My collaboration with Bayani Mendoza de Leon began over 20 years ago as a singer who had the pleasure of performing his compositions. We have worked together on numerous concerts and recordings. Later our relationship grew into a lifelong friendship.
Bayani's music is inherently Filipino. For those who love Bernstein and Copland, they will understand the description, "American Music." Likewise with Bayani's music, the style is very much Filipino. As a singer, it was a thrill to learn and perform Bayani's compositions. We worked on Filipino kundimans (considered the national song form of the Philippines), arias and art songs for various concerts throughout New York City. Some had piano accompaniment, chamber orchestra and of course, the rondalla . Rondalla is the native string ensemble of the Philippines. Bayani later tutored me on this wonderful Philippine musical heritage. Not only is he a talented composer and conductor, but he can also play many Western-type as well as Asian and Philippine native instruments. Once, I even joined the choir when Bayani celebrated his 50th birthday with a concert of his music. Under his baton, I looked up at his jet-black hair and couldn't believe that he was 50 years of age!
During rehearsals Bayani doesn't simply coach you on the music, but educates you on its contextual narrative. He would begin with the history of Filipino music and share rare recordings of indigenous music that included tribes singing ancient chants. Needless to say, my learning at the University of the Philippinesand Juilliard did not expose me to these stuff. Most of my knowledge of Filipino music was about the Spanish influence and occupation during 1521-1898. To my surprise I learned from Bayani that we Filipinos had an ancient way of writing—symbolic hieroglyphs called "Baybayin." Not only did he teach me this script, but also taught me the sage inherent meanings of these beautiful symbols. My people were far wiser than the colonizers would have us believe.
There is no end to Bayani's knowledge. It does not stop at Asian music. His knowledge and education at University of California in San Diego (UCSD) exposed him to some of the most potent eras of Western avant-garde music. This influence is evident in his music without leaving behind lyrical aesthetics. His vocal pieces have beautiful melodies and occasionally operatic lines. His art songs are intimate and touching. The piano accompaniments vary in texture and his arias have often reminded me of Puccini. His art songs with English texts have strong rhythms and motor elements reminiscent of Stravinsky. Other accompaniments remind me of Schubert. They are challenging in every way and make a singer proud that he or she has tackled them in concert. Recording his music is intense and requires stamina. The tessituras are wide but the pieces Bayani has composed especially with me in mind have perfect ranges that fit me like a glove.
Whether it is grooming young artists or helping polish well known musicians, Bayani always has a nurturing hand and provides inspiration. He has a way of bringing out the best in you. His calm manner and love of people have always allowed him to have many friendships all over the world. One only needs to look around at his family gatherings or at the audiences that fill his concerts and you can see all manner of friends and musical partners that Bayani has nurtured over the years. I am honored to count myself as a friend and fellow musical collaborator. He has made a tremendous impact both professionally and personally on so many people.
- Cynthia Wuco Landes, Soprano
Starting in 2007, I have been working intensely with the multi-awarded composer Bayani Mendoza de Leon on a number of premiere music projects and recordings for solo guitar, and for guitar and cello. I attended the San Francisco Conservatory Preparatory Division (with a highest distinction in musicianship), received my B.M. from Oberlin Conservatory, and my M.M. from the Yale School of Music. In the past I have played in master classes for Grammy-winning guitarist John Williams and Grammy-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin, and I have concertized and given master classes throughout the United States and the Philippines. Currently, I am on guitar and musicianship faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Preparatory Division.
In 2008, Mr. de Leon completed 12 new original works, arrangements, and transcriptions for guitar based on Filipino folk/indigenous and composed music that I subsequently recorded for the VGO Recordings label the same year. All works included in this project were not only new repertoire for the guitar, but many have high historical value within Filipino culture. In addition, Mr. de Leon is the first composer to utilize Filipino pre-Hispanic indigenous music as a basis for a number of his works for the guitar, making him in high demand as a unique composer within the classical and Filipino guitar communities. Mr. de Leon recently completed a new work for guitar and cello based on the seminal Philippine folk epics," Hagkis-Lupalop" (Impression from Faraway), commissioned by the Millar/Calpotura cello and guitar duo. He has also created adaptations of his original guitar works Kapilas na Giting, Kundiman Walang Titik, and Kudyawit for the same ensemble.
His works not only benefit Filipino, Filipino-American and American culture, but they have also helped to define them. His high technical and musical abilities combined with his vast historical knowledge on a variety of subjects are a rare and invaluable resource for anyone who is so fortunate to come across it. I have endless praise for Mr. de Leon’s passion for musical and cultural contributions, highly exceptional compositional abilities and astounding musical capabilities.
- Theresa Calpotura, Classical Guitarist
The music by Bayani de Leon which was composed for the play had the air of youth and the depth of genius,” a review of the theater music that Bayani composed for Virginia Moreno’s play “Bayaning Huwad” (Straw Patriot).
- Manila Times, April 9, 1970, music critic Edith Hernandez
Its propulsive rhythms and imaginative orchestration brought out intriguing tonal effects that can, at the least, be described as fresh and original," a review of Bayani’s symphonic poem for orchestra, “Pagkamulat”.
- Philippine Daily Express, Feb. 14, 1979, music critic Rosalinda L. Orosa
The concertino by Bayani M. de Leon is a work that brings forth the innate possibilities of the clarinet against a rhythmically and harmonically rich orchestra background. Written by a young, innovative composer, the expressive and flowing piece is replete with ideas, both meditative and kaleidoskopic," a review on the world premiere of Bayani’s opus for Clarinet and Orchestra entitled “Vertigo.”
- Daily Mirror, Sept. 9, 1970, music critic Vilma Santiago-Felipe
Bayani M. de Leon’s ‘Anting-Anting’, his first incursion into contemporary techniques utilizing local materials, is a magical sort of opus that creates a spell. The young composer leans forward with his expressive gifts in sounds and educes a sophisticated taste of the occult," on Bayani’s dramatic contemporary ballet “Anting-Anting” (Talisman).
- Times Journal, Oct. 19, 1973 music critic Vilma Santiago-Felipe
In ‘Atlantis’, Bayani Mendoza de Leon has demonstrated once again his almost infinite capacity to transform innocent folktunes into potent musical elements within orthodox formal settings. His rhythmic inventions, restless melodies, and sensitive color combinations are exceptionally brilliant and original," alluding to Bayani’s “Atlantis,” a massive work for dance, chorus, and orchestra
- Program notes for the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ 10th anniversary five records album of the best commissioned works by Filipino composers, 1979, Dr. Ramon P. Santos, Dean of the University of the Philippines College of Music
Bayani de Leon’s music with himself working on the orchestration with its effective balance of timbers, thematic interest and stylistic evocation of the story’s Muslim source and legendary character, is a fine example of local ballet music of which we are only now beginning to achieve. It is relevant to its story and shows this young man to have a natural flair for the demands of theater music," a review on “The Legend of Sarimanok,” a full length ballet commissioned by the Hariraya Dance Company.
- The Manila Times, April 23, 1969, music critic
“In his goal of endowing symphonic status to a work for rondalla, Bayani de Leon succeeds admirably. The balitaw rhythms propel the work forward on themes that veer away from strict tonality and assume fresh, uncharacteristic guise that always holds interest and an attractive appeal throughout its permutations. Used this way, the rondalla is effective and gains intellectual status, rising far above its sentimental and rural associations. B. Mendoza de Leon in this serious work shows a sure hand for composition and an outlook that is, praise be, contemporary."
Manila Times, Nov. 8, 1968, music critic Anthony Morli
In this choral work, the sound of Sisa’s madness has no echoes from other composers. It is not the madness of the girl like Lucia de Lammermoor but the traumatic experience of a Filipino woman whose feelings can no longer be dammed up, and Bayani de Leon’s music brings this out, with great impact," on Sisa, a choral portrait.