Utah State University's Caine College of the Arts (CCA) and the Fry Street Quartet (FSQ) are excited to announce a four-year residency with composer Gabriela Lena Frank, funded by differential tuition from CCA students and the Visiting Artists and Scholars Series. In addition to educational activities, the grant supports the commission of a new string quartet in partnership with the NOVA Chamber Music Series of Salt Lake City, to be premiered by the FSQ in 2023.
Frank, who was included in the Washington Post’s 2017 list of the 35 most significant women composers in history, was born in Berkeley, California, to a mother of mixed Peruvian/Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent. Inspired by the works of Béla Bartók and Alberto Ginastera, Frank has traveled extensively throughout South America in creative exploration. Her music often reflects not only her personal experience as a multiracial Latina, but also refracts her studies of Latin American cultures, incorporating poetry, mythology and native musical style into a western classical framework that is uniquely her own.
Winner of a Latin Grammy Award and nominated for Grammys as both a composer and pianist, Frank holds a Guggenheim Fellowship and a USA Artist Fellowship, given each year to 50 of the country’s finest artists. She is regularly commissioned by luminaries such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, soprano Dawn Upshaw and the King’s Singers, as well as leading American orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony, the Boston Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra, where she is currently composer-in-residence.
In 2020, Frank received the prestigious Heinz Family Foundation Award in Arts and Humanities. The foundation recognized her for her brilliant compositions that weave the colors, sounds and mythology of Latin America into classical constructs, and for breaking cultural and gender barriers in classical music composition.
Frank was born with moderate-to-profound hearing loss and has had an extraordinary career in a field in which she would traditionally be considered an outsider. As a result of this success, she has made it her mission to mentor emerging composers, which led to the formation of the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music (GLFCAM) in 2016. The non-profit’s mission is to inspire emerging composers to create self-determined artistic lives through mentorship, readings with master performers and hands-on practicums addressing the creative habit in the intimate and eco-conscious structure of Frank’s two farms. GLFCAM also seeks to create a support structure for alumni of their programs that entails commissions and seed funds for collaborations with one another, honors civic initiatives, practices active climate citizenship and documents the stories and teachings of the academy for video and online dissemination.
“Gabriela is creative and passionate as an educator, and we believe that her regular presence on campus over the next four years will impact every student in the CCA,” Bradley Ottesen, violist in the FSQ and associate professor in the CCA, said. “During her initial visits to USU, she has worked directly with music composition students, led discussions on gender, race and environmental activism in the arts, and has lent her expertise to the mentoring of student creative projects.”
Ottesen, who first worked with Frank when they were emerging young musicians 20 years ago, said that she has a wealth of experience as a composer, performer and arts advocate, and that she is able to bring all these dimensions to her teaching.
Recent CCA graduate, Laurana Wheeler Roderer, who worked with Frank last summer on an early draft of a libretto about climate change, called Gabriela one of the most engaged, gracious and innovative artists she has worked with.
“Gabriela’s patient and inspiring response to our draft helped us broaden our vision of what this work could be and how it could impact our audience,” Roderer said. “She clarifies the artistic vision and lights a fire in students to chase the vision with everything they have.”
Roderer said Frank showed her how to dream big and take risks to make a meaningful impact. In Frank, she sees an artist who models the integrity she wants to see in the musical world and feels more fearless and committed to using her own music to bring about positive social change.
Kimberly Lewin, a junior in cello performance in the CCA, was also deeply influenced by her work with Frank.
“Working with Gabi has pushed me to strive for excellence,” Lewin said. “She is such a powerful woman, and her confidence is inspiring. What she has taught and exemplified will carry throughout my education and into my career.”
The commission for a new string quartet for the FSQ will form the backbone of Frank’s residency.
“The composition will come to life over the course of this residency, as we plan to workshop the piece movement by movement, opening up the process for ownership by both our students and the public,” Ottesen said. “The creation of a new work is actually a collaboration between composer and performer, as well as the presenting organizations and our audiences—it really does take a village.”
The new composition will receive its concert premiere at USU in the fall of 2023, with a performance on the NOVA Chamber Music Series in Salt Lake City shortly thereafter.
Upcoming highlights of the residency include a Spring 2021 virtual concert event entitled “Crossing Borders – 21st Century Chamber Music from Diverse Voices,” which features emerging composers of the GLFCAM, and include the world premieres of two new works by academy alumni Kerwin Young and Andrew Rodriguez. Future plans include a project conceived for educational outreach, with music performed by the string students of the USU Symphony Orchestra alongside the Young Musicians of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish.
From the outset, the residency has been imagined by the FSQ as an experiment in new ways to deliver the highest possible impact for our students and community alongside a low carbon footprint and included plans for virtual collaboration even prior to the onset of Covid-19. Along with Frank, FSQ violinist Rebecca McFaul has co-authored a series of articles on sustainability in Chamber Music Magazine.
“In meeting and working with Gabriela, I found a kindred spirit in my wish to push my beloved profession towards more climate awareness and sustainable practices,” McFaul said. “We are committed to considering the carbon and the Climate Crisis at every step as we invent this residency together, and we hope to glean some best practices to share through our efforts.”
Ottesen says Frank is at the leading edge in creating new models to serve all artists and audiences as we move forward into the 21st century.
“Gabriela is a great advocate for diversity, inclusion, and sustainability through the arts,” Ottesen said. “We are thrilled that she will have an ongoing presence here at USU.”
For the latest information on Gabriela Lena Frank’s residency, please visit cca.usu.edu.