting to reach an unknown destination and striving for meaning and reason in their loss. It’s ultimately the Woman’s words, called from a distant belfry, that bring the Walking Man home.
“What I like about the book and, hopefully, about my piece,” Golijov tells Apple Music, “is that it’s not an elegy and it’s not a requiem. It’s like the Walking Man keeps saying, ‘As long as I am in motion, he’s not dead.’ It’s like a refusal, an anti-requiem.” Johnny Gandelsman, Silkroad Ensemble violinist and the recording’s producer, adds, “What Falling Out of Time shows is that grief is universal. It doesn’t matter what your beliefs are or where you’re from—this very, very human experience of losing someone is a shared tragedy.” The Silkroad Ensemble’s unique instrumentation brings a startling sound-world to vivid life, with flugelhorn, electric bass, drums, strings, pipa, and much more. Described by Golijov as a “harp of a thousand hairs,” these musicians are alive to each musical and emotional subtlety. Joining them are three extraordinary singers—Biella Da Costa, Nora Fischer, and Wu Tong—who graphically convey the soul-searching agony of the pilgrimage. Here, Golijov and Gandelsman discuss the piece, movement by movement.
Heart Murmur Osvaldo Golijov: “Here we establish who is who. We see the Man and his wife, the Woman. The Man can’t bear to stay at home after the death of their child—he has to go ‘there, to him.’ His wife replies, ‘There’s no “there.”’ Telling the story is the Centaur—half-body, half-desk, and he cannot comprehend what’s happened until he finds the words to tell it as a story. ‘There’s a man who will walk and a woman who will not,’ the Centaur says. And really, those are the two responses to this couple’s tragedy. People always say this piece has all these different styles of music, but I always think my music has just one style.”
Night Messengers OG: “This is when messengers come to the couple’s home to tell them about their son’s death—the entire eight minutes of the piece is the breath of death expressed in different harmonies. It also features the prayer that’s sung at the grave of your loved ones in the Jewish tradition—Kel Maleh Rachamim, which means ‘God full of mercy.’ I wanted the music to be ancient, and the voice of Wu Tong [the Man] feels ancient.” Johnny Gandelsman: “It’s such an incredible sound-world to go into from the first movement, because you get this gorgeous string chorale writing that supports and envelops the storyteller.”
Come Chaos OG: “The picture here is of three people falling into a void—the writer, the mother, and the father, each knowing that their lives as they know them are over. So the harmonies and voice parts are quite crazy. The track uses very almost Messiaen-esque harmonies: It’s slow, it’s dense, it’s heavy, and it’s untidy. And the singers are, each of them, beyond extraordinary.” JG: “The music feels like a communal experience—messy and unorderly, with the instruments driving the voices, but it gets to the very essence of the pain and the grief, and it helps people get through it.””
Step JG: “The way Biella Da Costa [as the Woman] sings this piece, it makes all the hairs on your body stand up—it’s just phenomenal. She’s an incredibly unique singer.” OG: “Biella is one of those people that can sing a long note, and I just die. This track is where husband and wife part ways. She describes her husband walking step after step away. And she cannot go: ‘I will go to the end of the world with you, but not there.’ What I love about this track is the end, with its whispers and pizzicatos.”
Come, Son OG: “Here, the father is so obsessed by a madness and by a sense of injustice that he gets to live an entire life. But he says, ‘OK, as long as I don’t blink, I can vacate my body and you, son, can inhabit it and live the rest of your life. But if I blink, it’s over.’ And then he says, ‘No! Go back, because I don’t want to see with my own eyes what happened to you.’ He acknowledges that this was madness.” JG: “The bass establishes a consistent groove, and then everything around it shifts in response to the words. All the musicians are creating these splashes of energy to mirror what’s happening.”
In Procession OG: “In this track, the Man is realizing that although his pain is infinite, he is just one more person—many people have suffered that pain. It’s incredible how Nora Fischer impersonates the characters. I had originally written a virtuoso trumpet line, but then in rehearsals I said to them, ‘OK, just forget about everything that is written and just do your thing.’ In the end, I knew exactly what to say here, but I didn’t know exactly how to say it best.” JG: “And really, the music throughout this track is improvised cries of feeling.”
Pierce the Skies OG: “‘Pierce the Skies’ is purely instrumental, and is like the absolute pain that is answered only by an echo.” JG: “It’s an amazing place to depart from to start the second half of the piece, when the walking begins.”
Walking OG: “The music describes the words: ‘My legs lift slowly from the earth. Lightly, slowly I hover. Between here and there. My walk, my legs move slowly, lightly on the earth.’ The rhythm of the walk was important to me. It’s not like a Schubert walk. It’s not one, two, one, two. Here you have three plus five—that limping rhythm is the grief. It’s a sleepwalking movement. Wu Tong is just extraordinary here. He is able to get to the essence of the emotion, and he really captures the idea of hovering ‘between here and there.’” JG: “I love how the music changes very slowly, like a kaleidoscope. It’s very similar to if you started walking and you just kept going and your feet carried you. The things around you change slightly and the walking motion carries you through.”
If You Meet Him JG: “This is the movement that, in performance, really gets me—hearing just a few instruments, including pipa and sheng, and Nora’s voice asking these unbearable questions: ‘Are you going to tell me that your life continues to the point that you made another child? Are you going to tell him that you took all the pictures from his room because you just couldn’t stand it? Are you going to tell him that you gave his dog to a boy in the street?’”
Fly OG: “‘Fly’ is almost like a children’s song. The piece needed something light at this point, even though it’s sad in itself. It’s a play within the play—the puppet play within the great tragedy, and serves as a bridge to ‘Go Now.’ Here I wanted to go for something that was leaning further towards pop production—it has a simplicity that I associate with some Brazilian music where everything is so light and yet it can be melancholy at the same time.”
Go Now OG: “Here the Woman says, ‘Go now. Be like him. Conceive him.’ It’s also a curse: Be his death, too. But there’s also peace as the Man says, ‘You were right, Woman. I am here and he’s there, and a timeless border stands between here and there.’ They finally understand each other. He understands the futility of his work and she understands that he had to do it.” JG: “The music feels like an Argentinian milonga—like [Argentine composer] Piazzolla. The combination of instruments, the way that every bar unfolds, is like an opening of a bandoneon. And all that is contrasted with some of this piece’s most operatic moments, where Biella rises to the very top. It really does feel like those climatic moments in an opera.”
Ayeka (Where Are You?) OG: “The drum solo is this monstrous thing to take you out of that bliss that ends ‘Go Now.’ Because the pain is not over. It’s never going to be over. The Man asks his son these simple questions: ‘Where are you? What are you there? And who are you there?’ He is in the deepest part of pain, but still the universe mocks him.”
Breathe OG: “‘There is breath, there is breath. Inside the pain. There is breath.’ That’s all you can aspire to: Once in a while, be able to breathe. That’s all. There’s no resolution, no coming to terms.” JG: “At the end, Nora is singing the voice of the boy, but there’s also the choir of the musicians humming along. At this moment, the musicians feel each other on stage in a way that’s unique—like a communal gathering, holding something very dear, very precious.”