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ClassicsOnline Home » BALADA, L.: Caprichos Nos. 1 and 5 / A Little Night Music in Harlem / Reflejos (Pietu, Mata, Franco, Iberian Chamber Orchestra, Temes)
Catalan-born Leonardo Balada fuses tradition with modernity and folk with the avant-garde, producing music of stunning sonorities. Caprichos No 1 pays homage to the poet Lorca in a blend of virtuosic writing and transformative dance rhythms. In Caprichos No 5, based on Albéniz’s piano music, distorted melodies are revealed, as well as instruments engaging in exciting duels. A Little Night Music in Harlem sees Mozart translated via surrealist sleight of hand, whilst Reflejos balances lament with typically incendiary brilliance.
Leonardo Balada (b. 1933)
Caprichos Nos. 1 and 5 • A Little Night Music in Harlem • Reflejos
Caprichos are a collection of compositions in the form of suites. They consist of short movements with a soloist and a chamber orchestra. Generally speaking in Caprichos traditional ideas are mixed with contemporary and avant-garde devices which were in my palette of the 1960s and early 1970s, when I composed expressionist works such as Guernica and Steel Symphony. From there I developed a symbiosis of the avant-garde with the folk-traditional, which has become my stamp, starting with Sinfonia en Negro – Homage to Martin Luther King (1968), where Afro- American ideas are used, and in Homage to Casals and Sarasate (1975), where Spanish folk ideas are used, but at the time this did not sit very well with the ‘intelligentsia’, who from their academic ivory towers still preached austerity and denial of the past. Fortunately nowadays folk and world music is present in many serious compositions. In the same way that Manuel de Falla and Copland blended folk-music with the techniques of their time, I was using the techniques of my time with the folk material of Mexico, Spain, Ireland and elsewhere, but now sometimes I dispense with folk ideas altogether, returning to the abstract world of my previous period. It is like wearing a Mexican hat while in Cuernavaca or no hat at all in New York. If my idiosyncrasies are unique, then I will be recognized for my individuality in both cases. I hope the idiosyncrasies and inner fibre of my writing will be recognized as my personal style whether I use folk or not. Several techniques to achieve one style? This is my aim.
My stage compositions are an example of what I am trying to say: the cantata María Sabina (1969) is an example of abstract “avant-garde”; the operas Zapata (1984) and Christopher Columbus (1986), which are full of folk-ethnic ideas (Mexican the first and Spanish the second), are examples of the ethnic; Faust-bal (2007) again the abstract with no folk hints. But my inner workings are the same in the four compositions. The cantata without a hat, the first operas with Mexican and Cordovan hats, and the last opera without a hat. Of the compositions in this recording Caprichos Nos. 1 and 5 all wear a hat…but no hat for Reflejos or A Little Night Music in Harlem.
Caprichos No. 1 for Guitar and String Orchestra: Homage to Federico García Lorca (2003)
The Austin Classical Guitar Society commissioned Caprichos No. 1 for guitar and string quartet. The performance of the work with string orchestra by the Iberian Chamber Orchestra in León, Spain, was the first time in this larger ensemble format. The studio recording for Naxos followed that première. The work consists of seven short movements which are freely based on the folk-songs the poet-dramatist Federico García Lorca arranged for piano and voice, using popular melodies from Andalusia. Generally I have quoted the two or three first bars from that arrangement and from there I have expanded my compositions using an assorted number of contemporary techniques, aleatoric devices, tone clusters, atonality mixed with tonality, textures and so on. In the first, Los Cuatro Muleros (The Four Muleteers), a folk melody is presented with dance-like rhythms in a virtuoso way. In the second piece, La Tarara, I give a dark, austere interpretation to the melody. In the third, Los Peregrinitos (Little pilgrims) a delicate melody is performed by the guitar in its low register while the strings play high harmonics throughout. In the fourth, Sevillana, this graceful dance from Seville is presented in a rather virtuoso manner and the whole ensemble becomes a surreal folk guitar. In Lejano (Far away) simplicity is the principal goal and the guitar presents a sad melody, repeated from the highest to the lowest register, always very softly. The quartet creates layers of simple lines based on that same melody. Everything is very quiet. In the sixth, Nana (Lullaby), everything is also very quiet and simple, but the relationship between guitar and strings is now different since the strings play only supportive chords and the guitar a simple melody. Here everything is in the lower register. After the subdued character of the last two movements a brilliant one is provided by the seventh movement, Zapateado, an uplifting traditional dance.
The world première of Caprichos No. 1 took place on July 16th 2006 in Austin, Texas, performed by guitarist Eliot Fisk and the Miró String Quartet, to whom the work is dedicated.
Caprichos No. 5 for Cello and String Orchestra: Homage to Isaac Albéniz (2008)
In Caprichos No. 5 the term Transparencies is used to convey the idea of looking through a piece of glass and glimpsing the partial and distorted image of what lies beyond. I first used this idea in works such as Transparency of Chopin’s First Ballade (1977) and Three Transparencies of a Bach Prelude (1976).
There are four movements in Caprichos No. 5, based on piano works by Albéniz. The first uses the opening notes of Triana, in which the cello develops the material freely and with virtuosity. The orchestra responds with rhythmic textures. In this work there are two short contrasting moments of emotive sonorities which derive from similar emotive moments in the piano work. The composition concludes with the same two chords that end the Albéniz composition. The second movement, Transparencies of ‘Corpus in Seville’, is like a ‘saeta’. As in a procession, the music gradually approaches from far away, reaching a climax when it arrives. The orchestra carries on from the beginning the austere and rhythmic material which starts the Albéniz composition. The solo part is lyrical and performs the melodic lines that are originally in the Albéniz work. At first this material is presented in a distorted manner but little by little it appears in all its original authenticity. There is a great contrast between soloist and orchestra but the two complement each other. In the third movement, Transparencies of ‘Evocación’ the soloist again carries the lyrical part, not in an intense manner but contemplatively. The orchestral part is simple and static with very high traditional chords. This almost monotonous background is occasionally interrupted by short alien chords. The fourth movement, Transparencies of ‘Seville’ and ‘El Albaicín’, takes two Albéniz works, used at the same time, suggesting the dance-like rhythm of the sevillana and the short percussive rhythm from Albaicín. Soloist and orchestra alternate, as in a duel.
The première was given in 2009 at the Festival of Spanish Music in León, which commissioned the work, with the cellist Aldo Mata and the Iberian Chamber Orchestra, to whom the work is dedicated. The conductor was José Luis Temes.
A Little Night Music in Harlem for String Orchestra (2006)
The twelve-minute composition for string orchestra, A Little Night Music in Harlem, takes its title from the Serenade by Mozart known as Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music). In this work I use motifs from Mozart’s composition which, in a subtle way, are integrated into my personal style. These motifs are not presented suddenly, as in a collage, but rather in a surrealist transformation, blending seamlessly. At the very end of the composition the last few measures of Mozart’s work are presented intact. In the work the pulse of a subdued jazz rhythm is heard, which together with Mozart’s motifs and my own techniques constitute the third element of the composition presented in an intentionally unified manner. Aleatoric devices, layer on layer textures, polytonality alternating with straight tonality and many other contemporary techniques are part of the fabric of the composition. I used this surrealist approach in several of my earlier works, such as Three Transparencies of a Bach Prelude (1976), Transparency of Chopin’s First Ballade (1977), Passacaglia (2000) and Prague Sinfonietta (2003).
A Little Night Music in Harlem was commissioned by the Hungarian Chamber Symphony Orchestra and its music director Alberto Santana, who gave the première in Budapest in 2007. The work is dedicated to them.
Reflejos, for Strings and Flute (1988)
Reflejos, in two movements, presents the ensemble as a compact entity. The flute is not a soloist but part of the instrumental group. The composition can be performed by a string quintet or a string orchestra. In the first movement, Penas (Sorrow), the sadness of the principal material is contrasted with explosive and extremely intense moments. Although the music is in traditional notation it contains some partially aleatoric passages. The movement concludes with a lament-like coda. The second movement, Alegrías (Exuberance), presents a great contrast with the previous movement. It is virtuosic with very precise rhythms. Its repetitive quality could suggest minimalist writing although this in any case is only one of several techniques used.
Reflejos was commissioned by the consortium of the Atlanta Virtuosi, the New England Piano Quintet and the Cambridge Chamber Players with support from the National Council of the Arts in Washington. The première with string quintet was performed by the Atlanta Virtuosi in 1988 in Atlanta, Georgia. The première of Alegrías with string orchestra was performed by the Brooklyn Philharmonic in New York conducted by Lukas Foss and the première of Penas by the Iberian Chamber Orchestra conducted by José Luis Temes.
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BALADA, L.: Caprichos Nos. 1 and 5 / A Little Nigh...