(Re)View: Leonard Balada - 'No Res'

(Re)View: Leonard Balada - 'No Res'
"Nothing." The empty, hollow feeling often experienced when faced with the death of a loved one. Such was Leonardo Balada's response to the death of his mother after a long illness. Filled with grief and unanswered questions, and turning to music to express his feelings of loss, frustration, and rage, the composer set to paper the chilling cantata No-Res ("Nothing"). Often called “An Agnostic Requiem,” No-Res is scored for narrator, chorus, orchestra, and tape. It is a quest to understand the seemingly incomprehensible fact of death.

No-Res is my most personal piece,” Balada shares. “When the death of a beloved one occurs for those of us who do not believe in life after death, there are two reactions: accept it or protest against it.” Balada chose the latter and created a “symphonic tragedy” to try musically to “find answers to questions which philosophically have no answers.”

World Premiere recording
Denis Raftner, narrator
Madrid Community Chorus
Madrid Community Orchestra/Encinar
Naxos CD 8.557343Set in two parts, No-Res was composed from 1971 to 1974, during what Balada calls his “avant-garde period.” Its large, diverse forces include electronic tape, which features definitive “sounds of dramatic impact”—i.e. howling wolves, shattering glass, cracking trees, the gradually slowing momentum of a dropped ping-pong ball. Written in collaboration with French writer Jean Paris (who also similarly experienced his own mother’s painful death), No-Res’ texts draw from various sources in English (such as Dylan Thomas), French (Paris’s own texts as well as language fragments he created), and Catalan (including words uttered by the composer’s mother shortly before her death). No-Res premiered in Barcelona in 1997, with Lawrence Foster leading the Orquestra Simfónica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya with the National Chorus of Spain. No-Res awaits its American premiere.

“Part I defines death and endings,” Balada explains. “It is universal, and occurs not only to men, but also to animals, vegetables, to things and to actions…” The role of the narrator represents death, while the chorus embodies the reactions expressed by those left behind. The harmonic language juxtaposes traditional writing with aleatoric moments, while massive atonal sonorities and tone-clusters alternate with occasional lyrical lines. Layered horizontal structures are contrasted by heavy vertical pulses. “Part II,” Balada continues, “is in English and is the total creation of the poet…It is abstract, direct and dramatic. Its character is defiant in which the existence or fairness of God is questioned. ‘I will not yield. Non serviam! Never…Never!”What the critics said:
  • The howling of desperate wolves opens Leonardo Balada’s No-Res, or “Nothing,” a bleak cantata about death...Its impetus and immediacy stem from the death of the composer’s mother. First lamenting it, then protesting it, the chorus jabs and punches as much as sings, the narrator speaks with awful hardness, and the orchestra thrashes about—all harrowing and even touching.
    — Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • ...Balada has something to say: death is nothingness and against its injustice he is going to shout a brutal protest. And this can only be expressed with desperate sounds...
    — El Mundo (Barcelona)
  • ...Balada’s piece is a magnificent musical achievement.
    — Music & Vision Daily (www.mvdaily.com)
No-Res (1974, rev. 1977) 40’
Texts by Jean Paris
Narrator (ad lib); SATB
NOTE: In Part II, the narrator’s role should be translated and performed in the native language of the country where the cantata is being presented.