BENET CASABLANCAS (b 1956 )
Born in Sabadell (Barcelona) in 1956, Benet Casablancas is one of the leading Spanish composers of his generation. He studied in Barcelona and Vienna, where he worked with, among others, Friedrich Cerha and Karl-Heinz Füssl. He also has a degree in philosophy and a PhD in musicology, both from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and undertook courses with György Ligeti, Elliott Carter, George Benjamin and Magnus Lindberg.
Benet Casablancas is frequently commissioned, and his works have won numerous awards, including the Ciudad de Barcelona, Musician’s Accord of New York, Fundación Juan March of Madrid, Spanish National Recording Prize, Composer’s Arena of Amsterdam, Oscar Esplá, Ferran Sors, Finalist of the Prix de Composition Prince Pierre de Monaco, ISCM Festival. In 2007 he received the National Prize of Music of the Generalitat of Catalunya, the highest honour that the government of his country awards in this cultural field.
His music has been performed across Europe, Canada, the USA and South America by prestigious soloists, ensembles such as the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal, Arditti Quartet, Ensemble 13 of Baden-Baden, Notabu of Düsseldorf, Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, Ensemble Modern Akademie, Trio à cordes of Paris, Ensemble Insomnio of Utrecht, Leipziger Streichquartett, Ensemble Cantus (Croatia), Spanish National Orchestra, Orchestra of Barcelona and Catalonia, the Symphony Orchestras of Galicia, Granada, Tenerife, Comunidad de Madrid and Spanish Radio and Television, Spanish National Youth Orchestra, Hermitage of St Petersburg, Malmö, Gran Canaria Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de Belgique, NJO of Netherlands, Proyecto Gerhard, Ensemble Reconsil Wien, Damocles Trio New York, and the Brouwer Trio, under leading conductors, including Josep Pons, Lawrence Foster, Vasily Petrenko, Manfred Reichert, Franz-Paul Decker, Timothy Weiss, Gisèle Ben-Dor, Mark-Andreas Schlingensiepen, Ulrich Pöhl, Adrian Leaper, Bernhard Güeller, Michel Scwierzewski, Antoni Ros-Marbà, Salvador Mas, Edmón Colomer, Alejandro Posada, José Ramón Encinar, Horia Andreescu, Berislav Sipus.
Early in his career he began combining composition with teaching and research. An advisor for different institutions and patron of several foundations, he has published numerous historical and analytical articles (entries on Arietta and Quodlibet in The New Grove) and the celebrated book El Humor en la Música (Reichenberger, 2000). He has been head of theory and composition at a number of Spanish conservatories, educational director of the Catalan National Youth Orchestra (JONC) and associate professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra de Barcelona and Universidad de Alcalá de Henares (Spain). He has also frequently been a member of the jury for several European composing and performing competitions, and keeps up a busy agenda as a guest professor at several international schools. In 2002 he assumed the direction of the Conservatorio Superior de Música del Liceo (Barcelona), a post he now combines with his work in composition and research.
His wide-ranging oeuvre, covering the most diverse genres and formats, is marked by a quest for radical personal and aesthetic independence. The critics have highlighted his concern for balancing constructional rigour and expressive strength, dramatic character and whimsical register, in the framework of a discourse in which a progressively luminous harmonic language, rhythmic spirit, a growing timbral differentiation and instrumental virtuosity coexist. Among his most acclaimed works are Seven Scenes from Hamlet for reciter and chamber orchestra, the series of Epigrams for different formations, from piano solo to symphony orchestra (Seven Epigrams for piano, Epigrams for six players, New Epigrams for chamber orchestra and Three Epigrams for orchestra), Little Night Music and Celebration for chamber ensemble, diverse Haikus for piano solo and small groups, and orchestral pieces such as Postludio, The Dark Backward of Time and Alter Klang, impromptu for large orchestra. His works have been played in recent years with great success in all Europe and America: London, Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf, New York, Montreal, Vancouver, Oberlin (Ohio, USA), St.Petersburg, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Brussels, Weimar, Strasbourg, Lancaster, Varsovia, Lisbon, O’Porto, Caracas, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Lausanne, Malmö, Naples, Zagreb, Minks, Kishinev, Karlsruhe, Munich, Geneva, Bologna, Rome, Palermo, Madrid, Barcelona, Lubljana, Vilnius, Caracas, Lima, San Salvador, and elsewhere.
These works are notable for many qualities: formal balance, timbral variety, richness of texture and orchestration, forceful expressivity, brightness and ductility of harmonic vocabulary, fine control of the tensions, rhythmic vitality and polyphonic density. In Jonathan Harvey words: “Casablancas writes with a classic polyphonic clarity that is uncommon these days. The vitality and energy of his work is well-known—sudden switches of direction within a very short span give a superbly exhilarating and exuberant quality in the fast movements. The slow movements are softer and more veiled; the bright Spanish light is nocturnal and one hears more blend than brilliant blare. The polyphony here takes on a hierarchical aspect. That is to say, some layers become principal, others are ornamental, decorative. Texture is complex rather than multi-polyphonic. Atmosphere and mood are subtle and suggestive rather than classically clear, harmonics appear, giving non-tempered pitches. One willingly acquiesces in landscapes of the imagination, with birdsong, perhaps. Even here the form, of the phrases, of the sections, of the movements, remains clear, the attention gripped; but not quite 100% is given, we know there is more to it, below the surface.” And perhaps the most important aspect: all this is enhanced by a great power of communication, making it appealing to his listeners, but without losing the highest artistic aims concerning the language and the technical procedures used.
Currently he is working in many new commissions, including those of a new orchestral piece, Darkness visible (to be recorded by the Orquesta Nacional de España), Four Darks on Red (after Rothko), for chamber orchestra (for Perspectives Ensemble New York), and the composition of an opera for several soloists, choir and orchestra, Io. El fin del mundo como una obra de arte, based on a libretto by the philosopher and writer Rafael Argullol, whose premiere is planned for 2012–2013.
For further information, please visit www.benetcasablancas.tk.
Read La Vanguardia’s feature on Benet Casablancas