BENET CASABLANCAS (b 1956 )
Born in Sabadell (Barcelona) in 1956, Benet Casablancas is one of the leading Spanish composers of his generation. He studied in Barcelona and Vienna, where he worked with, among others, Friedrich Cerha and Karl-Heinz Füssl. He also has a degree in philosophy and a PhD in musicology, both from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and undertook courses with György Ligeti, Elliott Carter, George Benjamin and Magnus Lindberg.
Benet Casablancas is frequently commissioned, and his works have won numerous awards, including the Ciudad de Barcelona, Musician’s Accord of New York, Fundación Juan March of Madrid, Spanish National Recording Prize, Composer’s Arena of Amsterdam, Oscar Esplá, Ferran Sors, finalist of the Prix de Composition Prince Pierre de Monaco, ISCM Festival. In 2007 he received the National Prize of Music of the Generalitat of Catalunya, and in 2013 he has been distinguished with the National Music Prize granted by the Spanish Ministry of Culture, regarding the intellectual maturity of Casablancas’s works, the diversity of genres mastered by him and the international impact of his works. This is the highest honour that the government of Spain awards in this cultural field.
His music has been performed across Europe, Canada, US, South America and Japan, in such emblematic concert halls like the Musikverein of Vienna, the Miller Theatre at Columbia University, the London Barbican Hall, the Bozar of Bruxelles, the Morgan Library and the MoMA in New York, the Vatroslav Lisinski in Zagreb or the Bunka Haikan in Tokyo, by prestigious soloists, ensembles and orchestras such as the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Seattle Chamber Players, Arditti Quartet, Ensemble 13 of Baden-Baden, Notabu of Düsseldorf, Tokyo Sinfonietta, Ensemble Modern Akademie, Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, Ensemble Insomnio of Utrecht, Leipziger Streichquartett, BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Deutsches Radio Philharmonien Saarbrücken, Munich Chamber Orchestra, Orchestre National de Belgique, Deutsches Kammerphilharmonien Bremen, Malmö Symfoniorkester, Hermitage of St Petersburg, NJO of The Netherlands, Spanish National Orchestra and all the main Spanish orchestras, under leading conductors such as Vladimir Jurowski, Oliver Knussen, Josep Pons, Lawrence Foster, Vasily Petrenko, Kazushi Ono, Frank Ollu, Franz-Paul Decker, Timothy Weiss, Clark Rundell, Andrew Gourlay, Michal Nesterowitz, Gunter Pichler, Ángel Gil-Ordóñez, Adrian Leaper, Manfred Reichert, José Ramón Encinar and Bernhard Güeller.
Early in his career he began combining composition with teaching and research. An advisor for different institutions and patron of several foundations, he has published numerous historical and analytical articles (entries on Arietta and Quodlibet in The New Grove) and the celebrated book El Humor en la Música (2000, new edition by Galaxia Gutenberg, 2014). He has been head of theory and composition at a number of Spanish conservatories, educational director of the Catalan National Youth Orchestra (JONC) and associate professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra de Barcelona and Universidad de Alcalá de Henares (Spain). He has also frequently been a member of the jury for several European composing and performing competitions, and keeps up a busy agenda as a guest professor at several international schools. In 2002 he assumed the direction of the Conservatorio Superior de Música del Liceo (Barcelona), a post he now combines with his work in composition and research.
His wide-ranging oeuvre, covering the most diverse genres and formats, is marked by a quest for radical personal and aesthetic independence. The critics have highlighted his concern for balancing constructional rigour and expressive strength, dramatic character and whimsical register, in the framework of a discourse in which a progressively luminous harmonic language, rhythmic spirit, a growing timbral differentiation and instrumental virtuosity coexist. Among his most acclaimed works are Seven Scenes from Hamlet for reciter and chamber orchestra, the series of Epigrams for different formations, from piano solo to symphony orchestra, Dove of Peace. Homage to Picasso (Chamber concert nr. 1 for clarinet and ensemble), diverse Haikus for piano solo and small groups, and orchestral pieces such as The Dark Backward of Time, Alter Klang, Darkness visible and Sogni ed Epifanie. His works have recently been presented with great success at festivals like the ISCM World Music Days, Klangspuren Schwaz Tirol, Encuentros de Buenos Aires, Spitalfields Music London, Exploring The World Wien, Atempo Caracas and Paris, Music Biennale Zagreb, Cairo Contemporary Music Days, Icebreaker VI in Seattle, 48 Dimitria Thessaloniki, and the Festival Internacional de Música y Danza de Granada.
These works are notable for many qualities: formal balance, timbral variety, richness of texture and orchestration, forceful expressivity, brightness and ductility of harmonic vocabulary, fine control of the tensions, rhythmic vitality and polyphonic density. In Jonathan Harvey words: “Casablancas writes with a classic polyphonic clarity that is uncommon these days. The vitality and energy of his work is well-known—sudden switches of direction within a very short span give a superbly exhilarating and exuberant quality in the fast movements. The slow movements are softer and more veiled; the bright Spanish light is nocturnal and one hears more blend than brilliant blare. The polyphony here takes on a hierarchical aspect. That is to say, some layers become principal, others are ornamental, decorative. Texture is complex rather than multi-polyphonic. Atmosphere and mood are subtle and suggestive rather than classically clear, harmonics appear, giving non-tempered pitches. One willingly acquiesces in landscapes of the imagination, with birdsong, perhaps. Even here the form, of the phrases, of the sections, of the movements, remains clear, the attention gripped; but not quite 100% is given, we know there is more to it, below the surface.” And perhaps the most important aspect: all this is enhanced by a great power of communication, making it appealing to his listeners, but without losing the highest artistic aims concerning the language and the technical procedures used.
Recent commissions include those by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Miller Theatre New York (Composer Portrait), Ensemble Cantus Croatia, The Bach Orgelbüchlein Project, Spanish National Youth Orchestra (JONDE), Ensemble Reconsil Wien and Cuarteto Casals. In 2013 he was appointed composer-in-residence at L’Auditori de Barcelona (2013–2015), and the Gran Teatre Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona commissioned the opera L’enigma di Lea, based on an original libretto by Rafael Argullol, whose première is planned for 2018.
Read La Vanguardia’s feature on Benet Casablancas