Leo Brouwer, (Havana, 1939) composer, orchestra conductor, guitarist, researcher and pedagogue, is one of the most important and fascinating figures in international classical music today. He is the great-nephew of the famous Cuban composer and pianist Ernesto Lecuona. Leo started to play guitar at age 13, encouraged by this father who was himself an amateur guitarist. His first real teacher Isaac Nicola was a pupil of Emilo Pujol (1886-1980) who in turn had been a pupil of Francesco Tárrega (1852-1909). To further his musical education, he studied composition at the Julliard School in Manhattan with Vincent Persichetti, Stefan Wolpe, Isadore Preed, J. Diemente and Joseph Iadone. He also studied classical guitar at Hartt College in Hartford, Connecticut.
Over the next decades, Brouwer became one of the most influential classical guitar composers, for solo instrument, in chamber music settings, and also including eleven concertos for guitar and orchestra. His achievements in music, however, go much further. He is an accomplished composer for chamber and choral works, a modern ballet, pieces for wind band, as well as many orchestral works. He has over 60 film scores to his credit, these through involvement in the Cinema Industry in Cuba where he was Director of the Music Department of the Cinema Institute (1961) and Musical Adviser to the National Radio and TV Company of Havana, as well as the Professor of Composition at the Music Conservatory.
Recognized throughout the world, he is an honorable member of UNESCO, the Italian/Latin-American Institute in Rome, and the Granada Fine Arts Academy. He is resident composer at the Berlin Arts and Science Academy and other prestigious institutions. He has also been the recipient of over 200 international awards such as the Manuel de Falla Award (Spain, 1998), and more recently the MIDEM Classical Music prize (Cannes, 2003), the “Geoffredo Petrassi” composition prize (Italy, 2008), the National Music Award and the National Cinema Award (Cuba, 1999 and 2009 respectively), the SGAE “Tomás Luis de Victoria” award for Hispanic-American Music (Spain 2010) and the Latin GRAMMY for Best Classical Music Album (2010), for this recording.
The First Quartet, written in 1961 is dedicated “In Memory of Bela Bartok.” Although it is clear that the harmonic and counterpoint base as well as many of the timbral effects are molded on Bartok’s style, one hears that the rich thematic creation has its origin in Brouwer’s own formidable and inventive instinct. The four movements are designed in a cyclical form, and the work is developed utilizing a symmetrical concept of rhythm, sonority and harmony. At this early moment in Brouwer’s composing career, the First Quartet identified him as one of the most important and original composers in Latin America; for it, he was awarded 1st prize in the 1963 National Composition Competition in Cuba.
The Second Quartet (1968) titled “Rem Tene Verba Sequentur” (Know the Matter and the Word will follow) is a work where the composer investigates the world of aleatoric music and improvisation. Aleatoric music – from the Latin word “alea” = dice – is music in which some element of the work is left to chance, and left to the determination of the performer. The Second Quartet is composed in a single movement. Every performance is different, as the quartet musicians are asked, and dared, to make musical chance choices. They play together, they might stop, and even argue. A percussion instrument is used to mark all of the interventions which form the work. This is an idea taken from the use of percussive instruments in Japanese “Kabuki” theater.
The String Trio was written in 1959 while Leo Brouwer was studying at the Julliard School as a scholarship student of Vincent Persichetti. Although it is an early work, Brouwer’s use of certain repeated intervals in melodic construction, the careful treatment of lineal texture and the use of color and its resulting sound gave rise to his winning the 2nd prize in 1961 at the 1st Chamber Music Composition Competition “Amadeo Roldan” in Havana. Some of the compositional elements which appear in this work would later be developed in the 1st Quartet. One also hears hints of rhythms and sonorities from traditional popular Cuban music.
The Havana String Quartet. Cordoba, Spain, 2010.
In the Fourth Quartet, “Rem Tene Verba Sequentur II” (2007 – World Premiere Recording), the composer adds technical resources found in the Second and Third Quartets and expresses it in a more condensed form. Through the use of improvisation and the composer’s suggestions of certain fragments found in music’s universal repertoire, the listener is presented with a single movement that imitates the flavor of popular music in Cuba. In the score it is particularly the second violinist who is instructed to improvise. Eugenio Valdés Weiss does this in this premiere recording with spontaneity and flair.
The Third Quartet (1991-97) has four movements whose titles are very descriptive. The score assumed definite form with the current members of the Havana String Quartet to whom the work is dedicated. Based on another chamber work, “Canciones Remotas” (Distant Songs) which in turn is based on a poem by the relatively unknown Cuban artist Jaquinet, the composition is shaped in a framework of folkloric segments where the string instruments also interpret ritual Afro-Cuban lyricism, dance and percussive sounds. The Third Quartet’s debut performance was given by the Havana String Quartet in Córdoba, Spain, in 1998.
The Havana String Quartet was founded in 1980 on the initiative of Leo Brouwer. The group is known for its unique, cross-cultural repertoire, and its accomplishments in a variety of musical styles. The HSQ has collaborated with performers such as guitarists Eliot Fisk, Pepe Romero and Javier Perianes, Afro-Cuban jazz legend Orlando “Cachao” López, Cheik Lo, singer Ibrahim Ferrer, the Buena Vista Social Club, Magic Malik, and Cuban percussionist Miguel “Angá” Diaz.
The HSQ has performed contemporary chamber works by composers such as Toon de Leeuw, I. Land, Barce, Villarojo and Tomás Marco, but the group’s particular strength and talent has been dedicated to Latin American composers such as Revueltas, Ginastera, Villa-Lobos, Manuel Enríquez , Garrido-Lecca and of course Leo Brouwer. In 2009, the HSQ was invited for the first time to the 7th Universe of Sound Festival in Moscow, Russia, where its interpretations of Brouwer and Latin-American popular music was received to great public acclaim.
The HSQ has won three important awards which demonstrate that it is one of the most active and prestigious chamber groups in the history of Cuban music: the Interpretive Mastery Award at the Havana Chamber Music Festival, 1987, Best Chamber Music Album at the CUBADISCO Festival, Havana, 2010, and the LATIN GRAMMY, 2010 for Best Classical Music Album.
“For 30 years, the Havana String Quartet has been performing and celebrating the musical culture of the Americas and Spain with a remarkable repertoire. I am very proud to have initiated the creation of such a significant chamber group. The maturity of the HSQ as interpreters is evident in this recording of my complete quartets, in addition to their many diverse and important awards and reviews … I congratulate them! The professional quality and enthusiasm of this ensemble has only one source: an infinite love of music. Listen!”
Recorded at the Concert Hall of the “Jardinito” Theater in Cabra, Cordoba, and in the Gran Teatro de Cordoba, Spain, from July to November 2008. Engineer: Amado del Rosario. Mixes, edits and mastering : Amado del Rosario, Jorge Gernandez. Producers: The Havana String Quartet & SGAE. Executive producer of ZOHO release: Joachim “Jochen” Becker.
HSQ website: http://www.cuartetodecuerdasdelahabana.com
HSQ bookings : Deborah Yamak email@example.com