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Identity has always been at the center of Gabriela Lena Frank’s music. Born in Berkeley, California to a mother of mixed Peruvian/Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent, Frank explores her multicultural heritage most ardently through her compositions. Inspired by the works of Béla Bartók and Alberto Ginastera, Frank is something of a musical anthropologist. She has traveled extensively throughout South America and her pieces reflect and refract her studies of Latin American folklore, incorporating poetry, mythology, and native musical styles into a western classical framework that is uniquely her own. She writes challenging idiomatic parts for solo instrumentalists, vocalists, chamber ensembles, and orchestras.
Frank attended Rice University in Houston, TX, where she earned both a BA (1994) and MA (1996). She studied composition with Paul Cooper, Ellsworth Milburn, and Sam Jones, and piano with Jeanne Kierman Fischer. Frank credits Fischer with introducing her to the music of Ginastera, Bartók, and other composers who utilized folk elements in their work. At the University of Michigan, from which she received a DMA in composition in 2001, Frank studied composition with William Albright, William Bolcom, Leslie Bassett, and Michael Daugherty, and piano with Logan Skelton.
The composer has provided the following note:
“New Andean Songs employ texts that I’ve long been familiar with – anonymous and indigenous Peruvian poems collected by the folklorist José María Arguedas (1911-1969). In an attempt to validate the native culture of the Andes, Arguedas collected the tunes, poetry, and folklore of the Quechua Indians, the descendants of the Incas. Of the pro-indigenista writers, he was one of the first to write poetry in Quechua as well as Spanish, and was also a proponent of mestizaje, a vision of a world that encompasses many cultures without oppression. He often proclaimed himself a modern Quechua man in spite of his fair skin and Western education.
“The poems utilized in New Andean Songs are quite old, stemming from the Inca era, and have undoubtedly gone through many changes over the centuries. Nowadays, they are often presented in Spanish, and Arguedas’s own translations form the basis for this work. Here, the texts are set to music inspired by the indigenous musical practices and sounds of the Andean mountain cultures of Peru. While the voices are called upon to mimic highland echoes quietly wafting, to hum under/above one another to add atmospheric luster, or to evoke the pulsating repeated notes of zampoña panpipes, the instrumentalists are charged with a similar task, evoking the tremolos and repeated notes of guitars and mandolin-like charangos, the asymmetrical rhythms of clattery drums, and the pleading of women’s calls.”