The Houston Symphony Chorus in Prague

The Houston Symphony Chorus performs Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 at Prague's Smetana Hall.

The Houston Symphony Chorus performs Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 at Prague’s Smetana Hall.

The Houston Symphony Chorus recently completed a highly successful series of concerts in the Czech Republic. Chorus Manager Anna Diemer shares her memories and impressions below.

Pedal-boating on the Vltava

Pedal-boating on the Vltava

When I accepted the offer to become Manager of the Houston Symphony Chorus, I never imagined that in two short years I would be pedal-boating down the Vltava River in Prague with my fellow singers. Yet there I was, enjoying the mild summer weather and admiring the majestic medieval castle rising above the city.

The Houston Symphony Chorus was invited to sing with the Prague Symphony Orchestra for their season-closing program, which featured the Te Deum by the beloved Czech composer Antonín Dvořák and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The tour was announced in November of 2015, and I spent a significant part of the following year and a half helping to organize the logistics.

The Chorus was also asked to participate in the Smetanova Litomysl Festival, which takes place annually in the small town where composer Bedrich Smetana was born. Citizens of the Czech Republic take great pride in their musical heritage, and we were delighted to learn several months before our departure that all three of our performances were sold out.

How do you get to Smetana Hall? Practice, practice, practice!

Before we could board the plane to Prague, we had a lot of work to do! During the month of May, the Houston Symphony Chorus premiered a brand new work by our composer-in-residence, Gabriela Lena Frank, and helped bid adieu to outgoing Principal Pops conductor Michael Krajewski in his Classic Broadway concert. In order to prepare for our tour in addition to all of our engagements with the Symphony, we scheduled extra rehearsals on Sunday afternoons, plus Monday through Friday evenings the week before we departed. Preparing and polishing the music was grueling, but our director, Betsy Cook Weber, led us through it with a smile—and her impeccable ear! By the time we were ready to depart, I had gotten to know the tour choir quite well and was looking forward to traveling with my 81 fellow singers and their guests.

Per Betsy's orders, we brought our water bottles to stay hydrated on the long flight.

Per Betsy’s orders, we brought our water bottles to stay hydrated on the long flight.

On Sunday, June 11, we were off! I only caught a few hours of sleep on the plane, but the adrenaline of shepherding the group to our closely-scheduled connecting flight at Heathrow kept me wide awake and chipper. As our plane descended into the Prague airport, my eyes were glued to the window as I took in the rolling green hills and red roofs of the Czech countryside for the first time.

Our first rehearsal with the Prague Symphony Orchestra was in Smetana Hall on Tuesday morning, and I ogled the pink marble and magnificent Art Nouveau chandeliers that adorned the lobby. The acoustic of the hall matched its decor—as we began the choral fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth, the warm, rich sound of the cellos and basses resonated beautifully throughout the hall. At that moment, I truly recognized what an honor it was to be singing with a renowned European orchestra in an historic hall, whose ornately decorated walls had heard the echoes of Beethoven’s Ninth hundreds of times before.

A Czech Ode to Joy

"Maestro took a blistering pace for the ending Presto section."

“Maestro took a blistering pace for the ending Presto section.”

The night of our first performance, we walked to the hall together in a conspicuous parade of black gowns and tuxedos that must have looked funny to the passing crowds of tourists. As we filed onstage, the audience clapped from the appearance of the very first singer until the very last assumed his place. I was exhilarated as soon as I heard the opening triplets of the timpani in Dvořák’s Te Deum, which is one of my favorite choral-orchestral works. The Chorus embodied the wildly joyful spirit of the piece with ease—we had made it to Prague, and we were singing Czech music with a Czech orchestra! I could not stop grinning during the finale, as the majestic brass fanfare leads the listener up to the gates of heaven.

Members of the Houston Symphony Chorus sing the finale of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.

Members of the Houston Symphony Chorus sing the finale of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

During the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th, the hall fell into a rapt silence at the first, quiet statement of the “Ode to Joy” theme. When the full Chorus finally chimed in with the theme, many Chorus members were moved to tears. Maestro took a blistering pace for the ending Presto section. It’s one of the most thrilling moments in the classical canon as excitement builds and erupts within the chorus and orchestra. The audience applauded for a full four minutes as the Maestro, Betsy, and the soloists were all presented with flowers. Our second and final performance with the Prague Symphony Orchestra was just as well-received.

Sharing a beverage with our Musical Ambassador, Carlos Andrés Botero, who came to hear our concert in Litomysl. The Chorus was honored to have his support!

Sharing a beverage with our Musical Ambassador, Carlos Andrés Botero, who came to hear our concert in Litomysl. The Chorus was honored to have his support!

When we weren’t singing, Chorus members had time to discover Prague’s many charms, from drinking cheap beer and eating trdelník, a cylindrical cinnamon-sugar pastry, to going garnet shopping and visiting museums. I made a pilgrimage a few metro stops south to the 17th-century fortress Vysehrad, which enclosed the cemetery where both Dvořák and Smetana are buried. I will never forget the melodious sound of the noon bells tolling as I wandered through it to pay my respects at Dvořák’s resting place.

On our last full day, we piled into buses to ride to Litomysl for our festival performance. The Chorus sang in the breathtaking Piarist Church of the Finding of the Holy Cross, and all singers soldiered on admirably through our marathon three-hour rehearsal of Mozart’s Mass in C, Dvořák’s Te Deum, Bernstein’s Missa Brevis and four American spirituals.

The Chorus performs to a sold-out crowd at the Piarist Church of the Finding of the Holy Cross in

The Chorus performs to a sold-out crowd at the Piarist Church of the Finding of the Holy Cross as part of the Smetanova Litomysl Festival.

Our hard work paid off during the concert, and we received a true standing ovation, a rare gesture for European audiences. Maestro was an effusive, young Czech gentleman, and it was clear that he put his heart and soul into the music he conducted, which was reflected in the Chorus’ enthusiastic singing. I could not stop the tears from falling during the Te Deum’s jubilant “Alleluia.” I realized how beautiful it was for the maestro to conduct the music of his homeland and how privileged we were to be a part of that.

At our farewell dinner that evening, toasts were made and the last liters of Czech beer were drunk to celebrate our successful tour. The Chorus members and their guests had an overwhelmingly positive response to the trip, and I know that many of the singers shared a transformational musical experience that strengthened the bonds within the group. I am excited to share a glimpse of Prague with the Houston Symphony when we perform Dvořák’s Te Deum again in September, and I look forward to the next adventure that brings our voices and our hearts together.

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Meet the 2017 Ima Hogg Competition Semi-finalists! Part 2

Ten outstanding young musicians were selected as semi-finalists for the 2017 Ima Hogg Competition. From throwing tantrums to wearing fancy dresses – these contestants share their fondest memories of their musical backgrounds.

Hear these talented contestants perform in the 2017 Ima Hogg semi-finals competition Thursday, June 1, at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.

Kiril Angelov, 24

Kiril Angelov, xylophone

Kiril Angelov, marimba

Kiril grew up in the north part of Bulgaria in the small town of Pleven and started playing the snare drum and xylophone at 6 years old.  

HS:  Are there other musical people in your family? How has your family encouraged your musical career? 

KA:  My mother is a piano teacher in the high school I graduated from. That was very important and had a big impact on my musical views and practice methods.  I was also playing piano back then and always tried to compare and find similarities and differences between percussion and piano.  This helped me to see and understand music from different perspectives. 

HS:  What memories do you have of your first rehearsals or performances?

KA:  I only remember my very first lesson in which I felt really energetic and excited even though I was probably nervous.  I liked standing behind the instrument from the very first moment.  

HS:  Who is your favorite composer and why? 

KA:  I very much enjoy the music of Bach.  His music is so special that it can sound and be accepted in so many different ways.  Also the fact that it is playable on most of the instruments we have now is fascinating.

Michael Ferri, 21

Michael Ferri, violin

Michael Ferri, violin

Michael was born in Italy and began studying violin at age 3. He’s currently studying at Rice University.

HS:  Are there other musical people in your family? How has your family encouraged your musical career? 

MF:  My parents raised me in a very musical setting.  As soon as I started speaking, I began to ask my parents to play an instrument.  Even before this, I could frequently be found watching orchestras on PBS, conducting them with a chopstick. 

HS:  What memories do you have of your first rehearsals or performances? 

MF:  Although I greatly enjoyed practicing and performing, I spent my first full year of violin lessons throwing tantrums and crying on the floor. Come to think of it, most of my violin lessons at present are quite similar.  Among my first memories of performances, one in particular stands out:  while playing a Suzuki concert, I played the last note of my piece, and accidentally lost control of my bow, sending it flying into the audience. 

HS:  What are the top 5 songs on your playlist or iPod? 

MF:  The art of Ivry Gitlis, Michael Rabin 1936-1972, Heifetz playing Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn, The Doors: The Best Of, Tom Waits – Blue Valentine. 

Rainer Crosett, 25

Rainer Crosett, cello

Rainer Crosett, cello

Rainer grew up outside of Boston and started on piano at age 5 and cello at age 9. 

HS:  What memories do you have of your first rehearsals or performances? 

RC:  My first cello teacher was a wonderful school orchestra director, but she was mainly a violinist, so for a while, I had a violin-style bow grip! The first orchestra rehearsals I had at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School were defining moments for me; I was blown away by the range of sounds an orchestra can make. 

HS: Who are some of your most profound influences and what is the impact they have on you? 

RC:  Ben Zander, who has been one of my mentors ever since I played in his youth orchestra in Boston, has been one of the most powerful influences in my life.  His boundless enthusiasm for music and his profoundly optimistic perspective on life have deeply affected who I am today. 

HS:  What are the top 5 songs on your playlist or iPod? 

RC:  Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 2(Cleveland/Fleisher/Szell, Mozart Divertimento K563 (Kremer, Kashkashian, Ma), Dvorak Cello concerto (Chicago/du-Pre/Barenboim), Beethoven Piano Sonata in E Major Op. 109 (Richter), Beethoven Violin Sonata in G Major Opl 96 (Kavakos/Pace)

Rachel Ostler, 24

Rachel Ostler, violin

Rachel Ostler, violin

Rachel grew up in Dallas in a musical family and started playing the violin at age 2.

HS:  Are there other musical people in your family? How has your family encouraged your musical career? 

RO:  I am so lucky because I grew up with siblings who were all musically inclined, and we played string quartets all the time!  Chamber music has always been close to my heart, at least partially because of this.  Even though none of my siblings have pursued music professionally, they are extremely supportive. 

HS: Who are some of your most profound influences and what is the impact they have on you? 

RO:  The obvious answer is really my parents.  Such an incredible amount of support from them.  But, artistically, speaking, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s writings quite heavily impacted me when I first discovered him, and are still a source of inspiration for me. 

HS:  What are the top 5 songs on your playlist or iPod? 

RO:  Barber Violin Concerto 2nd movement, Bach Andante from the A minor sonata, and probably a couple Radiohead songs. 

Vijay Venkatesh, 26

Vijay Venkatesh, piano

Vijay Venkatesh, piano

Vijay grew up in Southern California and began playing the piano at age 4.

HS:  Are there other musical people in your family? How has your family encouraged your musical career? 

VV:  My older sister is a violinist and we love to collaborate in performances. Sibling bickering in rehearsal has taught me the element of reaching an agreement! While my parents are not musicians themselves, they inculcated in me a love for music through recordings and taking me to live performances.    

HS: Who are some of your most profound influences and what is the impact they have on you? 

VV: Some of my inspirations include my parents because they always supported me in everything I set out to do. Musical influences include my professors Norman Krieger and Jeffrey Kahane.  They inspire me to push the limits of my imagination, creativity and courage;  always encouraging me to be fearless.    

HS:  What are the top 5 songs on your playlist or iPod?

VV:  Brahms 2nd Concerto with Norman Krieger and the London Symphony, the entire discography of Dinu Lipatti, Murray Perahia playing Bach, Leonard Bernstein conducting Mahler 1, Fritz Kreisler performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

Don’t miss the exciting conclusion of the 2017 Ima Hogg Competition on June 3! Get tickets and more info here.

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Meet the 2017 Ima Hogg Competition Semi-finalists! Part 1

Ten outstanding young musicians were selected as semi-finalists for the 2017 Ima Hogg Competition. From throwing tantrums to wearing fancy dresses – these contestants share their fondest memories of their musical backgrounds.

Things to know:

15,279: The number of miles our semi-finalists will travel to Houston for the competition

181: Combined years spent learning their instruments

4: number of contestants who are the only musicians in their families

1: number of times someone has run off stage crying

Hear these talented contestants perform in the 2017 Ima Hogg semi-finals competition Thursday, June 1, at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.

Alan Woo, 25

Alan Woo, piano

Alan Woo, piano

Alan grew up in Northern Virginia and began playing piano at age 4.

HS: What memories do you have of your first rehearsals or performances?

AW:  I remember in one of my first performances I sat down at the piano bench and decided not to play.  I vaguely recall running out and crying in the car before my mother convinced me to go back inside and try again.

HS:  Who are some of your most profound influences and what is the impact they have had on you?

AW:  My teachers have been my most profound influences.  It is already inspiring enough to experience their great musicianship, but I also think their willingness to help future generations of aspiring artists through our inevitable struggles is truly inspirational.  They are certainly my role models. 

HS: What are the top 5 songs on your playlist or iPod?

AW: Right now, Taneyev Piano Quintet, Schubert Piano Sonata D. 959, Chopin Cello Sonata, Mozart Marriage of Figaro, and Bartok Miraculous Mandarin.

Charles Seo, 21

Charles Seo, cello

Charles Seo, cello

Charles began his musical journey right here in Houston and started playing the cello at 9 years old.

HS:  Are there other musical people in your family? How has your family encouraged your musical career?

CS:  My mother majored in music composition; my father, visual art.  However my father served in the Korean Military Band so he knows how to play a lot of wind and brass instruments.  When I was very young, my mother placed me underneath the grand piano she played at church.  I believe that’s where my musical talent comes from.

HS:  What memories do you have of your first rehearsals or performances?

CS:  I remember playing the Shostakovich Cello Concerto with the Houston Youth Symphony at Stude Concert Hall many years ago.  When I perform at the semi-finals in Stude Hall again, it will be a very nostalgic experience.

HS: Who are some of your most profound influences and what is the impact they have on you?

CS:  I am such a lucky person to have met great mentors.  Brinton always encouraged me to try new things and pushed me very hard.  Getting me to learn violin pieces on the cello and challenging me to learn other difficult repertoire was his specialty.  Without him, I would have never gotten the chance to learn pieces like that, and I wouldn’t even have that mindset.

Churen Li, 21

Churen Li, piano

Churen Li, piano

Churen grew up in Singapore where she began piano studies at age 5.

HS:  Are there other musical people in your family? How has your family encouraged your musical career?

CL:  My grandparents teach Yangqin (Chinese hammered dulcimer) in a Chinese university.  My grandfather has early Parkinson’s and we can’t communicate much, but I love seeing the sparkle in his eyes when he listens to me play.

HS:  What memories do you have of your first rehearsals or performances?

CL:  One of my first performances was of a piece I wrote for my mother on her birthday, titled “To Mother with Love.”  I simply adored the euphoria of being onstage. I was also very excited about wearing my first fancy dress and putting on makeup for the first time.

HS:  What are the top 5 songs on your playlist or iPod?

CL:  Bach – St. Matthew’s Passion, Bill Evans – Someday My Prince Will Come, Morton Feldman – Rothko Chapel, Walton Violin Concerto 

Joseph Morris, 26

Joseph Morris, clarinet

Joseph Morris, clarinet

Joseph grew up in California and started playing clarinet at 9 years old.

HS:  What memories do you have of your first rehearsals or performances?

JM:  I remember my middle school band program had a system of “challenges” where you could attempt to usurp the chair of the person ahead of you in a head to head playing contest.  I feel like the clarinet section took this to the extreme and the healthy competition of it all kept me both enthusiastic and practicing. 

HS: Who are some of your most profound influences and what is the impact they have on you?

JM:  The most profound influence by far has been my clarinet teacher of nearly ten years, Yehuda Gilad.  He prioritized sincere and expressive musicianship above all else and that has remained very important to me.  Additionally, he felt it was important to encourage his students to be good and ethical human beings.   

HS:  What are the top 5 songs on your playlist or iPod?

JM:  The Beatles “Rubber Soul”, Richard Strauss’s ballet “Schlagobers”, selections from Verdi’s “Don Carlos”, Snarky Puppy “We Like it Here”, and Kendrick Lamar “untitled unmastered”.

I-Jung Huang, 22

I-Jung Huang, violin

I-Jung Huang, violin

I-Jung grew up in Taiwan and came to the United States at age 18 to study at the New England Conservatory of Music. She started playing the violin at 7 years old.

HS:  Are there other musical people in your family? How has your family encouraged your musical career?

IH:  My brother also learned a little bit of violin.  He was the person who actually got me started playing the violin. I am very grateful for my family because they support my music with all their effort.

HS: Who are some of your most profound influences and what is the impact they have on you?

IH:  My teacher from NEC, Miriam Fried, has long been my biggest influence.  She has an admirable work ethic and a confidence that she shares with all her students.   

HS:  What are the top 5 songs on your playlist or iPod?

IH:  For now, I have the Beethoven String Quartets recorded by the Guaneri Quartet.

Don’t miss the exciting conclusion of the 2017 Ima Hogg Competition on June 3! Get tickets and more info here.

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Lights, Camera, Music! How do orchestras play with films?

If you have ever watched part of a movie on mute, you know that without music, scary scenes aren’t as scary and happy endings just aren’t as happy. A live orchestra can take the emotional impact of a movie’s music to a whole new level, making suspenseful scenes terrifying, sad moments heartbreaking, and our protagonists’ victories truly ecstatic.

Movies—they’re better with a band

The practice of accompanying a film with live music recalls the glitz and glamour of the silent movie era, when lavish premieres would feature music provided by full orchestras. Recently, film with live orchestra has made a surprising comeback, due in no small part to increased recognition for Hollywood’s leading composers.

John Williams and Yo-Yo Ma take their bows after a sold-out 2013 performance with the Houston Symphony.

John Williams and Yo-Yo Ma take their bows after a sold-out 2013 performance with the Houston Symphony.

Of those luminaries, the reigning king of film scores is without question John Williams, and the Houston Symphony will be performing two of his most popular scores live to picture this summer, including Jurassic Park. Just to name a few of his many honors, Williams has won 5 Oscars, 3 Emmys, 4 Golden Globes and 23 Grammys Awards, and with 50 Academy Award nominations, he is second in history only to Walt Disney (who received 59). Having scored dozens of films, television shows and live events, John Williams has contributed to the soundtrack of modern American life in a way that few can rival—and his instrument of choice is the orchestra.

For film scores, precision is key

Coordinating a live orchestra with a film isn’t easy. Operations Director Becky Brown oversees just about everything that goes on backstage at Houston Symphony concerts, including our film with live orchestra presentations. “When the orchestra performs a live film score, there are definitely technical challenges,” she said.

On June 15 and 16, 2017, the Houston Symphony presents Jurassic Park—Film with Live Orchestra.

On June 15 and 16, 2017, the Houston Symphony presents Jurassic Park—Film with Live Orchestra.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge is that the musicians have to remain in sync with the film. There may be room in some scenes for a little give and take, but every film has lots of key moments where the music and image need to line up precisely.

The first line of defense is the conductor, who is ultimately responsible for keeping the orchestra together. “As with any type of repertoire, all conductors work slightly differently,” Becky said. Depending on the conductor’s preference, there are several kinds of technology he or she can use to keep the music and film in sync.

Becky explained, “The first is called a click track. The conductor and musicians wear headphones, and listen to what is essentially a metronome in order to stay synced.” So while you are listening to the music and watching the movie, all of the musicians are hearing the tick-tock of a metronome that keeps them in time with the film. “The other common way is for the conductor to have a monitor playing the movie near the podium. As the movie plays, a black bar goes across the screen from left to right. When it hits the right, the conductor gives the first beat in the next measure.”

What if technology fails?

Technical aids aside, the conductor really has to know the score and how it fits with the movie, especially in the event of a technical mishap. Fortunately, our conductor for Jurassic Park this summer, Constantine Kitsopoulos, is among the best in the business, as he demonstrated during a Houston Symphony performance of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek in 2014. The click track and monitor failed, but Kitsopoulos knew the film so well that he was able to conduct the score flawlessly anyway—no mean feat, considering that composer Michael Giacchino (who also wrote the music for Up, Ratatouille and Rogue One) was in the audience that night. As Becky said of Kitsopoulos, “he is a great colleague for the orchestra, staff, and technical crew.”

Constantine Kitsopoulos, conductor

Constantine Kitsopoulos, conductor

Besides staying in sync, “Another challenge is balancing the sound,” said Becky. “Often films have loud sound-effect sequences or uneven dialogue levels.” An audio engineer may have to tweak sound levels in real time during a performance to make sure everything is balanced.

Besides the music, there is also the projection of the film itself to worry about. “We set up a playback station for the engineers who are running the movie,” Becky said. “The films themselves run on software that allows the engineer to jump to specific points. This allows us to skip through dialogue sections during rehearsal. The playback station is sometimes backstage and sometimes in the mezzanine section, but it is from these positions that the technician sends the film onto the screen through the special projectors in the film booth.”

Our John Williams presentations this summer are just a few of the films we have planned in the coming year. Movie lovers can also look forward to Psycho at Halloween and Disney’s Fantasia in January. Hope to see you at Jones Hall soon!

Don’t miss our next film with live orchestra presentation, Jurassic Park.

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The Sound of History—Gabriela Lena Frank’s New Conquest Requiem

As Gabriel Lena Frank’s productive three year tenure as the Houston Symphony’s Composer-in-Residence comes to a close, this Latin Grammy-winning and Grammy-nominated composer has been preparing one of her most ambitious projects to date. Frank’s new Conquest Requiem calls for a large orchestra and chorus, plus soprano and baritone soloists. This is a big piece not only in terms of number of performers, but also in its message. The Conquest Requiem is the composer’s commentary on a pivotal era in history that has long fascinated her: the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire.

Gabriela Lena Frank, composer

Gabriela Lena Frank, composer

“I suppose this has been a while coming as I’ve long been a collector of the testimonials of the conquest’s many chroniclers—the conquistadores, the priests and friars, and the natives,” Frank reflected. As a composer of Chinese, Jewish, Eastern European, Peruvian, Spanish, and Quechua-Indian descent, Frank herself is a product of this historical epoch. “Tackling one aspect of the conquest for this piece comes from a personal connection to an event of such magnitude,” she said. “At the same time that entire societies were decimated, we witnessed the birth of new music, literature, food, political philosophies and, yes, even religions.”

Frank was especially attracted to the stories of two real historical figures who played important roles in the conquest and are represented in the Requiem by the soprano and baritone soloists: Malinche and Martín. “I think the most poignant commentary can be made by looking at the stories of individuals,” Frank said. “To that end, the Conquest Requiem is inspired by the true story of Malinche, a Nahua woman from the Gulf Coast of present-day Mexico who was given to the Spaniards as a young slave.  Malinche’s prowess as an interpreter of her native Nahuatl, various Mayan dialects, and Spanish elevated her position. She converted to Christianity and become mistress to Cortés during his war against the Aztecs, and would later give birth to their son Martín, one of the first mestizos of the New World.”

Hernán Cortés and La Malinche meet Moctezuma II.

Hernán Cortés and Malinche meet Moctezuma II.

“Depending on how history treats her, Malinche is viewed variously as a feminist hero who saved countless native and European lives, as a treacherous villain who facilitated genocide, as a conflicted victim of forces beyond her control, or as a symbolic mother of hew new mestizo people.  Her story is at once personal and historic.”

The requiem itself is a fusing of European and Native American influences. In a highly original move, Frank decided to incorporate the rhythms and inflections of three different languages into this new piece. Listeners familiar with Requiems by Mozart and Verdi will recognize verses from the traditional Latin text, but interwoven with these well-known words is poetry written by Aztec nobility in Nahuatl. Frank has had a longtime interest in Nahua literature: “For a few months while a grad student at the University of Michigan, I took some private tutorials in Nahuatl, but other than that, really had little familiarity with Nahuatl,” she recalled. “A great aid to me was a current graduate student at the University of California at Davis, Cuauhtemoc Quintero Lule, who helped me with translation and pronunciation. The Nahuatl is mostly assigned to our two soloists who carry the roles of Malinche and Martín.  Latin is sung by all.”

To link together the Latin and Nahuatl text, Frank called on one of her most frequent collaborators, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Nilo Cruz. “When we met in the fall of 2007, the artistic chemistry was instant,” Frank recalled. “I’ve actually done six pieces with Nilo, with the Requiem being the seventh, and we’re about to embark on an opera for our eighth!”

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Nilo Cruz

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Nilo Cruz

For the requiem, Cruz contributed “essential Spanish lyrics that not only tell the story of Malinche and her mestizo son, Martín, but also tie together the traditional liturgical verses from the Latin Mass for the Dead with Nahua poetry as chronicled by fallen Aztec princes. Of course, Nilo excels as a wholly original and wondrously lyrical writer, but he also has the ability to grasp history and cull together existing texts.  When I gave him a wish list of the Latin and Nahua verses I felt most drawn to, he did a wonderful job in making it all work.”

The Requiem also includes “a substantial role for the chorus that sings, even if just a few lines, in every movement. The chorus is very much like a Greek chorus, offering a mix of philosophical, spiritual, and dramatic commentary throughout.”

Musically, the Requiem is divided into seven movements, which have both familiar Latin titles such as “Dies Irae” as well as Nahua ones, including the opening “Cuicatl de Malinche” (Song of Malinche) which features the soprano soloist. Characteristic of her immediate and eclectic musical style, Frank describes the Requiem’s musical language as “a freely tonal language that is colored by atonality, with readily perceivable rhythmic and melodic shapes. Orchestral colors are quite important to me as they paint a landscape of the New World.”

Reflecting on what she hopes listeners will take away from a performance of her new work, Frank hopes that her music will help “in demystifying and de-demonizing harmful myths,” noting that “Our country’s greatest strength has always been its diversity.”

“I have long been drawn to mythology and folklore with its frequently close ties to spirituality; and freely confess that from time to time, I witness an event or visit a place or meet a person whose very incandescence gives me pause,” she added, reflecting on the spiritual associations of the Requiem genre. “It is perhaps from this place that I chose to honor those who have gone before us not simply in a piece entitled ‘Memorium’ but ‘Requiem.’”

See the world premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank’s Conquest Requiem May 5, 6 & 7 at Jones Hall. >>Get tickets

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