Two American Portraits, dedicated to the past and present inhabitants of Modesto, California, was made possible through the gracious support of the American Composers Forum’s Continental Harmony project. This project has a marvelous mission – no less than the creation of musical work specifically inspired by a local community’s culture and history. In this case, I was honored to be treated to a yearlong residency, acquainting myself with Modesto and the surrounding area. Although I grew up and presently reside in the San Francisco Bay area, I was delighted and impressed with the area, and consequently faced an embarrassment of riches — it was indeed a difficult job to decide what of the many experiences I had would find its musical reflection in my new composition. Ultimately, I decided that what ended up on the cutting room floor would undoubtedly find its way into future pieces…
In Two American Portraits, I take composer’s artistic license to re-imagine and reassemble certain elements from Modesto’s past. The first movement, Frank’s Alborada, is in homage to Frank Mancini, the clarinet player originally from Italy who was an active freelancer in the San Francisco Bay area before becoming a prominent music teacher in the San Joaquin Valley. Culturally important, he also founded the Modesto Symphony Orchestra. As a tribute, this movement is scored predominantly for two clarinets who perform a quiet but lyrical alborada, a traditional “dawn” song of welcome originally from Spain that found its way to the Americas, including California.
The second movement, Old Modesto, is unlike the first movement in that it features the entire orchestra, and is bold and festive, infused with strong dance rhythms. Here, I drew inspiration from my visits to the McHenry Museum, the Oakdale Cowboy Museum, and the steer ranch Ranchería del Río Estanislaus under the direction of Bob Brunker, Sr. to try and capture the spirit of the men and women who worked the land of the valley as miners, agriculturalists, and horsemen.
Gabriela Lena Frank