About this Recording
8.573064 - BALADA, L.: Concerto for Piano, Winds and Percussion / Cello Concerto / Viola Concerto (Graf, Premo, Pillai, Carnegie Mellon Wind Ensemble)
English  Spanish 

Leonardo Balada (b. 1933)
Music for Wind Ensemble


Since a pioneering meeting in the early 1960s at Columbia University in New York in which young composers listened to Otto Luening and Ussachevsky discuss the early stages of electronic music, I have been intrigued by this relatively new kind of “music”. Because I could only have limited exposure to synthesizers, I decided that I should take advantage of the experience and use them with traditional instruments. I was impressed by the staccatos, the decays, the dramatic range of dynamics the synthesizers could produce. Those effects influenced my instrumental writing in works such as Geometrias No 1 and Guernica (1966), but especially in Cumbres (1971) where I exploited the total expansion of the sound spectrum with total division of the winds and brasses. All this can be construed as my second stylistic period—the avant-garde. That period was a new style in my output, an abrupt change from my first period, a romantic/neo-classical one with works including the Concerto for Cello and Nine Players (1962).

Cumbres – A Short Symphony for Band (Symphony No 2) (1971)

Cumbres was the result of a commission by the Carnegie Mellon University Symphony Band, and it is dedicated to its members and conductor Dr Richard Strange. It was composed in 1971 and premièred at Carnegie Hall, New York, on April 18 of that year. Those performers recorded the work for Albany Records.

Cumbres is in an idiom I started experimenting with back in 1958 when I was still a student at Juilliard and composed a work for strings. Here clustered chords were written to resolve smoothly into intervals or perfect chords.

To explain Cumbres one could relate to several titles I considered: Mosaico was intended to represent the multiple sections that follow each other in a contrasting manner, forming an authentic mosaic of musical sound; Entrelazos, meaning interweavings, was intended to show that in each section of the work one can find a germ that will become the prominent idea in the next section and this happens through the entire work. Cumbres (Heights), however, better reflects the character of the work, its insistent exploration of the high registers of the instruments, the ascending motion of the music in the climaxes, and above all, its dramatic quality.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the title is the word ‘Symphony’. What is a symphony? Camilo José Cela—the Spanish novelist and Nobel Prize laureate—once said: “A novel is any book which says ‘Novel’ on its cover.” Cumbres is a symphony, for that was my intention and my mood when writing it.

Present in this work are many highly controlled aleatoric sections which produce an “electronic” effect; cells of cantabile melody; high-to-low cluster chords used at a pianissimo level; and a building-up of mechanistic figures layer on layer. At the very end an irregular rhythmic figure brings the work to a resounding climax.

Concerto for Piano, Winds and Percussion (1973)

This concerto was commissioned by the Carnegie Mellon University Alumni Association. The soloist in almost perpetual motion, and the two forces—the soloist and winds—are more often than not at odds.

The work is in one movement, but there are three sections. The first starts with a “ping-pong” idea taken in a literal sense. The single figure gradually expands into a broken cluster-like texture, aided by similar material in the winds and trumpets, which determines the rich ending of the first section. The disintegration of the climax leads to the middle section, slow and open in an almost “Chopinesque” Romanticism of free rubatos and dynamics. This is a homage to the 19th century in the same fashion that the first part is a homage to the 20th century of Poulenc and Stravinsky. A melodic idea of four notes presented out of phase leads to the third section with a sudden and staccato hammering by the soloist.

The element of repetition is of utmost importance in the work, as is the contrast between the unison and the clusters, intermingled with triadic sounds and other devices that I like to call “recycling” of traditional techniques. This work was first performed on April 15, 1974, at Carnegie Hall in New York by Harry Franklin, pianist, and the Carnegie Mellon Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Richard Strange, conductor. It is dedicated to those artists.

Concerto for Cello and Nine Players (1962, rev 1967)

This work, commissioned by and dedicated to the great Catalan cellist Gaspar Cassado, was composed in 1962 and revised in 1967. It belongs to the first period of my music (neo-classical in character), which was followed by my avant-garde style (1966–75) and then post-avant-garde style, in which I blend avant-garde techniques with folk or traditional elements (1975 to the present).

Although using clear key centres the work is highly chromatic, devoid of experimental approaches for the cello. It is written to highlight the beauty and virtuosity of the instrument. The real musical challenge in the work relies on the dichotomy between the soloist and the rest of the ensemble. The contradiction is already established by the absence of strings in the ensemble and the percussive writing given to the winds and brass.

The Concerto is in three movements and lasts approximately 15 minutes. The first movement is light in character with some humour in it; the second is lyrical and warm; and the third is dramatic with urgency and virtuosity. It was premièred by Nathaniel Rosen and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble conducted by David Stock.

Viola Concerto (2009–10)

This one-movement concerto, about 17 minutes long, represents two contrasting worlds, the solo viola and the band, mostly in conflict with each other. At the very beginning, while the viola explores the higher parts of register in clean, clear lines with harmonics, the band stays in the lower part of the register with dense, clustered sounds. This occurs frequently throughout the Concerto. Nevertheless, common ground exists between the two instrumental entities in the form of running and rather virtuosic figurations. As a modernistic composition, textural dense sonorities, sometimes punctuated by staccatos, contrast with lyrical designs.

The material is freely taken from the Catalan folk melody La Gata i el Belitre (The Cat and The Dog), although this melody is hardly heard in an obvious way, except in the context of the brief sporadic appearance of the rhythm of a sardana, the national dance of Catalonia.

The Concerto was commissioned by the Banda Municipal de Barcelona for their 125th anniversary. The work was composed from November 2009 to February 2010 and is dedicated to Abili Fort.

Sonata for Ten Winds (1979)

The title “sonata” refers more to the original meaning of the term, that is, a “sound-piece”, than to its modern meaning, although it has exposition and development sections. The development section is characterized by several ascensions and subsequent falls in the pitches. The development brings the general ideas to a dramatic outburst of contrasts that concludes with an ultimate drop to a low pitch.

Generally the ensemble is treated as a massive single entity, although opportunities are allowed for some solo displays. The language ranges from traditional sounds to far-out ones. Although the music is precisely notated most of the time, there are some aleatoric instances.

The piece was composed from October to December 1979 and was premièred by the American Brass Quintet and the New York Woodwind Quintet at Carnegie Recital Hall in New York. The New York Times called the work “substantial” and “gripping” and added, “it succeeds brilliantly. It is an exciting instrumental showcase with motoric passages that are quite stunning.”

The work received an honorary mention at the Freidheim Awards, Kennedy Center in Washington DC and it has been released on the New World Records label. It is dedicated to Akram Midani, former dean of the College of Fine Arts, Carnegie Mellon.

Leonardo Balada

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