You may not recognise the name, but you know the talent behind it, and you’re sure to have already heard his enchanting way with a melody.
Rodrigo Leão was one of the musicians and composers behind the extraordinarily successful Portuguese ensemble Madredeus; he was in the band for nearly 10 years before leaving to focus on his own solo career.
Madredeus wrote the music for a Wim Wenders movie and many of his own instrumental pieces seemed like soundtrack music in search of a film; Rodrigo’s 2004 album was called “Cinema”, and from then on his backing group became the Cinema Ensemble. And, as he moved further in his explorations of instrumental textures, he felt the need to return to the simplicity of the pop song.
Yet, Madredeus was only one of the many stops of an incredible 30-year journey that has seen Rodrigo Leão invite internationally acclaimed singers such as Portishead’s Beth Gibbons, The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon or Tindersticks’ Stuart Staples to sing on his albums and live shows; perform with Ryuichi Sakamoto or Ludovico Einaudi with whom he toured in a joint project in Portugal, Spain and Italy.
Rodrigo Leão remains, though, the same quietly spoken, modest and talented Lisboner who started out as a bassist in an indie-rock band before moving into Madredeus’ chamber-pop, the neoclassical textures of his own early solo material and his own unique, wistful pop songs, with guest singers like alt-Fado singer Lula Pena, Brazilian star Adriana Calcanhoto, the São Paulo newcomer Thiago Pethit. Joan Wasser aka Joan as Policewoman, or the Australian singer Scott Mathew.
This quiet man has extended his talents into new and unexpected territories over the past few years. While performing live in some of the most legendary venues of the world – London’s Barbican Centre, Barcelona’s Palau de la Musica, the Parisian theatres Alhambra and Grand Rex, Amsterdam’s Melkweg, Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro or Washington’s Kennedy Center, he has also found the time to create three major film soundtracks, including for Lee Daniels’ Oscar-nominated historical drama “The Butler” starring Forest Whitaker. He was invited to lead the artistic festivities of the 40th anniversary of the Portuguese Revolution of 1974 with a free concert on the steps of the National Parliament in Lisbon, resulting in the live CD/DVD “O Espírito de Um País”, and created music for an installation by the late Japanese artist and aquarist Takashi Amano, “Underwater Forests”, as well as producing limited-edition electronica album “A Vida Secreta das Máquinas”.
In 2015, the prestigious classical label Deutsche Grammophon released “O Retiro”, an orchestral project the Portuguese composer had looked forward to for a long time: a collaboration with Lisbon’s acclaimed Gulbenkian Orchestra and Choir, a thoughtful, reflective, contemplative work. Rodrigo followed it by recording a whole album of songs with the New York-based singer-songwriter Scott Matthew. 2016’s “Life Is Long” followed after the two men recorded together a couple of songs and they realised their sensibilities matched perfectly. “Life Is Long” has been acclaimed by the press and the public and has been performed live throughout the world during 2017.
For 2018, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his solo career, Rodrigo is showing off the amazing versatility of his work, with three new recordings and stage concerts on the way. In March will be released “O Aniversário”, a double-CD retrospective of his greatest hits and favourite compositions, accompanied by a brand new stage production. At the same time, Rodrigo will be touring with a smaller band the “Instrumental – O Ensaio” show, focusing on instrumental compositions while testing before a live audience material that may appear on his next studio album due at the end of 2018. Finally, a third stage show under the title “Os Portugueses” collects all his material sung in Portuguese along with the instrumental material written for the TV documentary series Portugal – A Social Portrait.
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