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”.
Now, his new work is yet another step in an incredibly rich path. Marking his signing by the prestigious classical music label Deutsche Grammophon, “O Retiro” is an orchestral project the Portuguese composer had looked forward to for a long time: a collaboration with Lisbon’s acclaimed Gulbenkian Orchestra and Choir, supported by Rodrigo’s usual string quartet accompanists (Viviena Tupikova, Bruno Silva, Carlos Tony Gomes and Denys Stetsenko) and regular accomplices Celina da Piedade and Selma Uamusse.
In 2015 he released “O Retiro” (“The Retreat”) in collaboration with Gulbenkian’s Orchestra and Choir, that made direct entry at #2 in the Portuguese Charts and #1 in the Digital Chart. With orchestral arrangements created by Steve Bartek (a regular collaborator of Danny Elfamn) and cellist Carlos Tony Gomes, “O Retiro” is a project long held close to Rodrigo’s heart – and a moment of peace and pause away from the contemporary world of speed and constant demands.
After a year of intense activity, divided between his tour and another collaboration – this time with the director Marcel Barrena in the movie “100 Metros” – he just released a new project in late September. The collaborative album with the Australian singer Scott Matthew – “Life Is Long” – went straight to #2 on the Portuguese charts, was released throughout Europe by Glitterhouse Records and had its debut at Porto’s Coliseum on the 4th of November, marking the beginning of an European Tour.
Who is Rodrigo Leão? Here in this small clip you can learn more about him and his musical career:
His latest work featuring the australian singer Scott Matthew:
“O peregrino”, recorded with Gulbenkian’s Choir and Orchestra:
“Vida Tão Estranha”:
in El Mundo
«Every track is unique and every one’s a gem!»
in Songlines Magazine
“Some music can have so much poise that it simply radiates. It expands both one’s musical and emotional landscapes. Such is the music of Rodrigo Leao, one of Portugal’s finest musicians and producers.” (…) His music simply flourishes with ideas and there was a rich and creative outpouring of good music that night.” in All About Jazz, Nenad Georgievski, (Rodrigo Leao at the Off Festival, Macedonia)