About this Recording
8.554708 - BALADA: Violin Concerto No. 1 / Folk Dreams / Sardana
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Leonardo Balada (b. 1933)
Violin Concerto No.1 • Folk Dreams • Sardana • Fantasias Sonoras


The style of a composer can turn in many contradictory directions during his creative life. While at the time of my graduation from the Juilliard School in 1960 I was completely opposed to embracing the almost universally heralded serialism, I was, on the other hand, unhappy with the neo-classicism I practised at the time. It took a few years for me to find a language that I could call avant-garde and that was also independent from the main stream as it then was. My music turned unto a wild explosion of sonorities, rhythm and drama in works like Guernica, María Sabina, No-res and Steel Symphony. Some years later I ventured in a new direction in works like Sinfonía en Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King (1968) and Homage to Casals and Sarasate (1975), in what could be construed as a third stylistic period. Here I blended those avant-garde ways with ethnic and traditional ideas. For that I was either praised as a pioneer in this now all too common trend or attacked for having abandoned 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 century music all the more modern techniques can be blended happily with more traditional sounds to result in something different and fresh… He has lived in Barcelona, an ancient city host to Gaudí and Picasso, where old narrow streets empty into modem avenues… Thus, his music…encompasses…(the) old and the new." The compositions here included reflect this trend, for they all offer a mixture of those far-out techniques with tradition.

The Violin Concerto No. 1 of 1982 is structured in three traditional movements which are performed without a break. The thematic material, Catalan folk­-melodies, is treated in a very unconventional manner. In the first movement, almost a dance in character, the folk-melody is at first hardly recognisable, but as the movement unfolds, its identity becomes clearer and clearer until the end, when it appears in a straight-forward manner. The second movement, slow and meditative, reverses that treatment. While in the beginning a melody is presented in full, this fades away, gradually growing shorter until the end. In the third movement, a melody is expanded more and more from its original simplicity into a complex and virtuoso line. The concerto was commissioned by Carnegie Mellon University and first performed by the University's Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in New York City on 21st November, 1982, with the violinist Fritz Siegal under the direction of the conductor Werner Torkanowsky.

Folk Dreams is a work in three movements for orchestra and these constitute a suite based on folk-melodies from Latvia, Catalonia and Ireland. These melodies are presented as in a dream, with a surrealistic vision in the way its components are superimposed, dissected and in the way that the form of each movement unfolds.

Surrealism is not a new influence in my music. From the late 1950s to the late 1960s I was frequently in touch with the master of surrealism, the painter Salvador Dalí, in New York City. I even collaborated with him on two occasions, the first in 1960 in a television film in which he satirized the painter Mondrian, the second in 1967 at a "happening" at Fisher Hall in the Lincoln Center. Dalí's antics and theatricality had an unconscious effect on me during those formative years, even if to me it was all a big joke. Some of my subsequent compositions bear witness to that influence.

The whole suite is dedicated to my son, Dylan, and each one of the movements is dedicated to the different prominent conductors who directed the first performances of each movement with different orchestras. The first movement, Line and Thunder is dedicated to Mariss Jansons, the second, Shadows, to Jesús López-Cobos and the third, Echoes, to Colman Pearce, who gave the first performance of the whole suite in Dublin with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland in May 1999.

The first movement, Line and Thunder, was written in 1996. The dichotomy of the title suggests a similar dichotomy between the two principal ideas in the composition. From the beginning a Latvian folk-melody is heard with several layers of voices. This melody "line" is played with some transformations throughout the work. Gradually and on top of it, a fast-propelled, heavy structure of sound "thunder" occurs. While "line" is basically traditional and diatonic, "thunder" on the other hand makes use of abrasive clustered harmonies. The melody is introduced by the strings but soon is performed by the orchestra's pitched percussion, harp and piano, suggesting, in a gigantic way, the nasal metal-like sound of the kokles, a Latvian folk-instrument. The work was commissioned and first performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mariss Jansons.

The second movement, Shadows, written in 1994, is a brief essay in soft and slow sonorities for orchestra. The basic material is a Catalan melody that is introduced gradually from the beginning. Rich textures are added beneath the melody, creating a suggestion of evening lights, shadows and mystery. A wide variety of techniques is used, from traditional harmonies to clusters, from conventional lines to aleatoric devices. The work was commissioned for the hundredth season of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and was first performed by this orchestra on 31st March, 1995, conducted by Jesús López-Cobos.

In Echoes, composed in 1998, several Irish melodies are juxtaposed in what is essentially a "jig". Fragments of these melodies are presented by some instruments while others create echo effects of these fragments, by way of layers of sounds or pedal-notes.

Sardana, A Symphonic Movement for Orchestra, was completed in 1979. The sardana is 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 most characteristic is the tenora, nasal and very penetrating in its quality. The dancers of sardanas, the ordinary people of the region, hold hands in a circle and others join the group spontaneously as the dance goes on. The dance consists of two different parts which are repeated exactly several times, the curts (short ones) and the llarcs (long ones), referring to the type of steps in each one of the sections.

In Sardana I am attempting to establish the duality of the cobla and the actual dance by the people, as well as to suggest a sculpture-like character to it. As such, the woodwind, brass and percussion become the cobla, performing the actual musical part, and the strings convey the idea of people with a basically dance­-rhythmic function. From time to time I use a degree of musical freedom in linking the traditional folk character of the dance to a more universal one. I also blend traditional ideas with contemporary harmonies and techniques.

Sardana was composed in response to a commission from the Catalan patron of the arts Joan Cendrós to whom the work is dedicated, and it was first performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Lankester, in Pittsburgh in October 1982.

Based on a simple melodic and rhythmic cell, Fantasías Sonora, (‘Fantasies in Sound’), written in 1987, is the result of the constant variation and evolution of this cell. In the process, the work encounters a number of sound build-ups of different degrees and characteristics. The composition was commissioned to commemorate the opening of the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts in Pittsburgh, a lively theatre, the result of the transformation of a large cinema into a building for opera, ballet and dance. The work has a festive mood of celebration that suggests enthusiasm for old Hollywood films, despite its far-out sounds, textures, harmonies and a virtuoso level of performance that recalls a concerto for orchestra. The composition was first performed at the Benedum Center in October 1987 by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sixten Ehrling.

Leonardo Balada

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