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Leo was born in Havana in 1939 and grew up obsessed with music. As a teenager he was lucky to cross paths with Isaac Nicola, an exceptional guitar teacher who opened the doors to composers such as Gaspar Sanz, Luis de Milán and, later on, Fernando Sor and Francisco Tárrega.
Upon making his decision to concentrate on the guitar, Brouwer had determined the essence of his musicality and, to a great extent, the nature of his entire body of work. He became an exceptional performer, one of the most brilliant innovators ever known in the field of classical guitar. As he matured, on stage he transformed the guitar into a small orchestra. This phenomenon has its roots in the unprejudiced manner in which he handled the most diverse concepts, working without any sort of discrimination and shining a spotlight on the folkloric vein in the marvelous compositions of Bach and Villalobos.
From 1970 to 1980, Brouwer’s performances amazed the world as he repeatedly toured through England, Germany, France, Austria, Holland, Canada, Argentina, Mexico and other countries, establishing contacts with the world’s most famous performers and composers. This trajectory and those unique experiences later became an inestimable reservoir for him when he was forced to abandon the guitar at an early age due to crippling arthritis; he has finally devoted himself to composing and conducting orchestras.
Leo has always had an incredible talent for taking on several creative projects at the same time. While he was establishing himself as a solo artist, he created the greatest musical project Cuba (and possibly the American continent) has known: the Grupo de Experimentación Sonora del ICAIC (ICAIC’s Experimental Sound Croup) that would provide sound tracks for Cuban films and bring together Cuban musical talents, such as Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés and Sergio Vitier. This musical process outstripped his expectations and grew into a genuine school, captained by the Maestro himself.
Both Cuba and other countries owe Brouwer an eternal debt of gratitude for his founding and running such an extraordinary event that is the International Guitar Festival of Havana. It has been decisive for the formation and development of the highly respected Cuban School of Guitar not to mention crucial for the fate of the instrument on a world scale.
Brouwer’s musical thinking has been able to accommodate a broad spectrum of sound, including guitar classics and the most important elements of Cuban and Latin American music, and encompassing phenomena such as Hindu music, The Beatles and jazz. His trajectory as composer took off after the 1950s and has had important moments with works such as Elogio de la danza (1964), La tradición se rompe… pero cuesta trabajo (1969), La espiral eterna (1970), De Bach a los Beatles (1978), and Manuscrito antiguo encontrado en una botella (1983).
His guitar concerts have built up a beautiful history upon which he has extended the instrument’s possibilities. Brouwer’s compositions handle a fascinating mythology, with concerts being identified by names of specific cities and persons to which they have been dedicated. And so we have the Liege, Helsinki, Toronto and Havana concerts, all enriched by his intelligent dialogue with the great guitar tradition.
He has also conducted the Symphonic Orchestra of Cordoba in Spain and the National Symphonic Orchestra of Cuba. Talented young people, some barely out of their teens, often visit his offices hoping to sit in on a short class or merely wanting a bit of advice. He always welcomes them modestly and kindly and never ignores them. Joaquín Clerch, today one of the world’s guitar virtuosos and a great composer, was one of those youngsters. Like many others, he received help from Leo’s intuition and talent. So widespread are Brouwer’s contributions to Cuban music in general, that it would take a specialist to accurately describe them.
The Leo Brouwer Chamber Music Festival began on September 26 and will end on October 12, 2014 in Havana; it is yet another reason to joyfully celebrate his 75th birthday. Octuber 2014 This article formed part of the August 2014 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
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