2006.06.05: June 5, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Peru: Music: Detroit Free Press: Composer Gabriela Lena Frank is featured composer at Great Lakes Festival

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Composer Gabriela Lena Frank is featured composer at Great Lakes Festival

Composer Gabriela Lena Frank is featured composer at Great Lakes Festival

Gabriela Lena Frank's musical influences come from her own polyglot background. Her mother is Peruvian, her father is descended from Lithuanian Jews, and she grew up in Berkeley, Calif. Her parents met when her father was a Peace Corps worker in Peru in the 1960s.

Composer Gabriela Lena Frank is featured composer at Great Lakes Festival

CHOSEN COMPOSERS: Youth and eclectic cultural influences unite the featured composers at the Great Lakes Festival

June 5, 2006

Composer Gabriela Lena Frank and Gao Ping grew up separated by the Pacific Ocean and a cultural divide that stretches from the progressive environs of Berkeley, Calif., to communist China.

Yet Frank and Gao, whose music will be featured at the upcoming Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, are kindred spirits. Not because their music sounds alike but because it sounds so different. Each draws extensively on his or her own cultural heritage, freely incorporating folk elements into classical frames. Frank's music pulsates with Latino forms and rhythms, especially those rooted in Peru. Chinese inflections resonate in Gao's music, though like any good postmodernist, if he feels like writing, say, a tango, he writes a tango.


It wasn't long ago that Frank, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area, worked as a music copyist. Today she's a full-time composer, cobbling together commissions, university residencies and performances to make a living.

She also still performs as a pianist, as does Gao -- another link between them.

Frank has some big-time champions, among them pianist Wu Han (who selected Frank for the Great Lakes festival); the Kronos Quartet and Carnegie Hall and the Tanglewood Festival. The latter two have co-commissioned a work for Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project titled "The Stone Charango," which explores the Chinese immigrant experience in Peru.

Frank's father, a descendant of Lithuanian Jews, joined the Peace Corps in the early '60s and was sent to Peru, where he met her mother, who has Spanish, Chinese and Indian blood.

Frank began incorporating Latino sources into her music as an undergraduate at Rice University after discovering Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera and Hungarian Bela Bartok. When she saw the score to Ginastera's First Piano Sonata (1952) she recognized immediately guitar tunings and driving rhythms of malambo, a gaucho dance.

Bartok, who traveled into the countryside at the beginning of the 20th Century to collect the folk music of Eastern European peasants and transformed them into the most sophisticated music imaginable, became a hero to Frank.

"From then on I started mining my own culture and past," she says.

In 1998, while a graduate student at the University of Michigan, she made her first trip to Argentina and Venezuela.

"I didn't speak Spanish well, but my accent was great," she says. "I got robbed and ran out of money. I found names of composers and musicologists and knocked on doors. It changed my life."

Frank's "Suenos de Chambi: Snapshots for an Andean Album" for violin and piano will be heard at the festival. Inspired by photos of Peruvian life by Martin Chambi (1891-1973), the piece is filled with vibrantly intense rhythms, melancholic nostalgia and call-and-response passages evoking shepherd songs.

"Her music is very passionate," says Wu Han, co-artistic director of Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center in New York with her husband and cellist David Finckel. "There is strong rhythm, imaginative color and she has a great sense of timing. Her music always turns the corner at the right time."

Frank's success is especially striking given her health problems. Five years ago she was diagnosed with Graves' Disease, an autoimmune disease affecting the thyroid. She has endured two surgeries and radiation treatments, losing significant vision in one eye. (She was also born hearing impaired in one ear.)

She is only now recovering but says that even while she was laid up, her music circulated and found an audience. "It's been nice to wake up and find the opportunities," she says.

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Story Source: Detroit Free Press

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