BALADA: Symphony No. 5 - American / Prague Sinfonietta
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Leonardo Balada (b.1933)
Symphony No. 5 'American' Prague Sinfonietta Divertimentos Quasi un Pasodoble
Evolution and transformation, obsession towards a goal.
This is my modus operandi in music. My conviction isthat one's personality can prevail despite changes andseemingly different presentation of the ideas. Can anartist stop being himself when he expresses his ideas indifferent ways? Do I cease being myself if I dress in aconventional suit today and in a colorful \toreador"costume tomorrow?All these questions come to mind when thinkingabout the works on this CD. Symphony No. 5 and PragueSinfonietta present as their basic structure atransformation in a surrealistic manner; Divertimentos isan absolute contrast to Quasi un Pasodoble in itscharacter, although not in its technical substance.
Nothing surprised me more as a school child thanwhen I learned that molecules change constantly in ourbodies although we remain the same individual. As anadult, nothing impressed me more, when collaboratingin the late 1950s and 1960s in New York with SalvadorDali, than when I saw how he would createtransformation, stretch ideas and present distortions inhis art... and he still would remain Salvador Dali.
In my case though the conceptual influences camenot only from Dali, but also from Rauschenberg'scollages with contrasting techniques, geometric art andabstract expressionism, including that of the Catalanartist Alfonso Mier, which put together in musical termscould create the drama and emotion that I was longingfor in my compositions, in contrast to the cold serialismsurrounding me.
Symphony No. 5 'American' (2003) explores twostyles in the same work in an evolutionary structure. Oneof these styles identifies with my avant-garde period,which is dramatic and angular and spans from the midsixtiesto the mid-seventies. During that period, in workslike Guernica (Naxos 8.557342) and Steel Symphony, Iused a long list of technical resources: atonality,aleatoric devices, clustered harmonies, no tunes, notraditional harmonies, strong rhythms and big contrast ofdynamics. Then in 1968 with Sinfonia en Negro -Homage to Martin Luther King, a new style came to thefore which was fully implemented in 1975 with Homageto Casals and Sarasate (Naxos 8.557342). In this newperiod I blend the ways of the avant-garde with ethnicideas, creating a symbiosis of these two worlds.
Symphony No. 5 uses these two styles.
The symphony, in three movements, is akaleidoscope of emotions. The work evolves from onestage of darkness at the beginning to a high point of lightand unrepentant optimism at the end. In the firstmovement, 9/11: In Memoriam, dry, loud, ugly, anddesperate sonorities are presented in the most abstractway in a tense and driven manner. 9/11 was in my mind,as was my childhood trauma caused by the bombings byGerman airplanes in Barcelona during the Spanish CivilWar when I composed Guernica forty years ago. Theinterval of a sad minor third is heard almost persistentlythroughout, performed sometimes by the strings butmore often by the keyboard percussion, harp and pianoin what suggests fatal bells. That third is surrounded bytone clusters, which often filter into minor triadic chordswith a most deceptive feeling. The minor third intervalof the first movement is also a constant in the second andthe third movements, but its function here is completelydifferent. In the second movement, Reflection, thisinterval is part of a delicate fabric of melodic lines basedon a Negro spiritual. These lines are designed by severalinstruments in layers. Here all is quiet, peaceful andhopeful and to a degree melodious. In the thirdmovement, Square Dance, this minor third is part ofsome American folk-tunes gathered together to build abrilliant square dance, strongly rhythmic, tireless in itsperpetual motion and expression of happiness.
Altogether it is a trip from the abstract to the ethnic. Thesymphony was composed from April 2002 to April2003, commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony whenMariss Jansons was Music Director, with the support ofThe Heinz Endowment Creative Heights ArtistResidency Program in partnership with Carnegie MellonUniversity School of Music. The world premi?¿re tookplace on 30th October 2003 at Heinz Hall for thePerforming Arts, in Pittsburgh, performed by thePittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hans Graf.
When the Torroella International Music Festival inCatalonia commissioned me to compose an orchestralwork, I came up with the idea of composing PragueSinfonietta. This occurred to me when I learned that anorchestra from Prague was to give the premi?¿re of thecommissioned orchestral work in Torroella. The musicallink was obvious. One of Mozart's masterpieces is hisPrague Symphony. Also, Vicen?º Bou, a native ofTorroella de Montgri, an old town near theMediterranean northern coast of Spain, had composedsome of the most beautiful sardanas. The sardana is thenational dance of Catalonia. These facts werecoincidental but at the same time suggestive of anambitious musical idea: the composing of a work inwhich Mozart would meet Bou, a challenge impossibleto ignore. To me, one of the main challenges was toallow my own style to come through in the midst of theMozart and Bou personalities. While the work tries torepresent the spirit of Mozart's symphony by usingsome of its motives and light designs, the work evolvesvery often from diatonic to chromatic and polytonalwriting, which may lead in turn to thick texturalstructures and collage of ideas. On the other hand therhythms and beautifully lyrical melodies of Bou mayappear gradually or unexpectedly in the middle of thosestructures. Prague Sinfonietta was completed in April2003 for a chamber orchestra of the size of a Mozartstyle orchestra. It is dedicated to Josep Lloret, founderand spirit of the Torroella International Music Festivaland it was first given by the Czech Sinfoniettaconducted by Charles Olivieri-Monroe.
The three 1991 Divertimentos for string orchestrawere conceived with contrasting sonic characteristics. InDivertimento primero the sound is produced withpizzicati, in the segundo with harmonics and in thetercero with normal bow playing. In general theensemble is used to produce a massive sound rather thana chamber-like one. The dynamic contrasts, as well asthe sound tensions, are very important to the essence ofthe work. At the same time the concept of "recycling"with which I first experimented in Three Anecdotes -that is, the re-using of old gestures to generate newresults - is applied in this work, especially inDivertimento segundo. The Royal College StringEnsemble of London conducted by Rodney Friend gavethe first performance of Divertimentos in 1991 at theTorroella de Montgri International Music Festival.
The 1981 orchestral movement Quasi un Pasodoblewas composed with a grant from the NationalEndowment for the Arts and was first performed by theNew York Philharmonic in November 1982, conductedby Jes??s Lopez-Cobos. A pasodoble is a Spanish marchperformed during a bullfight. In Quasi un Pasodoble thismusical form is explored very freely, in a surrealist way,taking it very often outside the realm of its authenticboundaries. The themes used are original, except forhints of two very popular ones. The work mixes the oldwith the new, consonance with clusters, straight rhythmswith complex textures in an outpouring of colour andcontrasts. Quasi un Pasodoble starts with a slow stringsection in which the bass line of the pasodoble isintroduced in a lyrical and melodious manner along witha second motif. Throughout the work, the rhythm of thepasodoble appears, disappears and transforms, at onepoint into what could be construed as a bolero, but at theend the imposing folk-rhythm asserts itself withconviction.Leonardo Balada