From about the late '80s Spanish-born American composer Leonardo Balada began to emerge from relative obscurity to become one of the leading composers of his generation. The 1989 Barcelona premiere of his opera, Christopher Columbus, with Carreras and Caballé in the leads, helped usher in the change. Balada has gone through several stylistic changes during his career, moving from a neo-Classical phase early on to a more avant-garde form of expression in the late '60s, evident in such works as Cuatris (1969). From the mid-'70s, he began using a folk-tinged mixture of tonality and atonality in works like Homage to Casals and Homage to Sarasate (both 1975). Most of Balada's output is fairly approachable, not least because of his catchy rhythms; use of folk or folk-like music from Spain, Ireland, and other ethnic sources; and because of his deft orchestrational skills. Balada has written music in most genres, including opera, choral, symphonic, chamber, vocal, piano, and guitar, and he has composed works for such artists as Alicia de Larrocha, Andrés Segovia, Angel Romero, and other notables. Balada's works have been available from a variety of labels, including Naxos, DG, New World Records, and Albany.
Leonardo Balada was born in Barcelona, Spain, on September 22, 1933. He studied music at the Conservatorio del Liceu there and, following his 1956 immigration to the U.S., at Juilliard, from where he graduated in 1960. His teachers included, Copland, Persichetti, and Alexander Tansman. He also studied conducting with Igor Markevitch. Balada's earliest works include the 1962 Cello Concerto No. 1 and the 1964 Piano Concerto No. 1, but he became dissatisfied with their somewhat conservative neo-Classical style and from about 1966 turned more progressive.
In 1970 Balada joined the faculty at Carnegie Mellon University, where he still holds the post of professor of composition. Though he enjoyed some success with such works as the Steel Symphony (1972), Balada drew greater attention for his more tonal and approachable later works, like his operas Hangman, Hangman! (1982) and Zapata (1984).
Following the success of Christopher Columbus, Balada's works began appearing more frequently on recordings and he received numerous prestigious commissions. The 1996 Columbus sequel, The Death of Columbus, also garnered critical acclaim. In the new century Balada has remained busy turning out such works as A Little Night Music in Harlem (2007) and the opera Faust-bal, which premiered in Madrid at the Teatro Real on February 13, 2009.