Gabriela Lena Frank (b. 1972)
Hilos • Danza de los Saqsampillos • Adagio para Amantaní • Quijotadas
I believe that composers write largely in a spirit of finality, rarely looking past the double bar, the finish line to our scores. Privately, my hope is that my listeners and performers experience a journey that is satisfactorily complete as I fancifully re-imagine cultural traditions in an attempt to illuminate the beauties of Latin American and Spanish idioms. The rare vista I am afforded, therefore, of several of my works standing side-by-side and interpreted by a single collective of musicians and sound engineers on this recording is both startling and joyous. I am filled with gratitude for the talents of my colleagues who have connected these pieces so seamlessly beyond the barlines.
The four works in this program span ten years if we consider that one, Danza de los Saqsampillos (2006), is an arrangement of a movement from an earlier work, Sonata Andina (2000) for solo piano. Three of the four works are inspired by a culture I claim—Peruvian—while the fourth is inspired by Spain whose imprint on Perú is forever indelible. And all four works at least imply a story, enthralled as I am by the power of myth and narrative.
Hilos (Threads, 2010) is the most recent work in this program and was especially written for the ALIAS Chamber Ensemble. Scored for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, the eight movements mix and match the players to allude to the beauty of Peruvian textiles both in their construction and in their pictorial content of everyday life:
I. Danza del Altiplano (Dance of the Highlands): A bold piano opening of tremolos sets up rhapsodic lines decorated with the strong attacks and surging releases one would hear in highland wind instruments.
II. Zapatos de Chincha (Shoes of Chincha): This light-footed movement is inspired by Chincha, a southern coastal town known for its afro-peruano music and dance (including a unique brand of tap). The cello part is especially reminiscent of the cajón, a wooden box that percussionists sit on and strike with hands and feet, extracting a remarkable array of sounds and rhythms.
III. Charanguista Viejo (Old Charango Player): The charango, a ukelele-like instrument traditionally constructed with an armadillo shell, is evoked through tight broken chords and odd tremolos in the piano part alongside quick pizzicato notes in the violin. The violin also has a highly emotional melody line decorated with scratch tones and glissandi to convey the sound of an old man’s voice as he accompanies himself singing.
IV. Danza de los Diablos (Devil Dance): A tribute to the devil dancers of the southern Puno region of Perú, this movement features “stompy” rhythms, quick dissonant grace notes, and a general boldness of spirit.
V. Zumbayllu (Spinning Top): A musical depiction of a popular children’s toy in Quechua Indian culture.
VI. Juegos (Games): A romp inspired by the teasing games that children play.
VII. Yaravillosa: A play on the words “maravillosa” (marvelous) and “yaraví” (an ancient melancholy Inca song), this movement especially draws on glissandi, tremolos, and surges to evoke typical vocal performance practices.
VIII. Bombines (Bowler Hats): A humorous dance in homage to the ubiquitous bowler hats worn by mountain women. The “karnavalito” rhythm punctuates throughout.
The second work in this program, Danza de los Saqsampillos (Dance of the Saqsampillos, 2006, 2000), for marimba duo might be the oldest work featured but it is no less virtuosic! It is inspired by the Peruvian “saqsampillo,” a rambunctious jungle-dweller. Strong sesquiáltera (changing sixes) rhythms and both Andean and tropical musical motifs punctuate the music throughout.
Another one-movement work is the third feature in this program, the emotional and mysterious Adagio para Amantaní (2007) for cello and piano. This was written in homage to the island of Amantaní that I visited in the summer of 2006. Situated in the middle of Lake Titicaca between Perú and Bolivia, the island is both beautiful and frighteningly barren, and its inhabitants depend on one another deeply in order to survive the cold and arid climate.
The final work presented here, Quijotadas (Quixoticisms, 2007) for string quartet, is inspired by El Ingenioso Hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616). Widely considered the birth of the modern novel, this tale satirizes post-Colonial Spain by relating the story of a middle-aged lesser nobleman who undertakes absurd adventures in pursuit of romantic—and seriously outdated—knightly ideals. Tellingly, Cervantes’ brilliant and colorful social commentary still reverberates for us today. The five movements of Quijotadas are:
I. Alborada: Traditionally a Spanish song of welcome or beginnings, this is in the style of music for the chifro, a small high-pitched wooden panpipe played with one hand. It is often employed by a traveling guild worker to announce his services as he walks through the streets of town.
II. Seguidilla para la Mancha: This free interpretation of the spirited dance rhythms of Don Quixote’s homeland of La Mancha also evokes two typical instruments—The six-stringed guitar and its older cousin, the bandurria, which finds its origins in Renaissance Spain.
III. Moto Perpetuo: La Locura de Quijote (The Madness of Quixote): This movement is inspired by an early chapter in the novel that describes Don Quixote sequestering himself in his hacienda, reading nothing but novels of chivalry, the pulp fiction of his time. The teasing promises of grandeur make him dizzy and he eventually goes mad.
IV. Asturianada: La Cueva (The Cave): The style of this traditional mountain song (whereby a young male singer issues forth calls that rise and fall with great emotion and strength) is used to paint a portrait of the Cave of Montesinos. In an important episode of the novel, Don Quixote fantasizes about the legendary hero Montesinos trapped under enchantment in a highland cave.
V. Danza de los Arrieros (Dance of the Muleteers): Throughout the tale, Don Quixote constantly rubs up against mule drivers who, for Cervantes, are the embodiment of reality in contrast to Don Quixote’s fantasy world. The encounters with these roughnecks are always abrupt and physical, usually resulting in a sound thrashing for Quixote. Each beating brings him closer to reality, and in the end, he must poignantly reconcile himself to the fact that his noble ideals do not find a hospitable home in the contemporary world.
Gabriela Lena Frank, 2010