|About this Recording
8.573409 - 21st Century Spanish Guitar, Vol. 2 - BALADA, L. / TORRES, J. / LÓPEZ GODOY, M. / GARCÍA ABRIL, A. / PABLO, L. de / SOUTULLO, E. (A. Levin)
21st Century Spanish Guitar • 2
I fully acknowledge walking face-first into a hornet’s nest with these opening remarks. But there’s something that’s been bothering me for the better part of the quarter-century since I first picked up a guitar and diligently, then lovingly made my way through repertoire by the great Spanish masters: Albéniz, Granados, de Falla, and Rodrigo to name just the first in a long line of storied composers. Whatever happened to ‘serious’ Spanish music after, say, 1950? Where had all the maestros gone in a country whose principal natural resource is its ‘sound’ (we’ll leave Velazquez, Goya, Miró, Picasso and Dalí out of this), whose national identity is inextricably bound with an unmistakable, immediately recognizable musical signature (ever hear a rasqueado strum and think: ‘hmm, this must be something new out of Canada’), and which has given us both the most beloved and widely played concerto for any instrument in human history and, for all intents and purposes, the highly evolved instrument upon which its principal solo part is played? Here’s what I now know: They’re still out there, but for various meddling forces of culture and history—changing musical tastes, the Second World War, Taylor Swift, Grand Theft Auto, what have you—their prominence has been, perhaps, muted. It’s been a while since opening night for Concierto de Aranjuez back in 1939. One can only imagine that kind of excitement today.
With the first volume of 21st Century Spanish Guitar, I embarked on a mission to close this gap. As you are about to hear from Volume 2—a collection of entirely new works (and one almost new work) for the classical guitar—we’ve just barely scratched the surface. Imagine no longer.
We begin our programme of première compositions with Leonardo Balada’s illustrious homage to five of Enrique Granados’ twelve Danzas españolas; Caprichos No.11: Abstractions of Granados. This is the second of four commissioned works by Balada which will appear in this series and is testament to an evolving and generative friendship, the next, perhaps, in a long and illustrious history of significant composer-guitarist collaborations (think Segovia and Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Ponce, Turina; Bream and Britten, Fisk and Berio, Beaser, to name but a few). It was Balada’s virtuosic and imaginative piece for guitar and string quartet, Caprichos No. 1: Homage to Federico García Lorca, which compelled me to propose a ‘grand plan’ for the creation of a series of four new solo works. This most recent addition, the second in the series, unfolds within a ‘time-warp’, juxtaposing old world Spanish motifs and atmospherics of Granados’ Spain with Balada’s ingeniously contrasting aleatoric technical fêtes; an imaginative reinvention of the original and majestic piano works drawn through an entirely modern compositional lens.
Balada’s effervescent masterwork is contrasted by the intimate soliloquy Interiores by Jesús Torres. I vividly recall sitting across from Torres in his home rehearsing the new piece a day before the world première. My field of vision began to narrow when the composer gently suggested that I had, perhaps, learned the harmonics (which create the backdrop for this enchanting work) incorrectly. Uh oh! Don’t panic! One more sleepless night behind me and I delivered a convincing performance the following day. Torres perfectly balances the extroverted/bombastic and introverted/poetic voices of the guitar through his alternating application of soft dynamics, pristine harmonics, bold fortes, and ferocious rasqueado strums.
Among Leonardo Balada’s most esteemed students is the Catalan composer, Marc López Godoy. A lengthy correspondence led to the creation of this new work, Elegía otoñal (Autumn Elegy), and a subsequent trip to Catalonia where I performed its world première performance at the Festival de Guitarra de Girona. Unbeknownst to me, Girona is home to a medieval Jewish quarter, El Call, which is the site of Europe’s oldest (and perhaps smallest) synagogue; an inspirational tie-in to my own personal heritage. The Elegy itself begins with the radiant portrait of a starling’s seemingly effortless flight on a tranquil summer day; this followed by deep melancholy in the second movement evocative of the waning days of August. The piece concludes with the unpredictable and turbulent onset of fall achieved through a tremolo with irregular metre, angular melodic lines and Flamenco-inspired rasqueado. Godoy maintains coherence by blending imagery with sonority, harmony, and atonality.
Continuing our programme is Antón García Abril’s Dos cantares, written for my friend and teacher Maestro Gabriel Estarellas who first recorded it in 2013. Maestro Abril finally agreed to write me a new work (a lush impressionistic masterpiece I’m saving for later). Allow Dos cantares to leave you lusting for more. The first movement is reserved and elegantly composed with extended melodies, blooming one into the next, and cascading from crescendos to decrescendos. There follows a second movement at once taciturn and energetic, ahead of a return to the robust opening arpeggios.
Turris Eburnea (Ivory Tower) by Luis De Pablo, is a onemovement work synesthetically transmuting “the nobility of human purpose, purity of intention, and intellectual pursuit” (i.e. the stuff of academia?) into musical form. I recall sitting in De Pablo’s salon surrounded by exotic plants and a floor to ceiling library of books as I listened to him expound upon the evolution of Spanish music and his journey across the globe as a composer. The work itself begins with a motif evocative of awakening, followed by rousing forte exclamations and improvisatory, harp-like responses in the centre section. This conversation dies down, then erupts once again with a rapid pizzicato melody before culminating in a raspy and decaying chord progression and concluding with a spontaneous and unexpected final statement.
I must admit that I fell into the next work somewhat serendipitously for the fact that I was invited to perform, as part of my originally planned programme, Galician composer Eduardo Soutullo’s I’ve got you under my string, commissioned for the 2013 Festival Internacional de Música Tres Cantos. As has happened several times in the genesis of this series, composer and performer crossed paths only hours before the world première to discuss its interpretation. I found his music thoroughly unique for its timbre, sonority, form and mode reminiscent of the great Cuban and Japanese masters, Leo Brouwer and Toru Takemitsu, respectively. In alternating trans-cultural voices we hear the Javanese gamelan as well as distinct references to African culture and music.
I premièred Jacobo Durán-Loriga’s Upon 21 within the walled city of Buitrago del Lozoya, a small fifteenth-century Moorish town located in the mountains outside of Madrid. This swank three-movement piece salutes the stylized Baroque dances of the past, beginning with a fast paced Courante exploiting pizzicato melodic lines and swooping scales. We are then immersed in a visceral yet minimalistic Chaconne, and finally swept away by an agile third movement, a Gigue, that runs through airy, buoyant arpeggios until the very last staccato note.
The music of Catalan composer Benet Casablancas has always intrigued me for its rich and complex textures and tonal colours. Evolving from the second Viennese school of composition, Casablancas is bold, imaginative, virtuosic and highly personal. Although my interaction with the composer has been rather limited, it has been inspiring nonetheless. Our paths crossed once during a performance of his magnificent work, Dove of Peace: Chamber Concert No. 1 for Clarinet and Ensemble, at the Reina Sofía Contemporary Art Museum in Madrid, Spain. Casablancas composed Tres piezas para guitarra for me a short while after. Two years later, as it turned out, he won Spain’s most prestigious composition competition: The National Music Prize. The piece begins in perpetual motion with a stray floating melodic line. The erratic sensibility of the first movement achieves its effect through abrupt musical turns, grinding halts, electrifying jolts forward, and a sweeping rasqueado at its powerful conclusion. There follows, in the second movement, delicately balanced calm, impressionist brush strokes, and abrasive sforzandos, finding final resolution in decaying bass notes at the end. Striking movement and resolute expression contrast dry and decaying motifs in the third movement. The piece winds down through a series of rhapsodic statements and agitated cascading music, leaving us gasping for harmonious resolution.
The album closes with Orión, a virtuosic tour de force by Juan Manuel Ruiz. Our friendship and musical association were born of my fascination with his grand orchestral works Bálcanicas and Nebula, which I vividly recall listening to for the first time sitting across from Ruiz’s towering stack of stereo speakers while poisoning ourselves with absinthe. The scale of these works is immense, both for the sheer size of the orchestral production and the intensity of sound and musical bandwidth with which he composed for each instrument. I stumbled off that evening pondering the seemingly endless ways in which Ruiz could convey this same orchestral grandeur and potency scaled to the sensuous yet passionate voice of the guitar. Unflinchingly, he composed a work which draws upon most every sonic and technical possibility the guitar has to offer. Evocative images of the night sky’s brightest constellation, Orion, are constructed acoustically through the amalgamation of contrasting and unpredictable events, improvisatory rhythms, fluctuating harmonies and timbres, unexpected dynamics, and exciting accelerandos. We sail through a turbulent storm of rasqueados and changing harmonies and accents followed by an expansive exploration of the resonance and tonal colours available on the guitar. We return to an uncontrollable tornado of rasqueados ascending violently to the highest audible harmonic chords on the guitar, chiming three times before its natural and peaceful extinction.
Be forewarned, what you are about to hear is not your father’s guitar music. It is not even my father’s guitar music: Segovia, Williams, Parkening and Bream playing then-new, and newly unearthed masterpieces destined to take their place in the “standard repertoire”. Although you will hear nuances, quotes, homages to the great Spanish masters of the 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries, the musical language of 21st century Spain has evolved since the première of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. It has evolved, even, since the 2013 release of Volume 1 in the present series. Be adventurous, keep an open mind, and march with me once again on this musical journey through 21st Century Spanish Guitar.
¡Viva España! ¡Hasta la próxima!
Adam Levin, Boston, MA
Major funding for this recording and the commissioning of these works was generously provided by the Fulbright Program, the Program for Cultural Cooperation, and the Kate Neal Kinley Fellowship. Special thanks to Eliot Fisk, Gabriel Estarellas, Oscar Ghiglia, Anne Waller, Mark Maxwell, family, friends, and each composer whose work has been recorded.
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