Leo Brouwer Festival

May 10, 2017

I was privileged to attend and perform Sonata No.5 “Ars Combinatoria” at the two-day Leo Brouwer Festival, Bolivar Hall in London organised by ILAMS and the Instituto Cervantes, Oficina Leo Brouwer, Ediciones Espiral Eterna and the Embassies of Cuba and Venezuela. It was a historic event featuring a public discussion between Maestro Brouwer and John Williams chaired by Stephen Goss, masterclasses throughout the day, and a final concert featuring the composer’s solo and chamber music. 

I jotted down some notes from John and Leo conversation. They discussed Brouwer’s cuban heritage, the function of music, the role of the guitar, and some thoughts on the changing musical landscape. A few ideas that stood out to me were:

  • Leo Brouwer strongly advocated for us to respect musical works as distinct artefacts. He was dismayed that music is often appreciated at a very basic level (whether we can dance to it and sing a tune), and felt that this way of thinking misses more important ideas that underpin the art form and its expression.
  • Brouwer was critical of the increasing dominance of pop music in today’s world and felt that we were losing the skill of close listening and appreciation.
  • Brouwer talked about a personal fascination with exploring and blending styles. He pointed to use of baroque ground bass technique in his chamber works (such as the Concerto for guitar and violin), references to jazz and popular music (such as the Beatleriana), explicit referencing of canonic classical works (such as the famous Beethoven quote in the first Sonata), and more recently the juxtaposition of ancient music with contemporary motifs reminiscent of Bartok and Stravinsky (such as in the Sonata No. 5).
  • Brouwer talked about the detail of rational thinking behind his creative process and implied that composition was a skill he continues to think deeply about and develop. The last ten years which have been immensely prolific are a testament to this.
  • Brouwer was critical of the conservatism in current classical music programming: Overture – Concerto – Symphony. He was strongly advocating for more adventurous programming ideas and moving away from the canonic repertoire.
  • He reflected on working with Julian Bream and John Williams and told several anecdotes about their collaborations. Bream heard Brouwer in a BBC broadcast. He was so thrilled by the performance that he asked the producer Gareth Walters to contact Leo and commissioned the Concerto No. 3 Elegiaco. They formed a strong friendship from there.

The event had an electric atmosphere, sold out on both nights and attended by several well known faces (particularly to London guitarist crowds). It was also amazing to see the huge collection of new publications on sale by Espiral Eterna. I was particularly thrilled to see a new four movement work for flute and guitar: Mythology of Water. I can’t wait to learn and perform it!