Leonardo Balada: The Abstract & The Ethnic



Leonardo Balada


The Abstract & the Ethnic


Geometrias n. 1






Union of the Oceans


Song and Dance


Quasi un Pasodoble


Homage to Casals


Homage to Sarasate






Leonardo Balada: the Abstract & the Ethnic


When Leonardo Balada, the Catalan composer, came to New York in 1956 to study composition, serialism was in style and electronic music was trying to emerge in the contemporary music scene. In art, geometric abstractions became fashionable as well as abstract expressionism and "collages". Also, a colorful figure, Salvador Dalí, who lived in the city for a few months every year, would antagonize the practitioners of those styles while delighting the city with his antics.


The artistic scene was essential to Balada's development. While a student at Juilliard in the late 50s, the uniformly practiced idiom was atonalism. Even fellow students Philip Glass and Steve Reich were practicing it. At the same time, Balada did not conform, for his music would not step outside a neo-classicism which in a way was making him uncomfortable. He, the product of a Catalan tradition of liberalism that looked to the future when Spain was in the midst of political and social conservatism, could not in good conscience fall into a musical idiom rooted only in the past. But serialism was not for him and the new electronic machines were beyond his reach. So, during the few years after graduating from Juilliard, Balada searched for something that would be different, modern and comfortable for him.


In 1966, Balada composed Geometrias n.1 which initiated his second stylistic period. Now he had found his voice in the abstractions of geometric art: dots, lines, three dimensions and distances became essential materials. There were no melodic ideas, no traditional sounds of any kind. Also, the electronic experiments of the time influenced Balada's music, not by using synthesized sounds but by imitating these sounds with live instruments. His music was now in the "avant-garde" and a series of symphonic compositions that followed had a powerful sense of rhythm, drama and passion, unusual in works of that time. Those symphonic works — Guernica, Sinfonia en Negro-Homage to Martin Luther King, Maria Sabina, Steel Symphony, No-res, etc. — although abstract in their parts, are highly emotional and expressive in their total. The chamber pieces in this album, Geometrias n.1, Cuatris as well as Mosaico belongs to that second period.


Following a decade on that path, Balada's music took a new turn, suggested in his 1968 Sinfonia en Negro. To all those techniques of his "avant-garde" style (textural writing, aleatoric devices, clustered harmonies and layered structures) and the ghost of Dali's surrealism with whom he had collaborated in New York, he added a melodic and ethnic element. With that he pioneered what is now a very fashionable tendency with many composers. He mixed the new with the old. In 1975 his Homage to Casals and Sarasate asserted his new style, his third period. The works in this album include these two periods: the abstract and the ethnic.


— Jaime Mira


GEOMETRIAS n.1 (1966)


This composition in one movement — flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet and percussion — was composed in New York City and represents a stylistic turning point in Balada's music, his first work in the "avant-garde." The title does not imply a score in the form of a geometric drawing, "grafische notationen," widely used in aleatoric notation, but reflects an attitude on the composer's part, thinking in terms of dots, lines, planes and spaces. It was premiered at the Barcelona International Festival in 1967.


CUATRIS (1969)


The title of this chamber work is an invented term to suggest that the ensemble is made up of four instruments. These instruments could vary and they consists of a keyboard instrument (piano, or prepared piano or harpsichord) and three others (winds or strings or a combination of both). This version consists of prepared piano, flute, clarinet and trombone. The work has five movements: in I there is an opposition in concept between the piano and the other instruments; in II the music is limited to a single note, D; in III the music plays with a rhythmic irregularity as well as the verticality- or lack of it- of the four instruments; in IV the notes of a melodic line are passed from instrument to instrument while the piano colors this line with pizzicatos inside the instrument; V is like an etude in verticality as well as a recapitulation of the other movements.


Cuatris was composed in New York and premiered at the Centro de Relaciones Culturales Interamericanas in that city in 1969.


MOSAICO (1970)


This work for brass quintet, was commissioned by the Aspen Festival for the American Brass Quintet who premiered it there in 1970.


Typical of Balada's style of the second period, this music uses chromaticism, much instrumental whispering in speech-like cadences, improvisational treatment of given sets of notes, great contrast in dynamics, chords hopping sustained note to sustained note in cumulative dissonance and disturbance, here and there a settling on a single note from which the various dissonances take off, and then the final settlement of the entire controversy in a pianissimo of resolution and resignation. It is a mosaic of momentary emotional points revolving around and in and out of a central immobile.




This composition, for symphonic wind ensemble, is a reflection of the depth, severity and at the same time almost puerile innocence of the oceans. It was commissioned for the opening of the "Philippe Cousteau" maritime museum in Avilés, in the north of Spain in 1993. This explorer perished a few years earlier during one of his oceanic missions.




Written for soprano and symphonic wind ensemble, this work is in fact two scenes from the opera Death of Columbus not yet premiered. This opera in turn is a sequel to Christopher Columbus.


The setting of "Song" is an imaginary place in the Indies of Columbus, a young woman expresses with a song without words the simplicity of a civilization yet untouched by the white man. Dance, by contrast, is an outburst of power and drama that reveals anger at the abuses of the explorers. The music with an original understated rhythm rises to a frenetic state.




This orchestral movement was composed with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and was premiered by the New York Philharmonic in November 1982 conducted by Jesús López-Cobos.


A "pasodoble" is a Spanish march performed during a bullfight. In Quasi un Pasodoble this musical form is explored very freely, in a surrealist way, taking it very often outside the realm of its authentic boundaries. The themes used are original, except for hints of two very popular ones. Balada mixes the old with the new, consonance with clusters, straight rhythms with complex textures in an outpouring of color and contrasts.




This orchestral work is based on a Catalan folk melody, "Song of the Birds" which cellist Pablo Casals used to play at the conclusion of his recitals.


This work together with its companion Homage to Sarasate represent a new direction in Balada's music by integrating traditional melodies or ideas with his "avant-garde" style. Although he uses clustered sounds, controlled aleatoric devices, electronic-like textures and layer on layer structures, one gradually becomes aware that the underlying melodic ideas are always present in both works and that at the end they impose themselves clearly.




This composition uses the Zapateado, a composition of the 19th century Spanish violinist and composer Pablo de Sarasate as the main idea. The rapid triple meter of the traditional Spanish dance again is treated unconventionally in a surrealist way.


The Homage to Casals and to Sarasate won the "City of Barcelona" international prize for orchestral works. They were premiered in 1976 by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Donald Johanos. The works are dedicated to the composer's father "Pepito."


Leonardo Balada


Born in Barcelona, Spain, on September 22, 1933, he graduated from the "Conservatorio del Liceu" of that city and the Juilliard School in 1960. He studied with Vincent Percichetti, Aaron Copland and Igor Markevitch. Since 1970 he has been teaching at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he is University Professor of Composition.


Raised during a post-Spanish Civil War period, marked by economic and cultural depravation, Leonardo was to be a tailor like his father, "Pepito". Becoming a composer was a matter of accident rather than planning. In 1956 an American client of his father unexpectedly offered Leonardo a scholarship to go to New York and study composition. This changed his life. Although he hated that city and was supposed to leave in one year, romance and a good degree of determination kept him there, where he established himself as a composer .


Balada's works are being performed by the world's leading orchestras, such as the philharmonics of New York, Los Angeles, Israel; the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, the symphonies of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit, Dallas, Washington D.C., Prague; the radio orchestras of Leipzig, Berlin, Berne, Hanover, Moscow, Helsinki, Luxembourg, BBC; the National Orchestras of Spain, Lyon, Toulouse, Marseille, Ireland etc... conducted by artists like Maazel, Rostropovitch, Fruhbeck de Burgos, López-Cobos, Lukas Foss, Mariss Jansons, Comissiona, etc.


He has had commissions from many outstanding organizations in the US and Europe, including the Aspen Festival, the San Diego Opera, the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Hartford, Spanish and Radio Berlin, Lausanne symphonies and the National Endowment for the Arts. He has composed works for artists like Alicia de Larrocha, the American Brass Quintet, Andres Segovia, Narciso Yepes, Lucero Tena, Angel Romero and has collaborated with artists and writers like Salvador Dali and Nobel Prize winner Camilo Jose Cela.


His opera "Christopher Columbus", commisioned by the Spanish government, was premiered in Barcelona in 1989 with José Carreras and Montserrat Caballe singing the leading roles and attracting international attention. The Washington Times called the work "a masterpiece..;.a landmark score in the lyric theater of our time."


He is represented by Music Associates of America, 224 King St.,Englewood, N.J. 07631. Tel: 1-(201)569-2898; Fax: 1-(201) 569-7023. Balada's profile and works are on the Web at: www.andrew.cmu.edu/user/balada/index.htm.


Conjunto Camerístico de Barcelona


This group was formed for these recordings and made up of the best chamber music players of that city.


American Brass Quintet


This quintet is one of the great virtuoso ensembles in the world of brass music and has performed in all fifty states, Europe, Central and South America, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. The group has recorded for CBS, New World, Nonesuch, Serenus, Japan Victor, Folkways and other labels.


Carnegie Mellon Wind Ensemble


This ensemble is comprised of students of the School of Music at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and performs a wide range of wind repertoire.


Denis Colwell


Colwell is the music director of the Carnegie Mellon Wind Ensemble and the River City Brass Band, the only professional band in the United States. He is an accomplished trumpet player who graduated from Carnegie Mellon University.


Katy Shackleton-Williams


An emerging coloratura soprano, Shackleton-Williams graduated from Carnegie Mellon. She recorded the part of Isabella of Balada's "Thundering Scenes" for New World Records and performed roles throughout the United States and with the Pittsburgh Oratorio Society and Pittsburgh Opera Theater.


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 recorded extensively.


Enrique García Asensio


Born in Valencia, Spain. He 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 D.C.. At present he is music director of the Orquesta Sinfónica de la Radio TV Española. He has conducted extensively in US, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, all Europe, Japan, Israel and Russia. He has also recorded extensively.


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". In 1994 it changed to its present name. The orchestra has toured in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Japan, Korea etc. with great success from audience and critics and has also recorded for Naxos, Koch Int., Decca, EMI, Auvidis and others.


Leonardo Balada


He studied conducting with Sigfried Landau and Igor Markevitch specializing in contemporary music. He conducted the ensembles of the Juilliard, Manhattan School, Irish radio, National and Radio TV orchestras of Spain among others. He founded the Contemporary Ensemble at Carnegie Mellon University.


The Louisville Orchestra


This orchestra was founded in 1937 with Robert Whitney as its conductor. The orchestra's Commissioning Project began in 1948 to fund new works that would be performed at subscription concerts. The Rockefeller Foundation in 1953 and 1955 provided funds for the formation of the orchestra's own recording label. The extensive list of commissions and recordings from American and other composers reads like a who's who of contemporary music.


Jorge Mester


This conductor was the second conductor of the Louisville Orchestra. Mester, born in Mexico City in 1935, has conducted principal orchestras and opera companies around the world. He gave the premiere performance of over 200 compositions and is one of the most recorded conductors of his generation.


Geometrias n.1 was recorded 1969, Barcelona and originally released on LP by Serenus Recorded Editions. Mosaico was recorded in 1972 in New York City and originally released on Serenus Records. Union of the Oceans and Song and Dance were recorded in 1994 at Carnegie Free Library Music Hall, Carnegie, Pennsylvania. The recording engineer was Riccardo Schulz. Quasi un Pasodoble was recorded at a live performance on November 23, 1990 at the Palau de la Musica Catalana, Barcelona. The recording was provided by R.NE S.A. Homage to Casals recorded at a live performance on November 23, 1990. The recording was provided by Catalunya Musica. Homage to Sarasate was originally released as an LP on Louisville Orchestra First Edition Records.


Geometrias n. 1, Cuatris and Mosaico are published by General Music / EMI (ASCAP). Song and Dance and Union of the Oceans are published by Beteca Music (ASCAP-SGAE). Quasi un Pasodoble, Homage to Casals and Homage to Sarasate are published by G. Schirmer, Inc. (ASCAP).


Mastering: Jorge Muñiz


Special thanks to Carnegie Mellon School of Music, Martin Prekop and Kenneth Keeling.


Selected Discography


Steel Synphony performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony, 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); Music for Oboe and Orchestra performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, conductor, C. de Almeida, oboe (New World Records 80503-2); Zapata: Images for Orchestra perf. by the Orquesta de Valencia; Columbus: Images for Orchestra perf. by Orquesta Sinfónica de la Radio TV Española, Reflejos, Divertimentos (Albany Records-TROY343); Concerto for Violin and Orchestra n.1, Folk Dreams, Sardana, Fantasías Sonoras perf. by the Orquestra Simfónica de Barcelona (Naxos Records).


Cover Art:Cristina Moreno








Leonardo Balada


The Abstract & the Ethnic


1 Geometrias n. 1 [8:40]




2 I [2:11]


3 II [1:25]


4 III [0:53]


5 IV [2:06]


6 V [1:43]


Conjunto Camerístico de Barcelona


Leonardo Balada, conductor


7 Mosaico [11:24]


The American Brass Quintet


8 Union of the Oceans [7:23]


Song and Dance


9 Song [4:53]


10 Dance [4:48]


Carnegie Mellon Wind Ensemble


Denis Colwell, conductor


Katy Shackleton-Williams, soprano


11 Quasi un Pasodoble [11:29]


Orquesta Sinfónica de la Radio TV Española


Enrique García Asensio, conductor


12 Homage to Casals [8:19]


Orquestra Simfónica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya


Leonardo Balada, conductor


13 Homage to Sarasate [7:14]


The Louisville Orchestra,


Jorge Mester, conductor


Total Time: 72:32