About this Recording
8.557749 - BALADA: Symphony No. 5 / Prague Sinfonietta / Divertimentos
English  Spanish 

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 is that one’s personality can prevail despite changes and seemingly different presentation of the ideas. Can an artist stop being himself when he expresses his ideas in different ways? Do I cease being myself if I dress in a conventional suit today and in a colorful “toreador” costume tomorrow?

All these questions come to mind when thinking about the works on this CD. Symphony No. 5 and Prague Sinfonietta present as their basic structure a transformation in a surrealistic manner; Divertimentos is an absolute contrast to Quasi un Pasodoble in its character, although not in its technical substance.

Nothing surprised me more as a school child than when I learned that molecules change constantly in our bodies although we remain the same individual. As an adult, nothing impressed me more, when collaborating in the late 1950s and 1960s in New York with Salvador Dalí, than when I saw how he would create transformation, stretch ideas and present distortions in his art… and he still would remain Salvador Dalí.

In my case though the conceptual influences came not only from Dalí, but also from Rauschenberg’s collages with contrasting techniques, geometric art and abstract expressionism, including that of the Catalan artist Alfonso Mier, which put together in musical terms could create the drama and emotion that I was longing for in my compositions, in contrast to the cold serialism surrounding me.

Symphony No. 5 ‘American’ (2003) explores two styles in the same work in an evolutionary structure. One of these styles identifies with my avant-garde period, which is dramatic and angular and spans from the midsixties to the mid-seventies. During that period, in works like Guernica (Naxos 8.557342) and Steel Symphony, I used a long list of technical resources: atonality, aleatoric devices, clustered harmonies, no tunes, no traditional harmonies, strong rhythms and big contrast of dynamics. Then in 1968 with Sinfonia en Negro – Homage to Martin Luther King, a new style came to the fore which was fully implemented in 1975 with Homage to Casals and Sarasate (Naxos 8.557342). In this new period I blend the ways of the avant-garde with ethnic ideas, creating a symbiosis of these two worlds. Symphony No. 5 uses these two styles.

The symphony, in three movements, is a kaleidoscope of emotions. The work evolves from one stage of darkness at the beginning to a high point of light and unrepentant optimism at the end. In the first movement, 9/11: In Memoriam, dry, loud, ugly, and desperate sonorities are presented in the most abstract way in a tense and driven manner. 9/11 was in my mind, as was my childhood trauma caused by the bombings by German airplanes in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War when I composed Guernica forty years ago. The interval of a sad minor third is heard almost persistently throughout, performed sometimes by the strings but more often by the keyboard percussion, harp and piano in what suggests fatal bells. That third is surrounded by tone clusters, which often filter into minor triadic chords with a most deceptive feeling. The minor third interval of the first movement is also a constant in the second and the third movements, but its function here is completely different. In the second movement, Reflection, this interval is part of a delicate fabric of melodic lines based on a Negro spiritual. These lines are designed by several instruments in layers. Here all is quiet, peaceful and hopeful and to a degree melodious. In the third movement, Square Dance, this minor third is part of some American folk-tunes gathered together to build a brilliant square dance, strongly rhythmic, tireless in its perpetual motion and expression of happiness. Altogether it is a trip from the abstract to the ethnic. The symphony was composed from April 2002 to April 2003, commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony when Mariss Jansons was Music Director, with the support of The Heinz Endowment Creative Heights Artist Residency Program in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University School of Music. The world première took place on 30th October 2003 at Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, in Pittsburgh, performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hans Graf.

When the Torroella International Music Festival in Catalonia commissioned me to compose an orchestral work, I came up with the idea of composing Prague Sinfonietta. This occurred to me when I learned that an orchestra from Prague was to give the première of the commissioned orchestral work in Torroella. The musical link was obvious. One of Mozart’s masterpieces is his Prague Symphony. Also, Vicenç Bou, a native of Torroella de Montgri, an old town near the Mediterranean northern coast of Spain, had composed some of the most beautiful sardanas. The sardana is the national dance of Catalonia. These facts were coincidental but at the same time suggestive of an ambitious musical idea: the composing of a work in which Mozart would meet Bou, a challenge impossible to ignore. To me, one of the main challenges was to allow my own style to come through in the midst of the Mozart and Bou personalities. While the work tries to represent the spirit of Mozart’s symphony by using some of its motives and light designs, the work evolves very often from diatonic to chromatic and polytonal writing, which may lead in turn to thick textural structures and collage of ideas. On the other hand the rhythms and beautifully lyrical melodies of Bou may appear gradually or unexpectedly in the middle of those structures. Prague Sinfonietta was completed in April 2003 for a chamber orchestra of the size of a Mozart style orchestra. It is dedicated to Josep Lloret, founder and spirit of the Torroella International Music Festival and it was first given by the Czech Sinfonietta conducted by Charles Olivieri-Monroe.

The three 1991 Divertimentos for string orchestra were conceived with contrasting sonic characteristics. In Divertimento primero the sound is produced with pizzicati, in the segundo with harmonics and in the tercero with normal bow playing. In general the ensemble is used to produce a massive sound rather than a chamber-like one. The dynamic contrasts, as well as the sound tensions, are very important to the essence of the 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 new results – is applied in this work, especially in Divertimento segundo. The Royal College String Ensemble of London conducted by Rodney Friend gave the first performance of Divertimentos in 1991 at the Torroella de Montgri International Music Festival.

The 1981 orchestral movement Quasi un Pasodoble was composed with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and was first performed by the New York Philharmonic in November 1982, conducted by Jesús López-Cobos. A pasodoble is a Spanish march performed during a bullfight. In Quasi un Pasodoble this musical form is explored very freely, in a surrealist way, taking it very often outside the realm of its authentic boundaries. The themes used are original, except for hints of two very popular ones. The work mixes the old with the new, consonance with clusters, straight rhythms with complex textures in an outpouring of colour and contrasts. Quasi un Pasodoble starts with a slow string section in which the bass line of the pasodoble is introduced in a lyrical and melodious manner along with a second motif. Throughout the work, the rhythm of the pasodoble appears, disappears and transforms, at one point into what could be construed as a bolero, but at the end the imposing folk-rhythm asserts itself with conviction.

Leonardo Balada

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