Azul, the Spanish word for ‘blue’, is the title of the contemplative cello concerto by Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov that forms the centrepiece of this celestially themed album. It is also a word that is rich in cultural resonance, deriving from the Arabic and Persian words for lapis lazuli, the lustrous semi-precious stone. The related French and English words, ‘azur’ and ‘azure’ are synonymous with the clear blue of sunny skies.
Golijov’s concerto received its premiere in 2006, with Yo-Yo Ma, the most celebrated cellist of our time, as soloist. On that occasion he performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which commissioned the work. On this album, Ma teams up with The Knights, the Brooklyn-based group that describes itself as “an orchestral collective, flexible in size and repertory, dedicated to transforming the concert experience.” Ma’s relationship with The Knights’ co-Artistic Director, violinist Colin Jacobsen, dates back to 2000 and the start of the ground-breaking multicultural Silk Road Project. The Knights’ other co-Artistic Director is Colin’s conductor/cellist brother, Eric Jacobsen, and the ensemble – which released its first Warner Classics album, the ground beneath our feet, in Spring 2015 – has been praised by Ma for its “vibrant, energetic, collaborative culture” offering “a chamber music experience in orchestral form.” (Warner Classics)