About this Recording
8.573047 - BALADA, L.: Sinfonia en negro / Double Concerto / Columbus (Abbühl, Lluna, Málaga Philharmonic, Colomer)
English  Spanish 

Leonardo Balada (b. 1933)
Sinfonia en Negro: Homage to Martin Luther King (Symphony No 1) • Double Concerto for Oboe, Clarinet and Orchestra • Columbus: Images for Orchestra


I grew up in a liberal family in Barcelona and my youth in the 1940s coincided with the hard days under the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Freedom of expression and equality among men were something my parents injected into my psyche. While growing up in a suburb of Barcelona, Sant Just Desvern, I and my friends from high school, Joaquim Moreno and Emili Carbo, were outspoken teenagers opposing the fascist doings of the government. We almost went to jail for that. We were encouraged by our high school teacher, Josep Ma. Bas, a brilliant man whose lessons were not only about his speciality, maths and science, but literature, music, chess and the socio-political world of the moment. Among our discussions were the politics in our country as well as international issues. The United States seemed to us the high-ideal model in a post-World War II world. We admired its freedom and equality. But something was blurring that admiration: the mistreatment of blacks. In that the United States was a great disappointment to us idealistic youngsters.

Upon my immigration to New York in 1956 as a student of composition, I felt that finally I could express my ideas freely without concerns, which had not been the case in Spain at the time. One of the first things I did was to date a black girl. I brought her to a “high class” cultural event in Manhattan…I had the freedom of doing so but I will never forget the bewildered looks of the guests attending the event. Years later while travelling on a streetcar in New Orleans shortly after blacks were allowed to sit next to whites, I noticed a black women sitting alone while a lot of whites were clustered in other parts of the vehicle. I made my statement by sitting next to the lonely black soul…

I met Martin Luther King in New York in 1967 during an event to which I had been invited by Helen Phillips, a good friend and the first black singer in the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. She had been a solo singer at Saint Francis de Sales church on West 96th street in Manhattan, where I was an organist at the time. The murder of the black leader one year later was a national tragedy and when Spanish National Radio gave me a commission to compose a work for their symphony orchestra, Martin Luther King was my chosen subject.

This was not the first or the last work in which I used belief as a theme. In 1966 I composed Guernica [Naxos 8.557342], an anti-war orchestral work inspired by Picasso’s mural; in 1974 the cantata No-res [Naxos 8.557343], which is a protest against death; in 1980 the cantata Torquemada, a confrontation of modern Spanish people with the Inquisition; in 2005, Symphony No 6—Symphony of Sorrows—dedicated to the Innocent Victims of the Spanish Civil War.

Sinfonía en Negro: Homage to Martin Luther King (Symphony No 1) (1968)

This is one of my better known compositions. It was composed in 1968 and was premièred with great success at the Teatro Real in Madrid on 21 June 1969 by the Spanish RTV Symphony Orchestra conducted by Enrique García Asensio. This work contains an avant-garde ethnicity still unexplored at the time. It anticipates what would be my third period with works such as Homage to Casals (1975) and Homage to Sarasate (1975) in which folk material is blended with all kinds of avant-garde techniques. After its première the symphony was taken on tour by the orchestra in the Americas, including Carnegie Hall, New York, and Kennedy Center in Washington DC. and Mexico. It has been widely performed in Europe and America. As the titles of the four movements suggest—Oppression, Chains, Vision, Triumph—the composition describes the journey of black people in the Americas from slavery to freedom. The orchestra recorded it on Albany Records.

Double Concerto for Oboe, Clarinet and Orchestra (2010)

The Double concerto for Oboe, Clarinet and Orchestra in one movement uses two very well known Mexican folk melodies in a modern way. The music fluctuates freely and constantly between the folk and the abstract, the traditional and the avant-garde. The ideas encompass clear lines and heavy textures, always creating contrast and surprise. This concerto exploits not only the virtuosity of the solo instruments, but also that of the orchestra. The work was commissioned by Rudy Weingartner and is dedicated to him and to Eleanor Weingartner, a clarinetist, and to Miguel Salazar, an oboist. They gave the première of the concerto with the Queretaro Symphony Orchestra of Mexico in July 2011.

Columbus: Images for Orchestra (1991)

Columbus: Images for Orchestra is a free look at four scenes from the opera Christopher Columbus [Naxos 8.660237–38] which had its première in 1989 at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona featuring José Carreras and Montserrat Caballé.

The Port of Palos represents the height of euphoria as the sailors are preparing for the trip of discovery. The music develops around a motive of ethnic character in the midst of harmonic contrasts that span from tone clusters to traditional harmonies. Admiral! Admiral! is taken from one of Queen Isabella’s arias as she encourages Columbus to continue his endeavour. In Where is the Will of God? Columbus meditates, in a deep depression, on what he is trying to accomplish. Dawn in the Indies is part of the last scene of the opera during the final triumph, and Indian chants and rhythms are heard. The composition was premièred in 1992 by the Spanish RTV Symphony Orchestra in Madrid conducted by Sergiu Comissiona and recorded on Albany Records.

Leonardo Balada

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