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ClassicsOnline Home » 21st Century Spanish Guitar, Vol. 1 - BROTONS, S. / PUERTO, D. del / MORALES-CASO, E. / CRUZ DE CASTRO, C. / BALADA, L. (A. Levin)
This first of four volumes represents award-winning guitarist Adam Levin’s major collaboration with the new century’s ‘Spanish Masters’. Bridges to the past include medieval sources in the Secuencia Sefardita and Baroque in the unconventional variations of Handeliana. These stand alongside pastoral scenes in Viento de Primavera and a celebration of Albéniz from Leonardo Balada. From contemplative moods to spectacular virtuosity, this is a musical voyage both unexpected and unforgettable. Adam Levin has been acclaimed for his ‘enviable technique’ and a ‘high musicianship which shines like a beacon through his performances’. (Classical Guitar magazine)
By Brian Reinhart
By Paul Fowles
Classical Guitar Magazine
21ST-CENTURY SPANISH GUITAR • 1
Morales-Caso • Brotons • Del Puerto • Cruz de Castro • Llorca • Balada • Vazquez
Esteemed listener, prepare for a wild ride! You are about to cross a generational divide between the last century and the present century, journey from the ‘new world’ of nanotechnology, genomic mapping and lithium-ion batteries to the old world of folkloric mythologies and Iberian magic, then back again. Whether the accompanying recording is spinning in your player or uploaded onto your iPod, you are already entering the world of new Spanish music for classical guitar. As we get started, kindly bear with me, for there are “historical forces” at work here—some personal, some cultural—which I feel obliged to acknowledge.
In August 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed into law a bill which established the Fulbright Program, whose aim it was to promote world peace through cultural and educational exchange. In 1967, British classical guitar virtuoso Julian Bream released his landmark recording, 20th-Century Guitar, premiering or reinterpreting new and important works by Britten, Henze, Martin, Brindle, and Villa-Lobos. His selections would soon establish a seminal body of new guitar repertoire for the virtuoso concert artist. In July 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong successfully landed Apollo 11 on the moon, becoming the first earthling to cross the interplanetary frontier and set foot on this terra incognita. Visionary leaders, scientists and artists they were; each transformed our perception of the world and catapulted us into a new era. Each shared a common desire to raise the bar set by a previous generation while standing on the shoulders of those who came before them and preserving the traditions from which they had emerged.
It was with humility (the foregoing introduction notwithstanding), a yearning to understand the Spanish musical imprint, and a generous grant from the Fulbright Program, that I travelled in 2008 from the ‘new world’ back to the old in search of the evolutionary line, the “genetic core,” connecting the luminaries of the twentieth century—Albéniz, Granados, De Falla, Turina, and Rodrigo, among others—with their successors in the 21st century. The search for cultural identity through the arts and a willingness to embrace the experimental seemed to drive an artistic renaissance among this generation of Spanish writers, composers, and thinkers. Yet their search was stifled by the fascist intolerance of the Franco regime (1936–1975) and lay dormant until its demise. Since then, over the past 38 years, Spain has undergone radical social, political and cultural transformations, manifesting in, among other things, a new Spanish renaissance. But where was the guitar music? Who were the “Spanish masters” of the new century?
It did not take long for me to realize that I was standing at the threshold of a new era of musical fecundity. My mission was to discover the composers who would become the voice of Spanish composition, closing the arc, so to speak, connecting the masters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with the maverick audiences and performers of today. Setting out with but a handful of recorded works and published scores, most prominently, El Violín del Siglo XXI, Compositores Españoles, a collection of recent solo compositions performed by virtuoso violinist, Manuel Guillen, and a beautiful but thinly distributed collection of thirty short manuscripts for solo guitar, Album de Colien, I embarked on a collaborative journey tracking down and imploring a cadre of promising composers, thirty of whom shared my vision and enthusiastically contributed virtuoso works of varied and contrasting style and musical content, the first segment of which you have before you today: Seven representative works by four generations of living Spanish composers, whose music represents, in my best estimation, a musical snapshot of Spanish modernity.
La Fragua de Vulcano was composed in 2009 by Cuban-Spanish composer Eduardo Morales-Caso. It is based on a painting by the baroque Spanish painter, Diego de Velázquez (1599–1660), and ingeniously demonstrates the full capacity of the guitar’s technique in the service of imaginatively depicting Apollo, the mythical god of sun and poetry, delivering the news to Vulcan, who is forging a suit of armor, that his wife Venus is having an affair with Mars, the god of war. The sense of horror, outrage, and conflict and the brilliantly represented dichotomy between the idealized and real portrayal of each character’s body language and expression is perfectly rendered in this fantasy in contrasting musical cells and high voltage harmonic motifs.
Dues Noves Suggestions, Op 121 (Two New Suggestions, 2011), by Catalan composer Salvador Brotons, was inspired by his first guitar work, Two Suggestions, Op 23 (1979). Think of it as a sequel. Brotons remarks that the success of his first piece for the guitar may have been a result of the balance between two movements (slow and fast), its programmatic nature, and suitability for competitions or even because of the absence of “scordatura.” This two-movement work is extremely contemplative, expressive and relaxed in the first movement using the characteristic rhythm of the Siciliana in an A-B-A form. In contrast, Brasilera, builds its intensity over the Bossa Nova rhythm, mixing rasqueados, tambora, percussive slaps, and a relentless driving momentum throughout.
Viento de Primavera (2009) is a triptych written by David del Puerto and is based on his concerto Cefiro for guitar and chamber ensemble. The concerto evokes the feel of a gentle spring wind softly caressing the newly emergent fields and announcing the arrival of mild weather and the waning of winter’s harshness. The three movements of this solo score—Moderato, Lento and Allegro— evolve relentlessly through varied and contrasting moods, which demand, correspondingly, great technical versatility. The first movement, Entre la Brisa, engenders a certain calmness and tranquility through its continuous and fluid movement. Though delicate in effect it builds on a formidable underlying complexity. Luz de Tarde, which follows, is a contemplative meditation infused with moments of twilight melancholy. The work ends with Danza, a vigorous, cheerful, virtuosic movement that has a swinging, jazzy feel to it. In its middle section, it engages the guitar idiomatically: fast arpeggios across alternating open strings and fretted notes in a passage that is light and agile when deftly performed.
Secuencia Sefardita (2010) by Carlos Cruz de Castro creatively incorporates the melody from La Rosa Enflorece (The Rose Blooms) of the Medieval Sephardic kantiga, and presents it in many permutations. This popular tune is strongly Andalusian in flavor and appears three times, the first and third in their original form and the second in its inversion. The three appearances of the song divide and mark the material with distinct features, including Sephardic intervals and rhythms, freely improvised to evoke the spontaneous character and feel of the piece.
Ricardo Llorca’s theme and variation, Handeliana (2011), is based on the arietta “Va godendo” from GF Handel’s Italian opera, Xerxes. The work opens with the complete aria then superimposes, in the composer’s words, “polyrhythmic combinations and bitonal harmonies over a traditional foundation in the “Variaciones/Tempo di Zarabanda.” Handeliana reveals “a dual character, at once traditional and contemporary, maintaining a coherent narrative which is elaborated over a harmonic and melodic foundation that may be called non-atonal.” Llorca uniquely re-examines classical (horizontal and vertical) structures, and presents an unconventional perspective on contemporary classical music.
Celebrating the centennial of Isaac Albéniz, Leonardo Balada composed a virtuosic piece for this collection, Caprichos No 8: Abstractions of Albéniz (2010), based on themes by Albéniz. Balada selected five works by Albéniz, including Sevilla and Cádiz from Suite española Op 47, and Triana, Evocación and the popular Spanish children’s song, La Tarara (cleverly woven into El Corpus en Sevilla) from the Iberia Suite. In five short abstractions, he freely improvises upon Albéniz’s aggregation of folklore, flamenco, popular music, rhythms, and melodies recast in his own compositional language. In Balada’s words, “the references to Albéniz are not too obvious and the work presents a symbiosis of modernistic or atonal materials in combination with the ideas of the compositions on which the work is based.”
The final piece on this album, Nostos (2009), by Octavio Vazquez translates as ‘homecoming’ in Greek, and represents the final stage of a journey. In my case, a journey that began with a voyage to Spain and culminated in the cataloguing of thirty new Spanish works for solo guitar. This six-movement cycle sweeps through lush harmonies, recurring melodies and, I must say, a veritable minefield of technical obstacles. In his own words Vazquez describes the work: “After leaving the ordinary world, overcoming all sorts of tests, meeting allies and enemies, going through an ordeal and earning a reward, the hero must return to the ordinary world whence he departed. In the process he loses and regains himself, he dies and is reborn into some kind of immortality, for that which is lost and regained can never be lost again.”
Having returned home from Spain, it is my wish to honour all who have contributed to this collection, that all thirty works I document may become known with my frequent performances, that they take their place in the guitar repertoire, and continue in the tradition of those before me who have done their part in cultivating a serious body of guitar music suitable for the world’s concert stages. I present to you, my esteemed listener, this first volume of new works, 21st-Century Spanish Guitar. Join me on this journey as I explore new Spanish guitar music, and above all, enjoy.
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