Eastern Sierra Symphony guest composer Gabriela Lena Frank talks fusion, fluidity
This year’s Eastern Sierra Symphony Summer Concert Series will feature an artist new to Mammoth Lakes—composer Gabriela Lena Frank.
Frank was born in Berkeley in 1972, to a mother of mixed Peruvian and Chinese ancestry, and a father of Lithuanian and Jewish descent. She has traveled extensively in Latin and South America, studying the region’s music, with a special ear for folk music played at open air markets and by street performers. She has a special interest in fusing folk music from Latin America with western classical music.
Frank is a classically trained pianist and composer. She studied at Rice University in Texas, where she obtained a Masters degree. She was first introduced to the power of musical composition by her neighborhood piano teacher, a woman who had come to the United States as a refugee from South Africa. She said that teacher exposed her to Bach and to western classics, as well as to the music of the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, who traveled Eastern Europe in the years leading up to the Holocaust, learning and preserving the local music of persecuted people as it was being stifled. Bartok sought to incorporate those sounds and themes into the classical canon, something that Frank found fundamentally compelling as someone with a complex cultural identity. “That sits well with me, philosophically,” said Frank.
“Being of mixed race myself, an interest in multiculturalism was handed to me. Growing up in Berkeley in the ‘70s and ‘80s, most of my friends were born here, spoke English as their first language, and had a deep sense of patriotism, but many of us had a parent who was an immigrant,” said Frank. “Moving between different cultures was natural for us.”
Frank was drawn to the music of South America by her experiences meeting people who had come to the Bay area as refugees from Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador. “There was a lot of turmoil in Latin America, and my mother is Peruvian, so when I met these people, I saw people who looked like her. I started composing pieces. I was experimenting a lot with tremolos on piano, playing it like a guitar, and my music teacher really encouraged me.”