Three Latin American Dances for Orchestra
Gabriela Lena Frank (b. 1972)
Length: c. 20 minutes
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes and English horn, 2 clarinets and bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion (bass drum, crash cymbals, snare drum, tambourine, tam-tam, xylophone, chimes, woodblock, temple blocks, slapstick, bongos, congas, thunder sheet, castanets, claves, shekere [a gourd rattle], triangle, suspended cymbal, 2 marimbas, rainstick), harp, piano, and strings
Philadelphia Orchestra Composer-in-Residence Gabriela Lena Frank is a prolific artist who uses her music to explore issues of cultural identity and the global translation of music. Frank’s mother was Peruvian and Chinese, and her father was of Jewish Lithuanian descent. Growing up in San Francisco, Frank was exposed to music from Peru and Bolivia through traveling musicians who would give concerts in the Bay area. Her personal relationship to this rich cultural background and upbringing defined her compositional approach, as she reflects:
…I think I really represent somebody who is Latina as opposed to Latin Americana. Born here, there is a definite Latina sensibility that is different from Latin Americana. We grew up with a sense of being both North American and South American. For me this is a very North American phenomenon. Those of us who are children of immigrants…, we have often romanticized the Motherland. And then when we travel to the Motherland, we’re in culture shock. It’s not an easy fit necessarily, but the process of discovering and asking, “How Peruvian am I? How American am I?” is exactly what drives my music making.
While working on her doctorate at Michigan, Frank established her musical voice. “I realized that I had found my mission,” Frank explained. “I wanted to, in a very general way, be as mestiza [of mixed ethnic origin] in my music as I was in my person: I’m multiracial, I’m multicultural, and I think that’s something deeply American.” Her Three Latin American Dances are compelling displays of Frank’s global musical influences.
Each of the piece’s three movements musically depicts the rhythms and dances of regions of South America. The jungle referred to in the first movement is the Amazon. Frank writes, “These jungle references are sped through (so as to be largely hidden) while echoing the energy of the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera, who was long fascinated with indigenous Latin American cultures.”
“Highland Harawi” moves us to the peaks of the Peruvian Andes. The traditional harawi, Frank explains, is “a melancholy adagio traditionally played by a single bamboo quena flute to accompany a single dancer. As mountain music, the ambiance of mystery, vastness, and echo is evoked.” The melody is a “cry” that is followed closely by “a thousand echoes” through the mountains.
For the finale, we move east. Frank writes, “As if in relief to the gravity of the previous movement, this final movement is a lighthearted tribute to the ‘mestizo’ or mixed-race music of the South American Pacific coast. In particular, it evokes the romancero tradition of popular songs and dances that mix influences from indigenous Indian cultures, African slave cultures, and western brass bands.”
What to listen for
- First movement: if the beginning of the opening movement sounds vaguely familiar, you might be detecting the inspiration for Frank’s dramatic opening gesture—the flourish that begins Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.
- Second movement: the gradually accelerating rhythm that opens this movement evokes the blinking of Illapa, the Peruvian-Inco god of thunder, lightning, and rain.
- Third movement: Frank’s title for the finale (The Mestizo Waltz) is a playful nod to Liszt’s rowdy Mephisto Waltzes, and she captures the same energetic spirit here.
Kevin Puts (b. 1972)
Length: c. 18 minutes
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (third doubling English horn), 3 clarinets (third doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, crash cymbals, triangle, tambourine, glockenspiel, vibraphone, tam-tam, xylophone, woodblock, snare drum, marimba), piano, strings, two solo amplified violins, and solo amplified bass
Contact (co-commissioned by a consortium of orchestras including Sun Valley Music Festival, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, and the Florida Orchestra) is a collaboration between musicians well known and beloved in the Sun Valley community. The music of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts has been featured numerous times at the Festival. His 2008 work Hymn to the Sun was commissioned and premiered by the Festival in celebration of the opening of the Pavilion that year. The genre-defying trio Time For Three essentially became members of the Sun Valley family during their brilliant three-year residency here, culminating in the 2017 epic Songs of Joy, the third major Sun Valley Music Festival commission with Time For Three. Not surprisingly, the partnership between Time For Three and Kevin Puts proved rich and organic, as Puts conveys: “[I] collaborated perhaps more closely than ever before in [my] career to create music tailored to the group’s unique style of performance—one which combines dazzling virtuosity, spontaneity, singing, all manner of string techniques and an infectious joy for music itself….”
This long-awaited performance, originally slated for the summer of 2020 and postponed due to the pandemic, brings silver linings: the delay allowed Puts and Time For Three to continue work on the piece, reframing its narrative and adding a fourth movement. Those who tuned in for 2020’s digital season will recall the rousing performance of Time For Three and Kevin Puts (at the piano) joyfully jamming on themes from the Bulgarian folk melody Gankino Horo, which forms the thematic basis for Contact’s fourth movement.
Puts explains, “The word ‘contact’ has gained new resonance during these years of isolation. It is my hope that this concerto might be heard as an expression of yearning for this fundamental human need.” He further elaborates:
Could the refrain at the opening of the concerto be a message sent into space, a call to intelligent life across the vast distances containing clues to our DNA, to our very nature as Earth people? Could the Morse Code-like rhythms of the scherzo suggest radio transmissions, wave signals, etc.? And might the third movement…represent the moment of contact itself?
For more on the background and composing process for Contact, see the feature article on page 72.
What to listen for
- The Call: Charles, Nick, and Ranaan’s plaintive opening acapella vocal refrain forms the basis for much of the material of this opening movement.
- Codes (Scherzo): the opening of the second movement—with percussive unisons in the full orchestra providing a backdrop for the flurry of activity in the solo trio—couldn’t project a more stark contrast to that of the first.
- Contact: Puts musically projects an “image of an abandoned vessel floating inert in the recesses of space” here, with the solo group eventually returning to the refrain from the opening movement.
- Convivium: the strongly accented, syncopated rhythmic patterns, based on Gankino horo, give this infectious finale a halting rhythmic energy.
Program notes by Jon Kochavi