Leonardo Balada (b. 1933)
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 2 Concerto for FourGuitars and Orchestra
Born in Barcelona on 22nd September, 1933, Leonardo Baladagraduated at the Conservatorio del Liceu there, and at the Juilliard School in1960. He studied composition with Vincent Persichetti and Aaron Copland andconducting with Igor Markevitch. Since 1970 he has been teaching at CarnegieMellon University in Pittsburgh, where he is University Professor ofComposition. Some of his best known works were written in a dramaticavant-garde style in the 1960s, and he is credited with pioneering a blendingof ethnic music with those avant-garde techniques in later works. Hiscompositions are performed by the world's leading orchestras under the mostdistinguished conductors, and works have been commissioned by many outstandingorganizations in the United States and Europe, with some composed for leading musicians.A large number of his compositions have been recorded by major recordcompanies. Balada's extensive range of works includes, in addition to chamberand symphonic compositions, cantatas, two chamber and three full-length operas,Zapata and Christopher Columbus. He has received several internationalcomposition awards.
The Concerto for cello and orchestra No. 2, 'New Orleans'(2001), in two movements, Lament and Swinging, is in the style Balada haspractised during the last three decades. In essence it is a blending of ethnicmusical ideas with avant-garde techniques, a now much-used trend which hepioneered in such works as Sinfonia in Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King(1968) and Homage to Casals and Sarasate (1975). Here his style translates intoa symbiosis of melodic-harmonic Afro-American ideas and tone clusters,aleatoric devices and textural structures. The first movement is slow andlyrical, inspired by Negro spirituals. The soloist sings like a Black voice,introverted, sorrowful, and intensely dramatic. The second movement is virtuosofor the soloist and the orchestra as well. Here the jazzy rhythms appear in afully swinging manner, brilliantly and in an extroverted fashion. The concertowas first given by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra in Berlin in 2002conducted by Rafael Fr??hbeck de Burgos with the cellist Michael Sanderling, towhom the work is dedicated.
The Concerto for four guitars and orchestra (1976) is one offour works Balada has composed for guitar and orchestra, itself resulting fromhis Apuntes, a guitar quartet composed in 1974, a suite of several essays withgeometric ideas. These four concertos span the composer's three stylisticperiods. While Concerto No. 1 (1965) falls within the first period,neoclassical in character, Persistencies-Sinfonia Concertante for amplifiedGuitar and Orchestra (1972) and the present concerto fall into the second, hisavant-garde period. The fourth concerto, the 1997 Concierto Magico (Naxos8.555039) belongs to his third period in which ethnic ideas mix with verycontemporary sonorities. The Concerto for four guitars was composed in thetraditional three-movement format but its basic material is very abstract. Thefirst movement consists of a structure of canonic layered chromatic lines andmechanistic repetitions that may remind us of baroque constructions. In thesecond the guitars perform exclusively harmonics and the strings andhigh-pitched percussion contribute to the soloist's delicate fabric, which islike a gigantic music box. The third brings repetitive structures withharmonies and rhythms constantly evolving in an intense and virtuoso manner.The concerto was commissioned by the Tarrago Guitar Quartet who gave the firstperformance with the City of Barcelona Orchestra conducted by Antoni Ros Marbain 1977.
Celebracio (Celebration), written in 1992 and commissionedby the Generalitat of Catalonia and the Bank Bilbao-Vizcaya for the millenniumof Catalonia, has an eventful character as well as some historicalconnotations. The work starts with a simple idea of medieval colour introducedby the solo double bass and cello. Soon afterwards the woodwind introducemelodic cells derived from Catalan folk melodies, in an accumulative andspontaneous manner which is combined with the medieval idea previously stated.The central and principal part of the work follows. Here, a motor-like ideadevelops all those first motifs in a perpetual motion until the end. Throughoutthe central section of the composition, those folk and medieval motifs havebeen transformed gradually into contemporary and universal ones. The motor-likepace of the music could suggest a baroque device as well as a contemporaryminimalist one. In short, it all has been construed as a fast-moving evolutionof the centuries. Balada's style in Celebracio is the result of severaltechniques which form not an eclectic mosaic but a unified sum of all theparts. This concept of metamorphosis, assumes the union of diatonic, polytonaland atonal devices, dense and complex textures balanced with simple andtransparent lines. The work was first performed in Barcelona in 1992 by thePrague Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jir˘i Be˘lohlavek.
In Passacaglia (2002) the baroque musical form of the sametitle, a constantly repeated melodic line, is presented in a very free andsurreal manner. The initial three notes of the motif are of solemn character,but slowly transform into a theme of popular character. Something similarhappens to the music itself which begins in a dogmatic way and arrives at apopular Spanish pasacalle, simple and direct. While the European passacaglia isdescended from the Spanish pasacalle, in this work the events are inverted.Here the passacaglia eventually becomes a Spanish pasacalle. Passacaglia waswritten for the Fifth Cadaques International Conducting Competition and wasfirst given in July 2000 conducted by the finalist contestants. NevilleMarriner gave the actual premi?¿re with the Cadaques Orchestra in Madrid in2003.
It seems to me that the two strongest, more exotic anddramatic folk cultures in the western world are the Spanish-Gypsy and theAfro-American. Both reflect some sort of oppression but curiously they expressthemselves in a different manner. While the text in Spanish flamenco singinggenerally deals with sensual love and jealousy, the Negro Spiritual reflectslove for Jesus as consolation for desired justice and freedom. Is thereanything more powerful that a well delivered flamenco performance or the deepexotic expressions from the singing of a Negro Spiritual choral group?
In my blending ethnic ideas with contemporary sonorities thesounds of those two ethnic expressions take an important place in my work. Thistrend started with Sinfonia in Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King (1968) on theAfro-American side and Homage to Sarasate (1975) for the Spanish.
Before becoming interested in folk ideas, my compositionsreflected the most radical style by denying any room to traditional melody orharmony. For a decade my compositions experimented with the so-calledavant-garde, typical of the 1960s, with dramatic and angular works likeGuernica, Maria Sabina and Steel Symphony.
On this disc, Concerto for four guitars and orchestrabelongs stylistically to that avant-garde period. On the other hand CelloConcerto No. 2, 'New Orleans', is an expression of the ethnic style. In my caseethnicity is no longer nationalism but rather internationalism for its approachis global, not local. On this disc for instance, Celebracio makes use of Catalantraditional melodic ideas, while in other works these ideas are of Irish,Mexican, Latvian or American