BALADA: Violin Concerto No. 1 / Folk Dreams / Sardana (Andres Cardenes/ Barcelona Symphony-National Orchestra of Catalonia/ Eleanor Thomason/ Matthias Aeschbacher) (Naxos: 8.554708)
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Leonardo Balada (b.
Violin Concerto No.1 Folk Dreams Sardana Fantasias Sonoras
The style of a composer can turn in many contradictory directions duringhis creative life. While at the time of my graduation from the Juilliard Schoolin 1960 I was completely opposed to embracing the almost universally heraldedserialism, I was, on the other hand, unhappy with the neo-classicism Ipractised at the time. It took a few years for me to find a language that Icould call avant-garde and that was also independent from the main stream as itthen was. My music turned unto a wild explosion of sonorities, rhythm and dramain works like Guernica, Maria Sabina, No-res and Steel Symphony. Someyears later I ventured in a new direction in works like Sinfonia en Negro-Homageto Martin Luther King (1968) and Homage to Casals and Sarasate (1975),in what could be construed as a third stylistic period. Here I blended thoseavant-garde ways with ethnic and traditional ideas. For that I was eitherpraised as a pioneer in this now all too common trend or attacked for havingabandoned an austere and self-imposed position.
In 1982 in an article in the Sunday New York Times dedicated to me,Peter Eliot Stone wrote: "He believes that at this point in 20th centurymusic all the more modern techniques can be blended happily with moretraditional sounds to result in something different and fresh... He has lived inBarcelona, an ancient city host to Gaudi and Picasso, where old narrow streetsempty into modem avenues... Thus, his music...encompasses...(the) old and thenew." The compositions here included reflect this trend, for they alloffer a mixture of those far-out techniques with tradition.
The Violin Concerto No. 1 of 1982 is structured in threetraditional movements which are performed without a break. The thematicmaterial, Catalan folk?¡-melodies, is treated in a very unconventional manner.
In the first movement, almost a dance in character, the folk-melody is at firsthardly recognisable, but as the movement unfolds, its identity becomes clearerand clearer until the end, when it appears in a straight-forward manner. Thesecond movement, slow and meditative, reverses that treatment. While in thebeginning a melody is presented in full, this fades away, gradually growingshorter until the end. In the third movement, a melody is expanded more andmore from its original simplicity into a complex and virtuoso line. Theconcerto was commissioned by Carnegie Mellon University and first performed bythe University's Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in New York City on 21stNovember, 1982, with the violinist Fritz Siegal under the direction of theconductor Werner Torkanowsky.
Folk Dreams is a work in three movements for orchestra and these constitute a suitebased on folk-melodies from Latvia, Catalonia and Ireland. These melodies arepresented as in a dream, with a surrealistic vision in the way its componentsare superimposed, dissected and in the way that the form of each movementunfolds.
Surrealism is not a new influence in my music. From the late 1950s tothe late 1960s I was frequently in touch with the master of surrealism, thepainter Salvador Dali, in New York City. I even collaborated with him on twooccasions, the first in 1960 in a television film in which he satirized the painterMondrian, the second in 1967 at a "happening" at Fisher Hall in theLincoln Center. Dali's antics and theatricality had an unconscious effect on meduring those formative years, even if to me it was all a big joke. Some of mysubsequent compositions bear witness to that influence.
The whole suite is dedicated to my son, Dylan, and each one of themovements is dedicated to the different prominent conductors who directed thefirst performances of each movement with different orchestras. The firstmovement, Line and Thunder is dedicated to Mariss Jansons, the second, Shadows,to Jes??s Lopez-Cobos and the third, Echoes, to Colman Pearce, whogave the first performance of the whole suite in Dublin with the NationalSymphony Orchestra of Ireland in May 1999.
The first movement, Line and Thunder, was written in 1996. Thedichotomy of the title suggests a similar dichotomy between the two principalideas in the composition. From the beginning a Latvian folk-melody is heardwith several layers of voices. This melody "line" is played with sometransformations throughout the work. Gradually and on top of it, afast-propelled, heavy structure of sound "thunder" occurs. While"line" is basically traditional and diatonic, "thunder" onthe other hand makes use of abrasive clustered harmonies. The melody isintroduced by the strings but soon is performed by the orchestra's pitchedpercussion, harp and piano, suggesting, in a gigantic way, the nasal metal-likesound of the kokles, a Latvian folk-instrument. The work was commissionedand first performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conducted by MarissJansons.
The second movement, Shadows, written in 1994, is a brief essayin soft and slow sonorities for orchestra. The basic material is a Catalanmelody that is introduced gradually from the beginning. Rich textures are addedbeneath the melody, creating a suggestion of evening lights, shadows andmystery. A wide variety of techniques is used, from traditional harmonies toclusters, from conventional lines to aleatoric devices. The work wascommissioned for the hundredth season of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra andwas first performed by this orchestra on 31st March, 1995, conducted by Jes??sLopez-Cobos.
In Echoes, composed in 1998, several Irish melodies are juxtaposedin what is essentially a "jig". Fragments of these melodies arepresented by some instruments while others create echo effects of thesefragments, by way of layers of sounds or pedal-notes.
Sardana, A Symphonic Movement for Orchestra, was completed in 1979. The sardanais the national dance of Catalonia. The music is performed by an ensemble,a cobla, of ten wind instruments and a double bass. Of these the mostcharacteristic is the tenora, nasal and very penetrating in its quality.
The dancers of sardanas, the ordinary people of the region, hold handsin a circle and others join the group spontaneously as the dance goes on. Thedance consists of two different parts which are repeated exactly several times,the curts (short ones) and the llarcs (long ones), referring tothe type of steps in each one of the sections.
In Sardana I am attempting to establish the duality of the coblaand the actual dance by the people, as well as to suggest a sculpture-likecharacter to it. As such, the woodwind, brass and percussion become the cobla,performing the actual musical part, and the strings convey the idea ofpeople with a basically dance?¡-rhythmic function. From time to time I use adegree of musical freedom in linking the traditional folk character of the danceto a more universal one. I also blend traditional ideas with contemporaryharmonies and techniques.
Sardana was composed in response to a commission from the Catalan patron of thearts Joan Cendrosto whom the work is dedicated, and it was first performed by the PittsburghSymphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Lankester, in Pittsburgh in October1982.
Based on a simple melodic and rhythmic cell, Fantasias Sonora, ('Fantasiesin Sound'), written