Though considered a Cuban composer, Julián Orbón was born in Aviles, Spain, in 1925. He studied at the Conservatory of Oviedo (1935) and then moved with his family to Havana, where he began composing at an early age and had lessons from José Ardévol, Cuba’s greatest composer of the early 20th century. Orbón was a member of Ardevol’s Grupo de Renovación Musical in the 1940s, which like other nationalist movements of the period, sought to establish a classical music based on indigenous traditions. Orbón left the group in the late 40s, feeling constrained by its principles.
Tres Versiones Sinfonicas, included in our Latin American Orchestral Sampler, dates from 1953, and fully demonstrates Orbón’s wide-ranging musical interests. The first part, Pavana, is modeled on Spanish music of the sixteenth century. But it is clothed in the style of Copland, with whom Orbón studied in 1946. In his notes for the Dorian recording, Juan Arturo Brennan has wsrote that the second movement, Conductus, “alludes to the Medieval practice of adding voice-parts to an existing secular melody and proposes an interesting series of melismatic variations, of which the composer was especially proud.” And in the concluding Xylophone, “Orbón's main reference is the sound of the Afro-Caribbean world, with special emphasis on orchestral colour and rhythmic drive.”
In 1954, Tres versiones sinfónicas won the Juan José Landaeta Prize at the First Latin American Music Festival, held in Caracas, Venezuela. In this period he also became active as a music critic, essayist and as pianist at concerts of contemporary Cuban music. He was director of the Orbón Conservatory, Havana (1946–60), founded by his father Benjamín, and taught composition at the National Conservatory in Mexico City (1960–63). He received a Koussevitzky Foundation grant in 1958. In 1964 he settled in New York. He taught at Lenox College, Washington University in St. Louis, Barnard College and the Hispanic Institute of Columbia University. He received two Guggenheim fellowships (1959, 1969) and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1967). His Spanish-Cuban music has been influenced by a wide range of musical and literary interests, including Catholic liturgy, Gregorian chant, the music of Falla and the Halffters, and contemporary poetry; moreover, his close friendships with Chávez and Villa-Lobos have had their effect. Whether in the formal neo-classicism of his early works or the more expansive, vigorous and romantic traits of his later style, his music has always been marked by strict structural design. Occasionally he used ‘white’ Cuban and Afro-Cuban rhythms, as in Pregón and the Danzas sinfónicas.
Recordings of Orbón's Works