Progressive Cuban composer and conductor Leo Brouwer was encouraged musically by his father, an amateur guitarist, and began playing the guitar when he was 13. He then became a descendant in an important guitar lineage: Isaac Nicola, his first real instructor, had studied under Emilio Pujol, who himself had been a student of Francisco Tárrega.
Brouwer gave his first performance at 17 and soon was composing music as well. His Prelude was written in 1956 followed by Fugue in 1959. He furthered his musical education in America, studying composition at the Juilliard School and at Hart College in Hartford.
He became director of the Music Department of the Cinema Institute of Cuba in 1961 as well as professor of composition in the Music Conservatory and musical advisor to the National Radio and Television Chair of Havana. He was also named director of the experimental department of the Cuban Institute of Cinema Arts and Industry, where he continued his own work as composer.
Brouwer was the first Cuban composer to use aleatory forms in his compositions. His varied output includes many works for guitar; percussion; prepared and non-prepared piano; a ballet; a chorus of 12 members, three children, and harp; and several orchestral pieces. He has also written music for more than 100 films.
Brouwer's early compositions reflect a Cuban influence and are strongly rhythmic while his later works veer towards a more minimalist style. His passion for the guitar has remained and he is perhaps best known for his Etudes Simples, a group of 20 studies for the classical guitar where technique and musicality function as one. Brouwer has also explored the possibilities of large-scale works for the guitar, particularly in a piece written for the 1979 Esztergom Guitar Competition in Hungary. For the event, Brouwer composed a piece utilizing an orchestra comprised of 200 guitarists.
Beyond his compositional output, Brouwer has conducted some of the world's leading orchestras including the Philharmonic Orchestra of Berlin, BBC Concert Orchestra, Orchestra Nouvelle Philharmonic de Paris, and the Symphonic Orchestra of Madrid. In addition, Brouwer retains duties as principal conductor of the Cordoba Symphony in Spain, artistic director of the Havana Symphony and a member of the International Council of Music. Brouwer has also participated as a guitarist and composer in the festivals of Aldeburgh, Avignon, Edinburgh, Spoleto, Berlin, Toronto, Martinique, and Rome, among others.