Gabriela Lena Frank has quickly become one of the foremost American composers of the 21st century. Currently serving as Composer-in-Residence with the Philadelphia Orchestra and included in the Washington Post’s 2017 list of the 35 most significant women composers in history, Frank is the daughter of a Peruvian/Spanish/Chinese mother and a Lithuanian/Jewish father. Not surprisingly, her richly varied cultural identity is a cornerstone of Frank’s music. Like Béla Bartók and Alberto Ginastera, both of whom Frank counts as a significant inspirations, she is also a musical anthropologist, traveling throughout South America to absorb folklore, poetry, mythology, and indigenous musical styles, which are reflected and refracted through her work.
In 2000, Frank made her orchestral debut with Elegía Andina, written while she was completing her doctorate in composition at the University of Michigan. Since then, she has been commissioned by many prominent ensembles and musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble; cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, co-directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; the Kronos, Brentano, and Cuarteto Latinoamericano String Quartets; soprano Dawn Upshaw; guitarist Manuel Barrueco; the King’s Singers; Chanticleer; the St. Paul and San Francisco Chamber Orchestras; and the Cleveland, Detroit, and Houston Symphonies, among others.
In 2009, Frank won both a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Latin Grammy for Best Classical Contemporary Composition (Inca Dances, composed for Barrueco and Cuarteto Latinoamericano). Last year, she received the 25th annual Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities for “weaving Latin American influences into classical constructs and breaking gender, disability and cultural barriers in classical music composition.”
“Elegía Andina for Orchestra is dedicated to my older brother, Marcos Gabriel Frank,” Frank writes. “As children of a multicultural marriage (our father being Lithuanian-Jewish and our mother being Chinese-Peruvian-Spanish), our early days were filled with Oriental stir-fry cuisine, Andean nursery songs, and frequent visits from our New York-bred Jewish cousins. As a young piano student, my repertoire included not only my own compositions that carried overtones from Peruvian folk music but also rags of Scott Joplin and minuets by the sons of Bach. It is probably inevitable then that as a composer and pianist today, I continue to thrive on multiculturalism. Elegía Andina (Andean Elegy) is one of my first written-down compositions to explore what it means to be of several ethnic persuasions, of several minds. It uses stylistic elements of Peruvian arca/ira zampoña panpipes (double-row panpipes, each row with its own tuning) to paint an elegiac picture of my questions. The flute part was particularly conceived with this in mind but was also inspired by the technical and musical mastery of Floyd Hebert, principal flutist of the Albany Symphony Orchestra. In addition, as already mentioned, I can think of none better to dedicate this work to than to ‘Babo,’ my big brother — for whom Perú still waits.”
In a 2019 interview, Frank said, “I write to tell stories, and stories exist to enlarge our reality so that we can really be human, not merely a reactive organism. Sometimes the stories are clumsy or new to me [as with] Elegía Andina, my first orchestra work. I was sweating bullets the entire time I was putting notes to the page. Yet even then, my motivation was the same; to touch people and remind them how large this beautiful world is. I humbly ask to be that messenger.”
- Composer: born September 26, 1972, Berkeley, CA
- Work composed: 2000. Made possible by the Albany Symphony Orchestra American Voices Commission, and dedicated “to my older brother Marcos Gabriel Frank.”
- World premiere: David Alan Miller led the Albany Symphony Orchestra on December 10, 2000, at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Troy, NY.
- Instrumentation: 2 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, glockenspiel, suspended cymbal, temple blocks, 2 triangles, whip, woodblocks, and strings
- Estimated duration: 11 minutes
© 2021 Elizabeth Schwartz