BALADA: Piano Concerto No. 3 / Concierto Magico (Barcelona Symphony-National Orchestra of Catalonia/ Eleanor Thomason/ Eliot Fisk/ Gyorgy Jolesz/ Jose Serebrier/ Magdalena Martínez/ Rosa Torres-Pardo) (Naxos: 8.555039)
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Leonardo Balada (b. 1933)
Piano Concerto No.3 * Concierto Mágico * Music for Flute and Orchestra
Classical composition of the twentieth century falls into one of two categories: music that contains folk elements and music that does not. Perhaps this differentiation may be of greater importance to the music of the last century than is the great contrast in the various techniques of the time. When we think of Bartók, Stravinsky (the ballets), de Falla, all living and working during the first half of the century, and contrast them with Ligeti, Xenakis or Penderecki, all in the forefront of its second half, the presence or absence of a folk element is what strikes us first. It would not be unfair to claim that the use of folk ideas in the music written after 1950 came to be regarded as shameful in the eyes of the establishment. The feeling was that the use of folk elements in "serious music" was facile, a cheap trick that served as a distraction from the abstractions then in favour.
My music of the mid-1960s also reflected that strict philosophy of the time in symphonic works like Guernica, María Sabina, No-res and Steel Symphony, all of them full of drama but nevertheless abstract in their technical content. Yet after ten years, I decided to superimpose folk elements on abstractions. This was a difficult move in the midst of a fundamentalist mentality in the arts. When I composed the opera Christopher Columbus (1984-87) to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas, I faced an enormous challenge owing, in part, to the historic subject. The arrival of Columbus in the Indies signified a new period of experimentation and discovery paving the way to the future. Was my opera to be representative of futuristic ideologies? How obvious! But my concern for what seems to me a world in danger of becoming depleted of ethnic and folk material, in all its rich diversity, drove me to write a work that would, at the same time, point to a technological future while bowing to the greatness of the past.
This, in short, is the ideological motivation by which my music, from Sinfonía en Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King(1968) and especially Homage to Casals and Sarasate (1975), is marked. I have been convinced that the use of folk ideas does not need to be facile but, on the contrary, that it is full of challenges.
Living in New York during the surrealism of Salvador Dali, with whom I had collaborated several times, the collages of Rauschenberg and the phenomena of "happenings" paved the way to my new style. The three concertos here included belong aesthetically to that period.
My Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, No.3, of 1999, is an example of a symbiosis between the past and the future which I have been practicing for three decades. One can see textural writing, blunt contrast of ideas and dynamics, juxtaposition of clustered and traditional harmonies, canon-like mechanistic passages in layers of "staccato" writing, rhythmic constancy, and a compelling sense of direction and drama, blended with Spanish ethnic ideas. In the first movement the music is based on the rhythm and character of a pasodoble, an Andalusian march performed at a bull-fight. The orchestra recreates the sound of an organillo, a metallic folk organ-grinder, with all its earthy characteristics. In the second movement the mysteries of medieval Andalusí music of Southern Spain and North Africa are exploited with textures that embrace beauty and mystery. In the third movement is the jota, a dance from Aragon, the principal idea presented in a primitive sound concept at first, but developed into a modernistic experience as the work unfolds.
The piano soloist and the orchestra seem to relate to each other more in an antagonistic than a collaborative fashion. The concerto was first performed on 12th February 2000 by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos with Rosa Torres-Pardo as soloist.
Concierto Mágico, for guitar and orchestra and written in 1997, represents a new direction in my catalogue of works for the guitar. Here strong ethnic colours and moods dominate, as opposed to the more abstract approach of my previous guitar works. The sources here are directly from the Andalusian gypsies of Granada, with their modal lines, their rhythms and atmosphere, their exoticism and drama.
Although I hardly know how to hold a guitar, I managed to compose a substantial number of works for this instrument. I think my interest in the guitar arose in the summer of 1960 while taking a course in composition in Santiago de Compostela, that historical old city in the Northwest of Spain. There I was in touch with the grand master of the instrument, Andrés Segovia, and met two phenomenal young players, Narciso Yepes and John Williams. Both asked me to compose works for the guitar. My compositions for the guitar include three earlier concertos for the instrument one of them for four guitars as well as a number of compositions for solo or chamber works.
The first concerto was composed in 1965 for the late Narciso Yepes. This work belongs to my first stylistic period, a neo-classic period of sorts with modernistic harmonies and rhythms but rooted in tradition. Persistencies-Sinfonia Concertante for Guitar and Orchestra also commissioned by Yepes (1972) and Concerto for Four Guitars and Orchestra (1976) fall within the second, the avant-garde, period.
Concierto Mágico belongs to a third period with its blending of modern techniques and folk ideas. The first movement (Sol) carries its sonorities and rhythmic pulses through symbolic connotations. The orchestra sometimes imitates the pulse of clapping gypsy hands during a dance, with intense character and bullet-like precision. At certain moments the guitar takes the character of a Flamenco guitar more than a classical one. This deviation from the instruments identity is taken further in some moments when the orchestra becomes in itself a gigantic guitar, a device that occurs several times throughout the concerto. the second movement (Luna) is like a deeply felt lament . The mysteries of the night are reflected by the celestial sonorities of the orchestra, while the guitar floats freely with melismatic sad lines. The third movement (Duende) plays out in perpetual motion, essentially in the rhythm of a zapateado, a triple-metre dance. The music is obsessive, and its drive is endless. Concierto Mágico was commissioned by the Cincinnati and Hartford Symphony Orchestras. The world première was given by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on 13th-14th March 1998 conducted by Jesús López-Cobos with the virtuoso guitarist Angel Romero as soloist.
Music for Flute and Orchestra (in Two Movements), written in 2000, uses one Catalan folk melody in each movement as the basis for an almost surrealistic usage of these melodies. The first movement is a slow, meditative work in which the orchestra acts as the underlying shadow of the solo flute, imitating its gestures. This occurs indirectly in a clustered and texturally thick manner, generally with the strings. After a brief introduction, the flute presents the folk melody which will be exploited all through the work in a simple, repetitious, almost obsessive way, challenged and complemented by the soft, rich sonorities of the orchestra. The second movement is a virtuoso display for the flute. The dance-like rhyth