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Leo Brouwer

The composer, guitarist and conductor Leo Brouwer Mezquida was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1939 into a family of musicians. He had his first music lessons from his father, Juan Brouwer, and his aunt, Caridad Mezquida, while his great-uncle, Ernesto Lecuona, had been famous both as a composer and as a pianist. He had his first guitar lessons in 1953 with Isaac Nicola, who established the modern school of Cuban guitar-playing, and two years later began to study composition on his own.

In 1959 he was awarded a scholarship for further study of the guitar in America at Hartford University and of composition at the Juilliard School in New York, where his studies were with Vincent Persichetti, Stefan Wolpe, Isadore Preed, J. Diemente and Joseph Iadone. In 1960 he was appointed director of the Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos, a position that, over the years, brought the composition of a large number of film scores both in Cuba and abroad. From this time onwards he was associated with the Cuban musical avant-garde, serving as adviser to Radio Habana Cuba and teaching at the Conservatorio Nacional, and, as occasion demanded, in universities abroad. He established the biennial Cuban Guitar Competition and Festival and since 1981 has been general director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Cuba. Conducting engagements have taken him to a number of countries.

It is possible to distinguish three periods in Brouwer’s development as a composer. The first of these started in 1954, with a series of pieces that explored the resources of the guitar in works that combined traditional classical forms with Cuban inspiration. In the 1960s, after the Cuban revolution, he came to know the work of avant-garde composers such as Penderecki and Bussotti, when he attended the 1961 Warsaw Autumn Festival, absorbing these influences and those of leading contemporary composers who visited Cuba from abroad, into a very personal style that made use of modern techniques of various kinds, including elements of post-serialism and the aleatoric.

The late 1970s brought a third period that Brouwer himself has described as national hyperromanticism, a return to Afro-Cuban roots coupled with elements of traditional technique and of minimalism. In addition to his many film scores, he has written orchestral works, including concertos for the guitar, the flute, and the violin, and chamber works that often include the guitar. Many of his guitar compositions have won an international reputation, with a firm place in current repertoire, played and recorded by guitarists throughout the world.

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