The multi-traditional world of Gabriela Lena Frank – A selection of orchestral pieces
Born in Berkeley, California to a mother of Peruvian-Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian-Jewish descent, Gabriela Lena Frank composes music that synthesizes the sounds of her multifaceted heritage with those of the classical canon. Her pieces often reflect and refract her studies of Latin American folklore, incorporating poetry, mythology, and indigenous musical styles into a classical framework that is uniquely her own.
In Apu: Tone Poem for Orchestra, Frank brings a Peruvian mountain god to life with fascinating colourfulness. In Andean Perú, spirits are said to inhabit rocks, rivers, and mountain peaks with the intent of keeping a watchful eye on travelers passing through highland roads. The apu is one of the more well-known spirits that is sometimes portrayed as a minor deity with a mischievous side. Simple folk song and a solemn prayer often successfully placate the apu to ensure safe passage through the mountains. The three-movement composition was commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the National Youth Orchestra of the United States and premiered in 2017 under Marin Alsop.
Concertino Cusqueño, written to celebrate the players of the Philadelphia Orchestra on the eve of Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s inaugural season as Music Director, finds inspiration in two unlikely bedfellows: Peruvian culture and British composer Benjamin Britten. "I know Britten would have been fascinated by the rich mythology enervating the literature and music of this small Andean nation, so deeply similar to the plots of his many operas, among other works," comments Frank in her program note.
Contested Eden speaks to the composer’s ongoing efforts to fight the climate crisis through both her art and her activism. Frank observed, “A few months before the deadline, when asked if I could consider addressing the wildfires of California in my piece for the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, I was caught off guard. Then, I burst into tears and blurted out yes. What followed was a humbling period of apprehension…”
Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout (string orchestra) (2001) 24’
Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout is based on the idea of mestizaje as envisioned by Peruvian writer José María Arguedas, where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other. As such, this piece mixes elements from the western classical and Andean folk music traditions. Leyendas was originally written for string quartet, and is one of Frank's most popular works.
Walkabout: Concerto for Orchestra (2016) 30’
Walkabout: Concerto for Orchestra is inspired by Franks travels in Peru, her mother’s homeland. Frank says: “What does it mean to be American born yet with such a motley crew of forbearers hailing from Lithuania, China, and Andean South America? For more than twenty years, I’ve been answering this question, with each piece raising yet more to address.”