Osvaldo Golijov grew up in an Eastern European Jewish household in La Plata, Argentina. Born to a piano teacher mother and physician father, Golijov was raised surrounded by chamber classical music, Jewish liturgical and klezmer music, and the new tango of Astor Piazzolla. After studying piano at the local conservatory and composition with Gerardo Gandini he moved to Israel in 1983, where he studied with Mark Kopytman at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy and immersed himself in the colliding musical traditions of that city. Upon moving to the United States in 1986, Golijov earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied with George Crumb, and was a fellow at Tanglewood, studying with Oliver Knussen.
In the early 90's Golijov began to work closely with two string quartets, the St Lawrence and the Kronos. Both ensembles were the earliest to project Golijov's volatile and category-defying style in its true, full form, and continue to perform his music regularly. In 2002, EMI released Yiddishbbuk, a Grammy-nominated CD of Golijov's chamber music, celebrating ten years of collaboration with the St Lawrence String Quartet, featuring clarinetist Todd Palmer. The Kronos Quartet released three recordings featuring their collaborations with Golijov: The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, featuring David Krakauer, as well as Caravan, and Nuevo. Kronos also expanded Golijov's musical family through collaborations with artists such as the Romanian Gypsy band Taraf de Haidouks, the Mexican Rock group Café Tacuba, tablas virtuoso Zakir Hussain, and legendary Argentine composer, guitarist and producer Gustavo Santaolalla, with whom Golijov continues to collaborate. For the past decade Golijov has been inspired by the voice of Dawn Upshaw, for whom he composed several works, including the Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra, the opera Ainadamar, the cycle Ayre, and a number of arrangements of popular and classical songs.
In 2000, the premiere of Golijov's St. Mark Passion took the music world by storm. Commissioned by Helmuth Rilling for the European Music Festival, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of J.S. Bach's death, the piece featured the Schola Cantorum of Caracas, with the Orquesta La Pasión (especially assembled for this work by Golijov together with percussionist Mikael Ringquist), all conducted by Maria Guinand. The CD of the premiere of this work, on the Haenssler Classic label, received Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations in 2002. For the premiere of Ayre, Golijov founded another virtuoso ensemble: The Andalucian Dogs. Together with Dawn Upshaw, they premiered the piece at Zankel Hall and recorded it on a Grammy-nominated CD for Deutsche Grammophon in 2005. In 2006 Deutsche Grammophon released the recording of Ainadamar, with Dawn Upshaw, Kelley O'Connor and Jessica Rivera singing the principal roles, and the Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Robert Spano, an artist and friend who has worked closely with Golijov for almost a decade and conducted the world premiere of the opera, as well as the American premiere of the Passion. The record earned two Grammy awards: for best opera recording, and best contemporary composition.
Golijov has received numerous commissions from major ensembles and institutions in the U.S. and Europe. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the Vilcek Prize among other awards. In addition to the artists mentioned above, he collaborates closely with conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya; vocalists Luciana Souza and Biella da Costa; cellists Yo-Yo Ma, Alisa Weilerstein, Maya Beiser and Matt Haimovitz, the Kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor, and percussionist Jamey Haddad; also with young, multitalented musicians such as Michael Ward-Bergeman, Gonzalo Grau, Ljova, Jeremy Flower and Cristina Pato; ensembles including the Atlanta Symphony, the Boston Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, Silk Road Ensemble and eighth blackbird; artist Gronk, playwright David H. Hwang, and director Peter Sellars, who staged sold out and critically acclaimed runs of Ainadamar at the Santa Fe Opera and Lincoln Center.
In January and February 2006 Lincoln Center presented a sold out festival called "The Passion of Osvaldo Golijov", featuring multiple performances of his major works, his chamber music, and late night programs of music dear to him. In 2007 he was named first composer-in-residence at the Mostly Mozart Festival. He is currently co-composer-in-residence, together with Marc-Anthony Turnage, at the Chicago Symphony. He has also been composer-in-residence at the Spoleto USA Festival, the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Music Alive series, Marlboro Music, Ravinia, Ojai, and several other festivals. Golijov is Loyola Professor of Music at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, where he has taught since 1991.
Recently completed compositions include the soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth (released by Deutsche Grammophon); Azul, a cello concerto for Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony; Rose of the Winds, premiered by the Silk Road Ensemble and the Chicago Symphony under Miguel Harth-Bedoya; Mariel, an elegy for cello and orchestra premiered at Carnegie Hall by Alban Gerhardt, Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra; She Was Here, a work based on Schubert lieder premiered by Dawn Upshaw and the St Paul Chamber Orchestra. Future works include the soundtrack for Tetro, an upcoming film by Francis Ford Coppola, and a new opera, commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera.
His works are published by Ytalianna Music Publishing. In addition to Ainadamar, Ayre, Oceana, and Youth Without Youth, Deutsche Grammophon will release a new recording of the St Mark Passion in 2009 as well as recordings of recent works. Other compositions have been released on Nonesuch, Sony Classical, Hanssler Classics, Naxos, Koch, and EMI.