Leonardo Balada: Revolution & Discovery



Leonardo Balada


Revolution & Discovery




Leonardo Balada: Revolution & Discovery




Leonardo Balada, the Catalan composer who came to New York in 1956 to study composition, has been a powerful creative force for more than three decades. His highly personal "avant-garde" techniques in the sixties - dramatically as well as rhythmically imposing - sets his works like Guernica and María Sabina apart from composers of the time. Later, in the seventies, he was credited as a pioneer in blending the "avant-garde" with folkloric ideas mixing the new with the old - now a very fashionable trend - in works like Sinfonía en Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King (1968) and Homage to Casals and Sarasate (1975).




His exposure to the plastic arts in New York was perhaps of greater significance to his style than the music he heard around him. In Balada's music one finds by his own admission a perplexing amalgamation of traditional Spanish culture influenced by modern concepts of geometric art, "collages" as seen in the paintings of Rauschenberg and the surrealism of Salvador Dali. Balada had collaborated with Dali several times in New York during the early '60s. There is a plasticity and a theatricality in his music and also a dichotomy, for while he sometimes expresses the abstract, in other moments he mixes in the ethnic.




In an interview over a generation ago Balada explained his position towards this dichotomy saying: "If I go to Andalusia and choose to wear a "Cordobés" hat, or a "cowboy" hat in Texas or no hat at all in Wall Street, I still will be recognized as "me," provided that my personality emerges in spite of my disguise." And his works are very personal indeed, through textural writing, blunt contrasts of ideas and dynamics, juxtaposition of opposing harmonies, mechanistic passages in layers of "staccato" writing, a rhythmic constancy and above all, a compelling sense of direction and goal in the form and drama of his music.




In this album we find that dichotomy. While in Reflejos and Divertimentos Balada's music draws from the abstract - no "tunes" - in Zapata and Columbus "tunes" and folk ideas are the basic ingredients of the music.




A characteristic of some of Balada's works is his interest in controversial subjects: antiwar (Guernica), freedom (Sinfonia en Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King), historic and social issues (the cantata Torquemada, the opera Zapata), environmental concerns (Music for Oboe and Orchestra), protest against death (the cantata No-res). In Spain, his childhood and adolescent years during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and after that under the dictatorship of Generalísimo Francisco Franco, had an impact on Balada's psyche. When he came to the United States the gates of openness and freedom were open to him and with that a compelling desire for expressing in music the frustrations experienced in his native country.




-Jaime Mira




Zapata: Images for Orchestra (1987)




The influence of surrealist painter Salvador Dali in Balada's music is most apparent in this composition, a "suite" from the opera Zapata. From the late fifties to the late sixties he was frequently in touch with Dali in New York City, where they collaborated on two occasions. His antics, theatricality, and his surrealist art, had an unconscious effect on the composer during those formative years, even though at the time Balada didn't take him seriously; to him it was all a big joke.




But Dali's influence was a real one, particularly in the musical conception of some scenes in the opera Zapata (1984). This opera - which has not yet been premiered - is based on the life and death of the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, who died early in this century. Zapata: Images for Orchestra is based on that opera.




In the Images the influence of surrealism is especially apparent in the Waltz. This dance encounters a number of metaphysical transformations. It starts with an almost imperceptible pulse that moves gradually to a full-fledged Viennese rhythm. After that two different waltzes are superimposed: a regular waltz with the strings and a faster one by the brass. Finally this tension is heightened by a frantic accelerando that transforms the waltz into an orchestral representation of a revolutionary shooting. In the Waltz all the motives are original. That is not the case in the March, which again presents an almost surrealist interpretation of a revolutionary march. Here the popular La Cucaracha is gradually presented and eventually taken over by three other international revolutionary anthems in what becomes a gigantic "collage."




The Elegy presents a fragment of the Mexican popular melody Adelita with muted trumpets and trombones. Those create a cloudy texture as background to two original motives, played by the muted violas and solo cello. This is taken directly from the opera, the cello quoting the singing of Zapata, the violas the singing of his brother dying in his arms.




The Wedding Dance is a blending of the popular Jarabe Tapatio with original melodies. Here again the ghost of surrealism is apparent in the way the Jarabe is treated, broken and juxtaposed.




The word premiere of Images was given by the National Orchestra of Spain in Madrid in 1988. The American premiere was given by the Pittsburgh and Cincinnati Symphonies.




Columbus: Images for Orchestra (Suite from the opera Cristóbal Colón) (1991)




One of Balada's concerns during the last couple of decades has been the relentless speeding of our society toward an alarming cultural uniformity. This fact triggered in him a kind of reaction that influenced his aesthetic position in favor of ethnic values.




When in 1984 the Spanish government commissioned the composition of the opera Cristóbal Colón for the 5th Centennial of the Discovery of America, he conceived a work inspired by these ethnic values. Although at the gate of the 21st Century one might have expected a futuristic opera, full of tomorrow's technological imageries, the work in fact balanced technological progress on one hand, and cultural and ethnic traditions on the other. The music looks at the future but also echoes the past.




But this position did not rest easily with some critics. Although the opera was praised by the international press who came from Europe, Latin America and the United States to attend the world premiere at the Gran Teatre del Liceu of Barcelona (1989) - one example is The Washington Times who called the work "a masterpiece...a landmark score in the lyric theater of our time" - the four principal papers of the composer's hometown, Barcelona, put their thumbs down. A clear confirmation of the Spanish saying, "No one is a prophet in his own land." Nor could the masterful singing or the beauty of the voices of the principal singers, Montserrat Caballé and José Carreras, soften their rage towards a work from which they expected the obvious: futuristic music, whatever this might have implied.




Columbus: Images for Orchestra is a brief look at four scenes of that opera, which are somewhat different after rewriting to compensate for the absence of the original vocal and choral parts.




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 chords. Admiral, Admiral! Is taken from one of Queen Isabella's arias, sung so beautifully by Caballé at the premiere. It is a plea from the Queen to Columbus not to give up on his endeavor. Where is the Will of God brings us to a moment of Columbus' depression when everything seems to go wrong for him. As in a "collage" this intimate line is interrupted once in a while by a satirical instrumental flash of sound. This is an addition to the original aria so masterfully sung by Carreras. Dawn in the Indies is part of the last scene of the opera and evolves around a symbolic chant from the Indians. This movement was very much changed from the opera's scene, in terms of cuts and concept.




Reflejos for Strings and Flute (1988)




This composition in two movements treats the ensemble as a compact team rather than as a group of individual soloists. The goal of the music is the achievement of the dramatic ideas set forth. The flute is part of that team, not a soloist. The work can be performed either by a string quintet or by a string orchestra.




In the first movement, Penas (Sorrow) the sadness is balanced by a number of outbursts consisting of dynamic contrasts and very expressive passages. Although the piece is traditionally notated, there are some very controlled aleatoric instances. The movement ends with a lament-like coda.




The second movement Alegrias (Exuberance) is a contrast to the first. It is dashing with a motor-like character. Its reiterative qualities may suggest


minimalist writing, although this is just one aspect of the techniques used throughout the composition.




This composition was commissioned by the consortium of the Atlanta Virtuosi, the New England Piano Quintette and the Cambridge Chamber Players, made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.




Divertimentos for String Orchestra (1991)




These three Divertimentos 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" initiated by Balada in the seventies (Three Anecdotes) - that is, the reusing of old gestures to generate new results - is applied in this work, especially in Divertimento segundo.




The Royal College String Ensemble of London premiered it in 1991 at the Torroella de Montgri International Music Festival near Barcelona.




Leonardo Balada




Leonardo Balada was born in Barcelona, Spain, on September 22, 1933. His father, Pepito, was a tailor and his future profession was assumed to be the same. Nevertheless, Pepito who due to economic circumstances couldn't go to school past 14 years old wanted his son to grow up a well cultured man with love for "good music." Leonardo entered the Conservatorio del Liceu of his native city as a child and went on to New York on a scholarship in 1956 graduating from the Juilliard School in 1960. He studied with Vincent Persichetti, Aaron Copland and Igor Markevitch. Since 1970 he has been teaching at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he is University Professor of Composition. Tailoring wasn't to be for Balada but Pepito's influence on him was as important as Beethoven's.




Balada's works are being performed by the world's leading orchestras, such as the philharmonics of New York, Los Angeles, and Israel; the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra of London; the symphonies of Detroit, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and Prague; the radio orchestras of Leipzig, Hanover, Moscow, Helsinki, Luxembourg, BBC; and the national orchestras of Spain, Lyon, Ireland, among others, conducted by artists such as Lorin Maazel, Rostropovitch, Fruhbeck de Burgos, Lopez-Cobos, Lukas Foss, and Mariss Jansons.




Many outstanding organizations in the United States and Europe have given him commissions, including the Aspen Festival, the San Diego Opera, the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Hartford symphonies, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, and the Radio Berlin Symphony Orchestra. He has composed works for Alicia de Larrocha, the American Brass quintet, Andres Segovia, Narcisco Yepes, Lucero Tena, and Angel Romero.




Balada's large catalog of works includes symphonic compositions, cantatas and operas. His profile and works are on the Web at: www.andrew.cmu.edu/user/balada/index.htm. He is represented by Music Associates of America, 224 King Street, Englewood, NJ 07631. Tel: 201-569-2898; Fax: 201-569-7023.




Selected Discography




Steel Symphony performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, conductor (New World Records 80348-2); Torquemada, Concerto for Piano, Winds and Percussion, Sonata for Ten Winds, Transparencies of Chopin's First Ballade (New World Records 80442-2); María Sabina, Guernica, Thunderous Scenes performed by the Louisville Orchestra (New World Records 80498-2); and Music for Oboe and Orchestra performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, conductor, C. de Almeida, oboe (New World Records 80503-2).




Orquesta de Valencia




The Orquesta de Valencia was founded in Valencia, Spain, in 1943 and among its music directors one can mention Lamote de Grignon, José Iturbi, García Navarro, García Asensio and Manuel Galduf. With Iturbi the orchestra recorded for La Voz de su Amo and RCA and with Galduf for Harmonia Mundi and Sony Classical.




Manuel Galduf




Manuel Galduf was born near Valencia. He made his European debut conducting the Orchestra National de l'Opera of Montecarlo. He has conducted the principal orchestras of Spain, Germany, England, France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Poland, Yugoslavia, United States, Venezuela, Mexico, Uruguay and Japan in concert or opera productions. He was conductor of the Orquesta de Valencia (1983-1997) which he brought to European standards. His latest recordings for Auvidis and Sony Classical were highly praised.




Orquesta Sinfónica de la Radio TV Española




The Orquesta Sinfónica de la Radio TV Española was founded in 1965 with Igor Markevitch as music director-founder. The orchestra has performed on tour in the United States, Mexico, Switzerland, and Japan and in 1988 was the closing orchestra to perform at the International Festival of Orchestras in Paris. It has recorded extensively.




Sergiu Comissiona




Sergiu Comissiona is one of the most prestigious conductors in the international circuit, having conducted the most important orchestras in the world. Born in Rumania, he has been music director of the Symphony Orchestra of Haifa, the Israel Chamber Orchestra, the Houston symphony, the New York State Opera, the orchestras of Helsinki, Vancouver and Radio TV Española. He recorded extensively with the orchestras of the Radio Suisse Romande, Philharmonic of Stockholm and Baltimore and Houston Symphonies.




Cuarteto Latinoamericano




Cuarteto Latinoamericano was founded in Mexico in1981 and has distinguished itself with performances on radio, television and in concert on three continents. It has been hailed as "a gem of a string quartet" by the Pittsburgh Press. The San Francisco Chronicle described the group as a "first-rate ensemble of passionate temperament." They are in residence at Carnegie Mellon University. Having recorded extensively they were selected as a "Critic's Choice for 1989" by The New York Times.




Alberto Almarza




Alberto Almarza, Chilean flutist is recognized as one of the most accomplished flutists in Latinoamerica where he has performed as soloist of their principal orchestras. In 1988 he was appointed principal flutist for the Filarmónica of Santiago, Chile. He studied at Carnegie Mellon with Julius Baker and now he teaches at that university. He performs extensively in the United States, especially with chamber groups.




Anthony Bianco




Anthony Bianco, a faculty member of the School of Music at Carnegie Mellon University, joined the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1944 as principal bassist under Fritz Reiner. He is now Principal Bass Laureate. He appeared as soloist with the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestras among others.




Eduardo Alonso-Crespo




Eduardo Alonso-Crespo was born in Argentina and obtained his Masters degree in conducting from Carnegie Mellon University where he studied with Lukas Foss and Samuel Jones. Since 1989 he has served as Music Director and Conductor of the Tucumán Symphony Orchestra of that Argentinean city and he is Music Director of the Carnegie Mellon Contemporary Ensemble. He has conducted extensively abroad as well as the principal orchestras in his native country, including that of the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. He is a prolific composer and has won several composition prizes including the Cristobal


Colón International prize for symphonic works.




Zapata: Images for Orchestra was recorded at the Palau de la Música (Valencia, Spain), live performance on June 30, 1995; Columbus: Images for Orchestra was recorded at the Auditorio Nacional (Madrid, Spain), live performance on January 12, 1992; Reflejos, Music for Strings and Flute was recorded at McConomy Auditorium, Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) on March 10, 1997. Recording Engineer: Riccardo Schulz; Recording Assistant: Damien Bassman; Cuarteto Latinoamericano: Saúl Bitrán, violin; Arón Bitrán, violin; Javier Montiel, viola; Alvaro Bitrán, cello; Divertimentos for String Orchestra was recorded at Levy Hall, Rodef Shalom (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) on February 27, 1998. Recording Engineer: Riccardo Schulz.




Musical Supervision: Leonardo Balada, Eduardo Alonso-Crespo




Mastering: Riccardo Schulz, Pittsburgh Digital Recording & Editing Company




Special Thanks: Carnegie Mellon School of Music, Martin Prekop, Kenneth Keeling




The recording of Columbus: Images for Orchestra was made possible in part by a grant from Dirección General Relaciones Culturales y Científicas Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, Madrid.




All works on this recording are published by Beteca Music (ASCAP).










Leonardo Balada


Revolution & Discovery




Zapata: Images for Orchestra (1987) (17:56)


Suite from the opera Zapata


Vals (Waltz) (6:17)


Marcha (March) (4:18)


Elegía (Elegy) (2:53)


Baile de Bodas (Wedding Dance) (4:27)




Orquesta de Valencia


Manuel Galduf, conductor




Columbus: Images for Orchestra (1991) (22:59)


Suite from the opera Cristóbal Colón


En el Puerto de Palos (The Port of Palos) (5:16)


¡Almirante, Almirante! (Admiral, Admiral!) (7:09)


¿En dónde está la voluntad de Dios? (Where Is the Will of God?) (5:27)


Amanecer en las Indias (Dawn in the Indies) (5:08)




Orquesta Sinfónica de la Radio TV Española


Sergiu Comissiona, conductor




Reflejos (1988) (16:50)


Music for Strings and Flute


Penas (Sorrow) (9:58)


Alegrías (Exuberance) (6:53)




Cuarteto Latinoamericano


Alberto Almarza, flute




Anthony Bianco, contrabass


Divertimentos (1991) (17:54)


String Orchestra


Divertimento primero (3:45)


Divertimento segundo (5:34)


Divertmento tercero (8:35)




Carnegie Mellon


Contemporary Ensemble


Eduardo Alonso-Crespo, conductor