About this Recording
8.557049 - BALADA: Cello Concerto No. 2 / Concerto for Four Guitars / Celebracio
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Leonardo Balada (b

Leonardo Balada (b. 1933)

Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 2 • Concerto for Four Guitars and Orchestra

 

Born in Barcelona on 22nd September, 1933, Leonardo Balada graduated at the Conservatorio del Liceu there, and at the Juilliard School in 1960. He studied composition with Vincent Persichetti and Aaron Copland and conducting with Igor Markevitch. Since 1970 he has been teaching at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he is University Professor of Composition. Some of his best known works were written in a dramatic avant-garde style in the 1960s, and he is credited with pioneering a blending of ethnic music with those avant-garde techniques in later works. His compositions are performed by the world’s leading orchestras under the most distinguished conductors, and works have been commissioned by many outstanding organizations in the United States and Europe, with some composed for leading musicians. A large number of his compositions have been recorded by major record companies. Balada’s extensive range of works includes, in addition to chamber and symphonic compositions, cantatas, two chamber and three full-length operas, Zapata and Christopher Columbus. He has received several international composition awards.

 

The Concerto for cello and orchestra No. 2, ‘New Orleans’ (2001), in two movements, Lament and Swinging, is in the style Balada has practised during the last three decades. In essence it is a blending of ethnic musical ideas with avant-garde techniques, a now much-used trend which he pioneered in such works as Sinfonia in Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King (1968) and Homage to Casals and Sarasate (1975). Here his style translates into a symbiosis of melodic-harmonic Afro-American ideas and tone clusters, aleatoric devices and textural structures. The first movement is slow and lyrical, inspired by Negro spirituals. The soloist sings like a Black voice, introverted, sorrowful, and intensely dramatic. The second movement is virtuoso for the soloist and the orchestra as well. Here the jazzy rhythms appear in a fully swinging manner, brilliantly and in an extroverted fashion. The concerto was first given by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra in Berlin in 2002 conducted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos with the cellist Michael Sanderling, to whom the work is dedicated.

 

The Concerto for four guitars and orchestra (1976) is one of four works Balada has composed for guitar and orchestra, itself resulting from his Apuntes, a guitar quartet composed in 1974, a suite of several essays with geometric ideas. These four concertos span the composer’s three stylistic periods. While Concerto No. 1 (1965) falls within the first period, neoclassical in character, Persistencies-Sinfonia Concertante for amplified Guitar and Orchestra (1972) and the present concerto fall into the second, his avant-garde period. The fourth concerto, the 1997 Concierto Mágico (Naxos 8.555039) belongs to his third period in which ethnic ideas mix with very contemporary sonorities. The Concerto for four guitars was composed in the traditional three-movement format but its basic material is very abstract. The first movement consists of a structure of canonic layered chromatic lines and mechanistic repetitions that may remind us of baroque constructions. In the second the guitars perform exclusively harmonics and the strings and high-pitched percussion contribute to the soloist’s delicate fabric, which is like a gigantic music box. The third brings repetitive structures with harmonies and rhythms constantly evolving in an intense and virtuoso manner. The concerto was commissioned by the Tarragó Guitar Quartet who gave the first performance with the City of Barcelona Orchestra conducted by Antoni Ros Marbá in 1977.

 

Celebració (Celebration), written in 1992 and commissioned by the Generalitat of Catalonia and the Bank Bilbao-Vizcaya for the millennium of Catalonia, has an eventful character as well as some historical connotations. The work starts with a simple idea of medieval colour introduced by the solo double bass and cello. Soon afterwards the woodwind introduce melodic cells derived from Catalan folk melodies, in an accumulative and spontaneous manner which is combined with the medieval idea previously stated. The central and principal part of the work follows. Here, a motor-like idea develops all those first motifs in a perpetual motion until the end. Throughout the central section of the composition, those folk and medieval motifs have been transformed gradually into contemporary and universal ones. The motor-like pace of the music could suggest a baroque device as well as a contemporary minimalist one. In short, it all has been construed as a fast-moving evolution of the centuries. Balada’s style in Celebració is the result of several techniques which form not an eclectic mosaic but a unified sum of all the parts. This concept of metamorphosis, assumes the union of diatonic, polytonal and atonal devices, dense and complex textures balanced with simple and transparent lines. The work was first performed in Barcelona in 1992 by the Prague Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jir˘i Be˘lohlavek.

 

In Passacaglia (2002) the baroque musical form of the same title, a constantly repeated melodic line, is presented in a very free and surreal manner. The initial three notes of the motif are of solemn character, but slowly transform into a theme of popular character. Something similar happens to the music itself which begins in a dogmatic way and arrives at a popular Spanish pasacalle, simple and direct. While the European passacaglia is descended from the Spanish pasacalle, in this work the events are inverted. Here the passacaglia eventually becomes a Spanish pasacalle. Passacaglia was written for the Fifth Cadaqués International Conducting Competition and was first given in July 2000 conducted by the finalist contestants. Neville Marriner gave the actual première with the Cadaqués Orchestra in Madrid in 2003.

 

Composer’s Note

 

It seems to me that the two strongest, more exotic and dramatic folk cultures in the western world are the Spanish-Gypsy and the Afro-American. Both reflect some sort of oppression but curiously they express themselves in a different manner. While the text in Spanish flamenco singing generally deals with sensual love and jealousy, the Negro Spiritual reflects love for Jesus as consolation for desired justice and freedom. Is there anything more powerful that a well delivered flamenco performance or the deep exotic expressions from the singing of a Negro Spiritual choral group?

 

In my blending ethnic ideas with contemporary sonorities the sounds of those two ethnic expressions take an important place in my work. This trend started with Sinfonía in Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King (1968) on the Afro-American side and Homage to Sarasate (1975) for the Spanish.

 

Before becoming interested in folk ideas, my compositions reflected the most radical style by denying any room to traditional melody or harmony. For a decade my compositions experimented with the so-called avant-garde, typical of the 1960s, with dramatic and angular works like Guernica, María Sabina and Steel Symphony.

 

On this disc, Concerto for four guitars and orchestra belongs stylistically to that avant-garde period. On the other hand Cello Concerto No. 2, ‘New Orleans’, is an expression of the ethnic style. In my case ethnicity is no longer nationalism but rather internationalism for its approach is global, not local. On this disc for instance, Celebració makes use of Catalan traditional melodic ideas, while in other works these ideas are of Irish, Mexican, Latvian or American origin. For the same reason de Falla and Gershwin made use of the impressionist techniques of their time, my ethnicity reflects the sounds that have been developing around me.

 

The fourth of my works here, Passacaglia, seems to point to a new direction in my output, a development I am just coming to grips with. This could be identified with transformation or metamorphosis of the very nature of the musical materials. Is this the result of my affinity to surrealism, the influence of some memorable years in the 1960s when in New York as a young composer I collaborated with the master of surrealism Salvador Dalí? If I examine my most recent works I see a trend. In Passacaglia a classical passacaglia transforms itself into a popular Spanish pasacalle. In Prague Sinfonietta the music, which starts like Mozart’s Prague Symphony, evolves into a sardana, the national dance of Catalonia, In Symphony No. 5 - American the first movement is an avant-garde setting of drama and tension and the last a joyful American ethnic square dance. I seem to be taking a new turn in which the metaphysical nature of the music is being played with.

 

Leonardo Balada


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