Leonardo Balada’s Steel Symphony Transcription and Arrangement

(arranged for picc., fl., ob.(elec.), cl.(elec.)+bass, bsn., hrn. I (elec.), hrn. II, tpt. (elec.), tbn. (elec.), tba., 4 perc., pno., vln. I (elec.), vln. II, (elec.), vla. (elec.) vc. (elec.), cb. (elec.))

Daniel Curtis (danielnestacurtis.com), Artistic Director of the Carnegie Mellon University Contemporary Ensemble had an idea: to take a piece meant for an over 80-musician ensemble and reduce it to 20 musicians, using electronics to fill in the rest of the ensemble.

Balada’s symphony was a good piece to try this on. Two fundamental building blocks of the piece are (1) semitone cluster chords moving in parallel and (2) aleatoric effects where groups of instrumentalists play one idea staggered off of each other. Curtis’ thought was, both of effects can be generated by a computer by modify the initial pitch of one instrument.

Curtis then tasked me to take the score, originally handwritten, and transcribe it into the computer while orchestrating down the ensemble to fit the 20-person Contemporary Ensemble. As I orchestrated, I concluded that we needed a third effect: one that doesn’t just harmonize in semitones. We needed one that we could specify during the performance to create intervals above the initial moment (ex. a minor third and a major third about the original note).

Curtis then asked Alexander Panos to make these effects possible and programmed the patches in Max and organized the equipment (contact mics, mixer, etc.) necessary to make the performance possible.


The original piece was premiered by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1972. The orchestration was completed on January 19th, 2018. It was premiered by the CMU Contemporary Ensemble under the direction of Daniel Nesta Curtis on February 17th, 2018.


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