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Gabriela Lena Frank

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Hilos (2010)
G Schirmer Inc
Works for 2-6 Players
Sub Category
Mixed Ensemble
Year Composed
25 Minutes
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Programme Note
Composer’s Note:

Hilos (Threads, 2010), written for the ALIAS Chamber Ensemble, is scored for clarinet, violin, cello and piano. Alluding to the beauty of Peruvian textiles, both in their construction and in their pictorial content of everyday life, the short movements of Hilos are a kind of Peruvian “pictures at an exhibition.” Players are mixed and matched in various combinations, and draw on a myriad of sounds evocative of indigenous music. These include fanciful pizzicatos and widely-spaced tremolos suggesting guitar-like instruments, strong attacks and surging releases suggesting zampona panpipes and quena flutes, glissandi and scratch tones suggesting vocal coloristic effects, and so forth. The movements are:

1. Canto del Altiplano (Songs of the Highlands): A bold piano opening of tremolos sets up rhapsodic lines decorated with the strong attacks and releases one would hear in highland wind instruments.
2. Zapatos de Chincha (Shoes of Chincha): This light-footed movement is inspired by Chincha, a southern coastal town known for its afro-peruano music and dance (including a unique brand of tap). The cello part is especially reminiscent of the cajon, a wooden box that percussionists sit on and strike with hands and feet, extracting a remarkable array of sounds and rhythms.
3. Charanguista Viejo (Old Charango Player): The charango, a ukulele-like instrument traditionally constructed with an armadillo shell, is evoked through tight broken chords and odd tremolos in the piano part alongside quick pizzicato notes in the violin. The violin also has a highly emotional melody line decoration with hints of scratch tones to convey the sounds of an old man’s voice as he accompanies himself singing.
4. Danza de los Diablos (Devil Dance): A tribute to the devil dances of the southern Puno regions of Peru, this movement features “stompy” rhythms, quick dissonant grace notes and a general boldness of spirit.
5. Zumballyu (Spinning Top): A musical depiction of a popular children’s toy in Quechua Indian culture.
6. Juegos (Games): A romp inspired by the teasing games that children play.
7. Yaravillosa: A play on the words “maraviollosa” (marvelous) and “yaravi” (an ancient melancholy Inca song), this movement especially draws on glissandi, tremolo, and surges to evoke typical vocal performance practices.
8. Bombines (Bowler Hats): A humorous dance in homage to the ubiquitous bowler hats worn by mountain women. The “karnavalito” rhythm punctuates throughout.

- Gabriela Lena Frank

  • Ensemble
    Gabriela Lena Frank, piano
Gabriela Lena Frank is the real deal: a modern composer with a personal style, one that manages to integrate a wide range of sounds and performing techniques into a cohesive language that unapologetically includes melody and tonal harmony without ever sounding anachronistic. She clearly manages to remain true to herself, but she doesn't have to write down to her listeners in order to share her thoughts and feelings. This is just good music. Hilos is a quartet for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano inspired by Peruvian weaving. The music is colorful, vibrant, and consistently inventive; the Latin element is pervasive, but not cheap, and not overwhelming. The performances, with the composer's participation where the piano joins in, and presumably her supervision where it does not, are uniformly excellent, and so are the sonics. A wonderful disc of inventive, fresh, characterful music, plain and simple.
David Hurwitz,,22/03/2011
Without question, the most ambitious piece on the disc is Hilos, a work for clarinet, violin, cello and piano composed specifically for Alias last year. The title means "Threads" and alludes to the kaleidoscopic beauty of Peruvian textiles. Frank has even referred to it as a kind of Peruvian Pictures at an Exhibition. Like Mussorgsky's Pictures, Hilos is an episodic work, consisting of eight short movements with descriptive titles such as "Charanguista Viejo" (Old Charango Player) and "Danza de los Diablos" (Devil Dance). The music is remarkable for its shimmering, transparent textures. It's also full of vivid sonic images, such as the violin scratch tones in "Charanguista" that suggest an old man singing. A gifted pianist, Frank joined Alias violinist Zeneba Bowers, clarinetist Lee Levine and cellist Matt Walker to give Hilos a riveting rendition. Frank performs the work's bold tremolos and quicksilver glissandi with power and sparkle. Bowers, Levine and Walker respond with playing that is both passionate and spontaneous.
John Pitcher, The Nashville Scene,03/03/2011
Hilos finds its inspiration in the composer's Peruvian background. The title means "threads" and alludes to the colorful beauty of Peru's textiles. Frank refers to the piece as a kind of Peruvian "Pictures at an Exhibition." Lasting about 30 minutes, Hilos is an expansive work consisting of eight short movements, which boast such descriptive titles as "Charanguista Viejo" (Old Charango Player) and "Zumballyu" (Spinning Top). The score is positively brimming with rhythmically vital and lyrically appealing ideas. But its greatness stems from its prismatic beauty. Frank left no timbre unexplored. She mixed and matched the work's instrumental combinations, with some movements highlighting the sounds of just two instruments — "Charanguista Viejo," for instance, was primarily a dialogue between violin and piano. The result was a work full of diaphanous textures. Frank also created vivid sonic images with her imaginative scoring. She used piano tremolos and broken chords in "Charanguista Viejo" to evoke the sound of a charango, a traditional Peruvian ukelele-like instrument. Likewise, a hint of violin scratch tones in the same movement suggested the sound of an old man singing. Frank certainly couldn't have hoped for a better performance. An accomplished pianist, she joined Alias musicians Zeneba Bowers, violin, Lee Levine, clarinet, and Matt Walker, cello, in a rendition that was both spontaneous and intensely musical. Frank tossed off the work's bold tremolos and glissandi with dramatic flair, making the music sparkle. But she was also a sensitive accompanist whose flexible phrasing always brought out the best in the other players. Bowers, Alias' artistic director, proved to be a serious and stylish artist. Her golden tone made Frank's highly emotional melodies seemingly melt, and her perfect intonation allowed her to hit every note dead center — no mean feat given that many of "Hilos' " special effects (quick slides and pizzicatos) turned notes into moving targets. Levine delivered some of the evening's most memorable performances. Her playful melodies in the opening movement, "Canto del Altiplano" (Song of the Highlands), readily called to mind the sound of traditional panpipes and flutes. She added colorful counterpoint in the next movement, "Zapatos de Chincha" (Shoes of Chincha). Walker, Alias' executive director, also gave an impressive performance. He played with an amber tone and a solid technique — his playing of fast passages in the fourth movement "Danza de los Diablos" (Devil Dance) had real fire. But he was also a team player whose careful listening resulted in a beautifully synchronized performance. Alias has recorded Hilos for an all-Frank album due for release on the Naxos label in 2011. If the recorded rendition is half as good as the live performance, it will surely be regarded as definitive.
John Pitcher, The Nashville Scene,07/10/2010
ALIAS Chamber Ensemble can do more than make good music: It can, for a time, alter the season and time of day. A cool fall evening became a warm spring afternoon on Friday with the world premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank’s vibrant Hilos quartet. ALIAS’ seasonal concert before more than 200 people in Blair School of Music’s Turner Hall also featured the charming renewal of three carefully cultivated pieces. Frank, a Guggenheim Fellow and Latin Grammy winner, joined ALIAS at the piano for the first public performance of Hilos, which ALIAS and Frank recorded recently for an upcoming Naxos CD. Hilos is the Spanish word for threads. The piece consists of eight short movements (the longest runs about five minutes) and finishes in less than 30 minutes. In that short span, Frank on piano and ALIAS musicians on violin, cello and clarinet vividly weaved a rich South American-flavored musical textile by using various musical techniques to create the illusion of multiple instruments and voices. The work began with Canto del Altiplano (Song of the Highlands): Frank’s piano opened with tremolos, and the rapid reiteration created the feeling one might have viewing the morning mist clinging to a chain of mountains. The illusion of highland wind instruments that followed offered some fun-loving hints that the heart of Hilos is a light and happy one. Then came Zapatos de Chincha (Shoes of Chincha), where clarinet and cello are featured and which has its genesis in the Afro-Peruano music and dance found in the small Peruvian coastal town of Chincha. Matt Walker’s cello assumed the part of a wooden-box musical instrument called a cajón that’s struck with hands and feet. His dexterity turned his stringed instrument into a precise percussion, creating a stirring tap-like beat. After that was Charanguista Viejo (Old Charango Player). Zeneba Bowers’ violin and Frank’s piano transformed themselves sonically into a charango, a ukulele-like instrument traditionally constructed with an armadillo shell. But it was the searing effect of Bowers’ melody line that led to one of the concert’s most powerful moments. Listening to her, I could easily picture a well-worn old man performing songs he’d known since youth. In quick succession came Danza de los Diablos (Devil Dance), an arresting mix of dissonance and boldness; Zumballyu (Spinning Top), in which Frank’s piano created the spinning sensation associated with a children’s toy; and Juegos (Games), in which Lee Levine’s supple clarinet clearly conjured the image of a child being repeatedly teased by playmates. Then it was time for the final two movements. Yaravillosa, a wordplay title that combines “maravillosa” (marvelous) and “yaraví” (an ancient Inca tune), combined the sliding effect of glissandi with more tremolos and some surges; it sounded almost like an opera singer was onstage. And the Bombines (Bowler Hats) finale provided a playful finish to Hilos that cheerfully saluted the Aymara women of the Bolivian and Peruvian highlands.
Evans Donnell , The Tennessean ,02/10/2010
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