Gabriela Lena Frank-inspired compositions to premiere at USC

Grammy Award-winning composer Gabriela Lena Frank has come to USC, and she brought several protégés with her.

Seven composers from Cycle Six of the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music will debut their compositions Friday, Dec. 7 at 4:30 p.m. in the School of Music Recital Hall. This event follows a Wednesday concert, during which Frank’s music was performed by USC students and faculty. 

“The concert Friday will feature new works by me and the other Composer Fellows,” said Timothy Peterson, one of the GLFCAM composers, in an email. “Our works are all written for Duo Cortona: mezzo-soprano Rachel Calloway and violinist Ari Streisfeld, wonderful pioneers of contemporary music and professors at the University of South Carolina School of Music.”

Duo Cortona’s Calloway and Streisfeld are married. Calloway works as one of USC’s voice instructors and Streisfeld is an assistant professor of violin. The two are tasked with bringing to life the many emotions that underlie Cycle Six’s compositions.

“The pieces vary widely, drawing from a variety of influences and really showcasing the breadth of music that can be performed by a duo of voice and violin,” said Danny Goucker, another GLFCAM composer, in an email. “For my piece, surprise, humor and tension are key elements."

Akshaya Avril Tucker, another composer from the music academy, contrasts Gouker’s work with a more somber piece inspired by her grandfather’s passing. 

“Writing this piece was a way for me to express some of my love for my grandfather (who was also a composer), and of course, how I miss him,” Tucker said in an email. “I think the audience will be able to tell how personal these things are for me, and also perhaps how hard it is to put them on the stage.”

Born in Tatarstan, GLFCAM’s Adeliia Faizullina takes yet another approach with her composition, which she described as “a little bit avant-garde” and working strongly with folk elements and colors. Her hope is to express her heritage and cultural background through her music.

Faizullina’s infusion of culture, and each composer’s influence from unique personal experience, demonstrates a strong connection between Cycle Six and Frank’s work. Coming from a multicultural background – her mother is of mixed Peruvian and Chinese ancestry and her father is of a Lithuanian and Jewish background – Frank is often credited with brilliantly incorporating her storied past into her works.

“It’ll use folk music from Peru, and it’ll use pan pipes, and it’ll also use ... music from her Jewish background, and music from her travels,” said GLFCAM composer Nick Benavides. “I think the point of her music is to create a sense of emotion and empathy, and a sense of belonging no matter what you’re listening to.”

As personal as Frank's music can be, Benavides said that it manages to find a way to connect to people, regardless of how familiar they are with its various cultural ties.

“She has this very personal voice in her music that’s very much about her experience in the world, but it’s also very approachable from other people’s experiences,” said Benavides. “You don’t need to have any experience to approach it, but if you do have a lot of experience, you can dive really deep. And she manages to be personal and cultural all at once.”

Frank has worked with these composers for months through a process that involved workshops, reading sessions and collaboration with Frank, musicians and each other. 

"She's extraordinarily wise, as a musician and as a human being. Life is very precious to her," Tucker said in an email. "She helps me dive into understanding myself as an artist and figuring out my place in the world."

The show, which Benavides likens to a punctuation mark bringing a long and complex process to a close, will showcase the compositions in their entirety for the first time, creating an experience that is just as new to the composers as it is to the audience.

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