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 Bela 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.
Moreover, she writes, "There's usually a story line behind my music; a scenario or character." While the enjoyment of her works can be obtained solely from her music, the composer's program notes enhance the listener's experience, for they describe how a piano part mimics a marimba or pan-pipes, or how a movement is based on a particular type of folk song, where the singer is mockingly crying. Even a brief glance at her titles evokes specific imagery: Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout; Cuatro Canciones Andinas; and La Llorona: Tone Poem for Viola and Orchestra. Frank's compositions also reflect her virtuosity as a pianist — when not composing, she is a sought-after performer, specializing in contemporary repertoire.
The residency of Gabriela Lena Frank with the Detroit Symphony will culminate in January 2017 with the premiere of her Concerto for Orchestra, brimming with Peruvian influence. As she completes her third year as Houston Symphony’s Composer-in-Residence, Frank will write a requiem for premiere in May 2017. This multi-cultural work interweaves traditional Latin and Meso-American texts with contemporary text by Pulitzer Prize-winning Cuban-American writer Nilo Cruz. Frank has developed a number of projects with Cruz, among them La Centinela y la Paloma (The Keeper and the Dove), a song cycle for Dawn Upshaw and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Journey of the Shadow for the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra.
Recent premieres include Iberian Songs for Music From Angel Fire; Five Scenes for the San Diego Symphony and Malashock Dance, Cuentos Errantes: Four New Folk Songs for piano and strings written for The Sphinx Virtuosi, My Angel, His Name is Freedom for The Library of Congress and the Handel and Haydn Society, Karnavalingo for the Houston Symphony, Will-o'-the-Wisp for piccolo player Mary Kay Fink and the Cleveland Orchestra; Saints for The Berkeley Symphony, soprano Jessica Rivera and the San Francisco Girls Chorus; and Concertino Cusqueño for the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Having collaborated with a broad range of artists, Frank's other works include Quijotadas for the Brentano String Quartet; Jalapeño Blues for Chanticleer; Compadrazgo, a double concerto for David Finckel and Wu Han with the ProMusica Orchestra; ¡Chayraq! and Ritmos Anchinos for the Silk Road Project; and Inkarrí for the Kronos Quartet. 2017 will bring premieres of a flute sonata for Demarre McGill of the Dallas Symphony, and a new solo violin sonata for Movses Pogossian.
Frank attended Rice University in Houston, Texas, where she earned both a B.A. (1994) and M.A. (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, where she received a D.M.A. in composition in 2001, Frank studied with William Albright, William Bolcom, Leslie Bassett, and Michael Daugherty, and piano with Logan Skelton.