Leonardo Balada: Symphonies











Jesús López-Cobos, conductor












Leonard Balada, conductor












Enrique Garcia Asensio, conductor








Richard E. Strnage, conductor








Leonardo Balada


Born in Barcelona in 1933, Leonardo Balada is an important name in the history of contemporary music. Daring and energy are the two basic elements with which he approaches his very personal compositions. This total musician has blended his strong vocation with his teaching since 1970 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he is University Professor of Composition.


He started his piano and theory studies at the Conservatorio del Liceu in Barcelona, finishing in 1953. Then he studied composition at the New York College of Music and the Juilliard School. Among his teachers one can count Sigfried Landau, Vincent Persichetti, Norman Dello-Joio and Aaron Copland. The fact that he finished his studies in 1960 could suggest that he was part of the so-called “generation of '51” of Spanish composers. Because of geographical distance he did not participate in the early activities of that group, which was so important to the Spanish music of the sixties. This does not mean he did not identify with them esthetically and ideologically.


Coinciding with his finishing his studies at the Juilliard School, Balada collaborated in an unusual project with Salvador Dali, whom he had met in New York. It was a film satire about painter Piet Mondrian for American television. In 1967 he would again work with Dali on a “happening” at Lincoln Center.


At the beginning his compositional direction did not conform to that of his contemporaries, who generally followed the paths of Paris or Darmstadt. The almost obligatory twelve-tone style was not attractive to him. Having left the European continent allowed him the possibility of approaching other languages. Soon the young composer moved with great esthetic independence, as one can see in his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, No. 1 (1964), as well as in Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra, No. 1 (1965) — two of the works of this American period. Since the presence of his roots is constant in Balada's music, contrary to what his contemporaries have done, I will mention two works as a point of reference: Cuatro Canciones de la Provincia de Madrid (1962) and Tres Cervantinas, both for voice and piano. From 1966 on, one finds a new and radical esthetic period that starts with Geometrias No. 1 (1966) for instrumental ensemble. Here sound-color and textures are the essential elements of the music. This period extends to the middle of the seventies and represents his “avant-garde” period, because of the radical language and the absence of traditional melodic and harmonic elements.


The following work, Guernica (1966) for orchestra, is one of the most significant of that period. Together with the experimentation in Geometrias No. 1 one finds a heavy emotionally-charged element. To that same period belongs Steel Symphony, Concerto for Piano, Winds and Percussion, as well as Concerto for Four Guitars and Orchestra.


Around 1975 a new period begins in his musical production, by including again the elements of melody and harmony, but this time blending those elements with his previous “avant-garde” style and the assimilation of the American sound-world around him. His preference for large instrumental and stage forms, both with strong ideological connotations, is a constant during this period. One can also see as a kind of sonorous homage the influence of Catalan music from his youth, traditional Spanish music, and the presence of American and international events. Of that period are Homages to Casals and Sarasate, Sardana, Quasi un Pasodoble, Three Anecdotes, Fantasias Sonoras, Zapara: Images for Orchestra and the cantata Torquemada which opens in an ideological manner the way for composing three operas: Hangman, Hangman!, Zapata and Christopher Columbus. These operas were the result of previous experimentation in the form of cantatas which paved the way for the lyrical works. Therefore one finds compositions like Maria Sabina (1969), Las Moradas (1970), No-res (1974) and Torquemada (1980). Only after these experiences with the use of chorus, narrators and orchestra does Balada resume the use of melody and with it the desire for writing operas.


The first of his operas, Hangman, Hangman! (1982) is a chamber work in one act with text by the composer, which is a social criticism. The second opera Zapata (1984) is a grand opera in two acts, in which he shows a startling ability of blending in one march the most novel sonorities with popular melodies like Adelita, La cucaracha, La Marsaillaise, The International together with Balada's original themes. Christopher Columbus (1986) is the third of his operas and the one with wider international repercussion, due in part to its view of the future as well as at the past, and also by the theme of the historical celebration of the discovery of America. For all that, this opera with text by Antonio Gala premiered in Barcelona in 1989 with José Carreras and Montserrat Caballé in the leading roles, is one of the most important in his catalog. From the esthetical point of view, one finds elements of different origins, from lyrical to sprechgesang singing, and in the orchestral colors, the American influences. To these operas, one must add two more recent ones: The Death of Columbus (1996), a sequel of Christopher Columbus and The Town of Greed (1997), a sequel to Hangman, Hangman!


His works have been performed by the principal orchestras in Europe and America and premiered by the most representative conductors of the day, such as Maazel, López-Cobos, Jansons, Rostropovitch, Frühbeck de Burgos, Comissiona, etc. He has won several international prizes and was invited by institutions like the Aspen Institute, The University of Tel-Aviv, and the Polish Ministry of Culture. Among the many institutions to commission works from him, one can mention the San Diego Opera, Aspen Festival, Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Sociedad Estatal para el Quinto Centenario, as well as many leading international orchestras.


Balada's present musical attitude does not deny the priciples of the avant-garde practiced by him in the past, but reflects a synthesis of his past musical experiences. With this he makes in each one of his new works an independent esthetic statement.


Symphony No. 4 (“Lausanne”) (1992)


This Symphony No. 4 (“Lausanne”) is part of a group of works composed during Balada's third compositional period. This is what we could call the ethnic- avant-garde style, which has given his works a singular stamp. This was something very new never explored before. Next to the exuberance of the orchestral color we find quotations of Swiss folklore, a homage to the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra which performs the work in this recording and who commissioned it for the 50th anniversary of its founding. Developed in one single movement, these ethnic, non-nationalist materials help in creating a solid architectural form with very attractive sonorities. This in combination with the very radical ways of Balada's second period — let's remember Geometrias and Guernica of 1966 — make it a very special piece in his catalog. The process of synthesis that one finds in Balada's latest works — as opposed to eclecticism — is evident and effective in Symphony No. 4. The techniques and stylistic ways used in a masterful way by the composer in previous compositions, are now blending perfectly traditional and modern elements with a smith-like perfection, resulting in a timeless symphony. The work was premiered in 1992, conducted by Jesús López-Cobos, and is dedicated to him and to the orchestra.


Persistencies — Sinfonia Concertante (1972)


This work with the title Persistencies for amplified guitar and orchestra was composed in 1972. Only a year earlier Balada had composed Cumbres, which shares important common elements. The Sinfonia Concertante was composed at the request of the Spanish guitarist Narciso Yepes, and it is dedicated to him. He gave the premiere in 1987 with the National Orchestra of Spain in Madrid and in Tokyo, conducted by Jesús López-Cobos.


This composition is based on a simple and at the same time very difficult idea, which determines the structure of the work through reiterations — thus the title.


Contrary to the treatment expected in works for soloist and orchestra, Balada presents an opposition between the electronically amplified guitar and the massive orchestral sonority. This rivalry persists without pause through the more than 20 minutes that the composition lasts. Esthetically, Persistencies belongs to the second creative period of this Catalan composer; a period that pursues the most pure acoustic investigation.


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


This is an emblematic work in the catalog of Leonardo Balada. It has been a great success since its premiere June 21, 1969 at the Teatro Real in Madrid. Although composed in 1968, this Sinfonía en Negro already contains that avant-garde-ethnicity, very original and still unexplored by then. His interest in using Afro-American ideas in this composition is an isolated case in his catalog of that second period, which pursues more abstract ideas in works like Cumbres, Persistencies and his very famous Steel Symphony, another of his emblematic works.


The Afro-American sounds, as presented by Balada in this homage to Martin Luther King, are only comparable to the Negro-inspired poetry that emerges from the Antillies (the Negro poems by Emilio Ballagas and Nicolás Guillén) with great influence on Europe, especially among the French painters and writers. This composition anticipates what will be the thrust in his third period in works like Homage to Casals and Sarasate, the better known ones in this group perhaps because of the appealing titles. One must not forget in this group, Sardana and Folk Dreams in which the personal homage is abandoned in favor of a more universal appeal. Somehow, Sinfonía en Negro anticipates the multi-culturalism that Balada has been practicing in his later works.


After the enormous success of its premiere in Madrid, Sinfonía en Negro was taken on tour by the Orquesta de la Radio TV Española conducted by Enrique García Asensio to the U.S. and Mexico, including Carnegie Hall in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington. The work was commissioned by the National Radio of Spain and is dedicated to Enrique Franco, critic and great supporter of Spanish contemporary composers.


Cumbres — A Short Symphony for Band (Symphony No. 2) (1971)


This work was commissioned by the Carnegie Mellon Symphonic Band and dedicated to the members of the band and its conductor Richard E. Strange. The sound structures of this composition can be understood by considering the titles originally considered for the composition. The first title was `Mosaic,' which suggested several sections and motives as part of a total. Another possibility considered was `Entwined,' a suggestion of the way several ideas interrelate before an ultimate resolution. And finally, Cumbres was the title chosen as the best to describe the composer's intentions, which was a speculation on high instrumental ranges as well as high emotional levels. Again the masterful way in which the composer uses his technical resources, as in aleatoric passages with electronic-like results, brings some dramatic effects. This is part of Balada's imprint: a music with emotion and vitality, always young and powerful.


The premiere of Cumbres took place at Carnegie Hall in New York on April 18, 1971 performed by the Carnegie Mellon Symphonic Band conducted by Richard E. Strange.


—Notes by Marta Cureses,


University of Oviedo, Spain




Lausanne Chamber Orchestra


The Lausanne Chamber Orchestra was founded in 1942 with Victor Desarzens as its first music director. The music directors who followed were Armin Jordan, Lawrence Foster, Jesús López-Cobos and at present Christian Zacharias. The orchestra has a heavy schedule of recordings and tours,and through the Swiss Broadcasting Society their concerts are heard internationally.


Jesús López-Cobos


Jesús López-Cobos' international conducting career is of the first magnitude. Born in Spain in1940 he has conducted the principal orchestras around the world such as those of New York, Cleveland, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Vienna, Berlin, and Israel, among others and operatic productions at La Scala, Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, and the Vienna Opera. He has been the music director of the Berlin Opera, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, National Orchestra of Spain, as well as the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra. He has a large catalog of recordings.


Orquestra Simfonica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya


This orchestra is one of the best in Spain, a country that now has a large number of excellent orchestras. It was founded in 1944 by conductor Eduard Toldra with the name “Orquesta Municipal de Barcelona.” The orchestra has toured in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Japan, and Korea to widespread audience and critical acclaim. The orchestra has recorded for Naxos, Koch International, Decca, EMI, Auvidis and others.


Narciso Yepes


Narciso Yepes was one of the most original and influential Spanish guitarists (1927-1997), who some critics consider as important in the development of the instrument as Andrés Segovia and Emilio Pujol. His definitive contribution to the history of music came in 1964, after years of study and research about the technique of the instrument, with his invention of the ten string guitar. As a concert guitarist he toured widely around the world in solo recitals and performed as a soloist with the leading orchestras of Europe and the Americas. His recordings became highly acclaimed, especially those with Deutsche Grammophon.


Orquesta Sinfónica de la Radio TV Española


This orchestra 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 been conducted by personalities like Maazel, Celebidache, Marriner, Copland, and Comissiona. The orchestra has recorded extensively.


Enrique García Asensio


Born in Valencia, Spain, García Asensio is one of the most prominent conductors in Spain. A Gold Medal winner of the Dimitri Mitropoulus conductor's competition in New York, he became assistant conductor of the National Orchestra in Washington, DC. At present he is music director of the Orquesta Sinfónica de la Radio TV Española. He has conducted extensively in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Europe, Japan, Israel and Russia. He has also recorded extensively.


Carnegie Mellon Symphonic Band


This band, known because of its Scottish orientation as “Kiltie Symphonic Band” had its beginning in 1908 when seven Carnegie Tech students gathered to play a collection of brass instruments at a football game. From that tiny beginning it grew into an ensemble of 100 members and was considered to be one of the finest bands in America. They played regularly on tours and at Carnegie Hall in New York.


Richard E. Strange


Much of the remarkable musical quality of the Carnegie Mellon Symphonic Band was due to its conductor Richard Strange, a native of Hutchinson, Kansas. While Professor of Music at Carnegie Mellon University, Dr. Strange was Director of Bands. Later he became Professor of Music and Director of Bands at Arizona State University. As an orchestral conductor, he has conducted throughout the North American continent.


Mr. Balada's principal publishers are G. Schirmer and Beteca Music. He is represented by Music Associates of America, 224 King Street, Englewood, New Jersey 07631. Tel: 1-201-569-2898; Fax: 1-201-569-7023. Balada's webpage address is: andrew.cmu.edu/user/balada/index.htm






Mastering:Riccardo Schulz, Pittsburgh Digital Recording &Editing Company


Symphony No. 4 (`Lausanne')was recorded 7 December 1992 live at the world premiere performance, Theatre de Beaulieu, Lausanne, Switzerland. Engineers: Radio Suisse Romande—Espace 2. The work is published by Beteca Music.


Persistencies—Sinfonía Concertante was recorded 23 November 1990 at a live concert in the Palau de la Musica, Barcelona. Engineers:Catalunya Radio. The work is published by G. Schirmer, Inc.


Sinfonía en Negro—Homenaje a Martin Luther King (Symphony No. 1) was recorded 9 April 1999 at a live concert in the Teatro Monumental, Madrid. Engineers: Radion Nacional de España, Madrid. The work is published by General Music EMI.


Cumbres—A Short Symphony for Band (Symphony No. 2) was recorded 18 April 1971 at the world premiere performance, Carnegie Hall, New York. Engineer:Paul Newman


The work is published by General Music EMI.


This recording is made possible in part by a grant from Dirección General Relaciones Culturales y Científicas Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, Madrid


Cover photo: Pau Barceló—taken during the performance of Persistencies:Symphonia Concertante for Guitar and Orchestra with soloist Narcisco Yepes and Leonardo Balada






Leonardo Balada




1 Symphony No. 4 (“Lausanne”) [14:25]


Lausanne Chamber Orchestra


Jesús López-Cobos, conductor


2 Persistencies — Sinfonía Concertante for


Amplified Guitar and Orchestra [22:01]


Orquestra Simfónica de Barcelona i


Nacional de Catalunya


Narciso Yepes, guitar


Leonardo Balada, conductor


Sinfonía en Negro — Homenaje a


Martin Luther King (Symphony No. 1)


3 Opresión (Oppression) [5:26]


4 Cadenas (Chains) [4:51]


5 Visión (Vision) [6:23]


6 Triunfo (Triumph) [2:26]


Orquesta Sinfónica de la


Radio TV Española


Enrique García Asensio, conductor


7 Cumbres — A Short Symphony for Band


(Symphony No. 2) [13:07]


Carnegie Mellon Symphonic Band


Richard E. Strange, conductor


Total Time = 68:41