Illapa: Tone Poem for Flute and Orchestra (2004) (dedicated in affection and appreciation to Leone Buyse and Larry Rachleff) depicts a moment in the life of Illapa, a powerful weather god from ancient South American Andean culture.
In the first movement, Introducción: Soliloquio Serrano (“Introduction: Mountain Soliloquy”), Illapa sits at the edge of a highland valley, playing his bamboo flute while accompanied only by his own parpadeos or “blinking” (initially performed by orchestra claves). While not an actual Andean tune, Illapa’s soliloquy evokes typical gestures and articulation effects of mountain flutes. At the end of the movement, momentum picks up as Illapa slowly leans over and then finally leaps to the floor of the valley, whirling his music on the flute and blinking his eyes ever more furiously.
At the entrance of the rest of the orchestra, Illapa is now standing squarely inside the valley as the second movement, Harawi, commences. The vastness and mystery of the Andes are conveyed by the low and high glissing strings, the oscillating marimbas, and the interplay between the conga drum and rainstick.
When the flute re-enters, the harawi music begins with the typical melancholy and elegiac mood encountered in this traditional song form. The melody is also played by the violas and violoncellos albeit slightly out of synchronization to convey the wet reverberating effect of Andean echoes (marked in the score as Un grito y un mil de ecos, or “a cry and a thousand echoes”). Illapa’s flute music is increasingly overwhelmed by the valley’s own naturaleza, its own inner life, until the moment when Illapa takes out his spinning top (the zumballyu) and spins it, calling up a storm. Thunder and lightning crack around the havoc that the zumballyu creates as it uproots trees and boulders in a violent yet brief fury.
After the climactic highpoint, we hear the sounds of the valley in the aftermath of the storm, and Illapa is curiously quiet (…stunned?…) — quiet, that is, until a final flute call that holds and then slowly fades as Illapa climbs out of the valley, looks back at the destruction left in his wake, and blinks...just once.
Illapa: Tone Poem for Flute and Orchestra (2004) also exists in a purely symphonic version as the middle movement of Three Latin American Dances for Orchestra (2004).
Gabriela Lena Frank