You can tell the APA’s (American Pianists Association) competition was designed by pianists. It tests the real world skills of a young musician: accompanying a vocalist, playing solo recitals, quintets, concertos; even learning a piece that’s never been played. Organizers commissioned works from five American women, each to be handed to a finalist in the competition for its world premiere. The composers’ instructions were simple: produce a 5-7 minute piece—that’s it. One player could receive a piece that’s hell on wheels, while the next could be child’s play. Does that sound unfair? Maybe, maybe not; there are few fields as competitive as that of a classical pianist, so they need to be ready for anything.
The composers are Lisa Bielawa, Margaret Brouwer, Gabriela Lena Frank, Missy Mazzoli, and Sarah Kirkland Snider. WFMT producer Jesse McQuarters, who is co-producer for this series, as well as WFMT’s Relevant Tones brightened at the mention of the name Gabriela Lena Frank.
A member of the Silk Road Ensemble, she is herself a piano virtuoso. Born in Berkeley, California, her mother is of mixed Peruvian Chinese ancestry and her father is of Lithuanian Jewish descent; they met when he was a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s. This mixed heritage has been a defining feature for Gabriela Lena Frank. Embracing all of it in her travels, and studies, she’s devoured native folklore, and music from Eastern Europe to South America, turning it right back into a unique compositional style.
For the APA competition she wrote a piece called Karnavalito #1.
The piece is inspired by the distinctly Andean concept of mestizaje as championed by Peruvian folklorist José María Arguedas (1911-1969) whereby cultures can co-exist without one subjugating another. Allusions to the rhythms and harmonies of the mountain music of my mother’s homeland of Perú abound in this boisterous work, albeit freely transformed in the blender of my personal imagination. About five minutes in length, the work is dense in its virtuosity with stylistic nods to the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, a musical hero of mine.
—Gabriela Lena Frank
Hear all five APA commissions on the American Pianists Association Classical Fellowship Awards, Sunday at 5:00 PM.