Raíces (“Roots”): Concerto Suite for Orchestra, commissioned by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra in celebration of its 50th Anniversary, is inspired by the enduring insistence of Latin America’s racial soul. As an American-born gringa-Latina who only began to travel in her mother’s homeland in Perú while in her late twenties, I still marvel that I “get” to claim heritage in such a culture, rich in ethnic variance and history. There had always been evidence, to be sure, of far-flung ancestral roots – My dark coloring, a teasing sense of humor distinctly labeled as Peruvian, and moments of déjà vu, sometimes disconcerting, upon hearing music from the Andean highlands. It can’t be denied, however, that I’m most comfortable speaking English, that I follow American politics before Peruvian, and I cook Peruvian cuisine with a kind of purposeful pride that my native-born cousins don’t seem to need.
And yet… I indeed have roots. A transformation happens when culture travels over continents and through generations, haphazard and personal. In Raíces, I pick up strands, poetic and musical, explored in other works of mine, and continue the journey:
I. Allegro Nazca: With a prominent role for the high bassoons, this clamorous introductory movement is inspired by the Nazca culture, a fiery pre-Inca coastal civilization that had a curious habit of ritualistically destroying its ceramic panpipes. The interval of the fourth and connected pulsations (tenutos) on the same note, hallmarks of panpipe music, are utilized.
II. Sombras (“Shadows”): The shadows I encounter in the highlands, the coasts, or on the islands in the great Lake Titicaca have always struck me as stranger, more otherworldly, than the ordinary ones at home… Or is it just my imagination? Regardless, in this movement, the oboe and English horn lead while the strings and harp follow, looming large and shrinking down as shadows do.
III. Muñequitos de Madera (“Little Wooden Dolls”): I love the small humble museums with their collections of toys. One such collection of colonial dolls of Quechua men and women hewn from wood finds its expression here in a virtuoso tour de force for the principal violin and cello.
IV. Danza Selvática (“Jungle Dance”): I confess that I have a great wariness of the jungles, and have only flirted with the border just east of the Andes. In this movement especially featuring the flutes, pizzicato strings are also prominent in lending a restless nervous quality to the music.
V. Adios al Altiplano (“Goodbye to the Highland”): Inspired by a visit I made to Churín, a highland Andean town where the youth have been leaving for more prosperous places, this tribute is sung by the horns against a backdrop of high strings (done with artificial harmonics), the harp, and bowed marimbas.
VI. Allegro Costenõ: I think of this finale, a romp inspired by coastal music, as a ballet as I can imagine dancers stomping it out! Although clarinets are in the forefront against a backdrop of strumming strings in the opening, the “concerto” spirit pervades the orchestra in a mostly egalitarian way.
— Gabriela Lena Frank