Music for Troubled Times: SMCO Performs Gabriela Lena Frank

by Maggie Molloy

Music is one of the great unifiers of our humanity, particularly in times of political division and social unrest. This Saturday, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra reflects on today’s troubled times with a message of hope and a program of music that unites traditions old and new, near and far.

The concert, titled “Journeys of Discovery and Hope,” begins with a composer whose life and music embodies her own cross-cultural heritage. Born to a mother of mixed Peruvian/Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent, Gabriela Lena Frank’s music draws from her extensive travels in South America, her studies of Latin American folklore, and her background in the Western classical music tradition.

“In our day and age it’s important that classical music is not seen as an aged art form that is reserved for people who occupy a certain stereotype: white, affluent, elderly,” said SMCO Music Director Geoffrey Larson. “Gabriela Lena Frank’s music makes a compelling statement that this genre belongs to all people and cultures, and is alive with great variety and diversity.”

Under Larson’s baton this Saturday, SMCO performs Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout for string chamber orchestra. Mixing elements of Western classical with Andean folk music traditions, the piece draws on the concept of mestizaje as envisioned by the Peruvian writer José María Arguedas, where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other. Across its six short movements, Leyendas uses Western classical instruments to emulate the rich timbres and harmonic textures of Andean instruments such as the panpipe and the tarka—and also to depict the vibrant characters of Andean history and folklore.

“With the influence of her own heritage, Frank creates music with fierce Peruvian-derived rhythms and fascinating allusions to traditional instruments,” Larson said. “She brings a vibrant palette of colors to her music that broadens audience conceptions of what an ensemble can sound like, and what classical music can be.”

For Saturday’s program, Frank’s vividly illustrated Andean walkabout is paired with something a bit more traditional but every bit as timely: Haydn’s Mass for Troubled Times, for which the orchestra will be joined by Choral Arts Northwest and soloists Tess Altiveros, Julia Benzinger, Brendan Tuohy, and Charles Robert Stephens.

“Journeys of Discovery and Hope” is the second concert in SMCO’s 2017-2018 season, which is dedicated to celebrating diversity and honoring voices that have been too often marginalized—or worse, silenced—throughout the classical music tradition.


“Journeys of Discovery and Hope” is Saturday, Jan. 20 at 8pm at Plymouth Congregational Church. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, January 12 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Angélica Negrón: La Isla Mágica (Innova Recordings)
Eleonore Oppenheim, double bass

Brimming with whimsy and wistful nostalgia, Angélica Negrón’s La Isla Mágica combines punchy, video game-worthy electronics with double bass, percussion, and ambient vocals. Performed here by Eleonore Oppenheim on her debut solo album Home, her bass swings, sways, and dances amid a swirl of technicolor electronics. At times it sounds almost as though she’s in the middle of a theme park, playing among the neon signs, the colorful carnival games, and the translucent stars above. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 1pm hour today to hear this piece.


Gabriela Lena Frank: Danza de los Saqsampillos (Naxos Records)
Alias Chamber Ensemble

I seriously can’t get enough of these works by Gabriela Lena Frank, with all their vibrant colors and stunning rhythmic character. Gabriela was born in the US to parents of Peruvian/Chinese and Lithuanian/Jewish ancestry, and much of her music is influenced by her heritage. Danza de los Saqsampillos is inspired by the Peruvian “saqsampillo,” a rambunctious jungle-dweller with a characteristic jumping two-person dance. This performance from the Alias Chamber Ensemble album Hilos is the version for two marimbas.
– Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear this piece.


David Bowie: “Ashes to Ashes” (arr. Bischoff)
Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff

David Bowie once said that “Ashes to Ashes” represented his own feelings of inadequacy about his work not having much importance.  Until “Ashes to Ashes” was released in 1980, much of Bowie’s music was cloaked in concept and personas so the vulnerability and maturity of this song was, among other things, his way of closing that chapter and moving on. In this version, from an album recorded just two weeks following Bowie’s death in 2016, the harsh textures, edginess, and synthesized guitars of the original are replaced with softer melancholy strings and sultry nightclub vocals.  Bowie is celebrated here, not emulated, and that’s what makes this tribute shine.
 Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this piece.


David Crowell: “Waiting in the Rain for Snow” (New Amsterdam Records)
NOW Ensemble

This is exactly what waiting in the rain for snow sounds like.

NOW Ensemble’s flute, clarinet, double bass, oboe, piano, and electric guitar combine the excitement and anticipation of dramatic, beautiful flakes drifting from the sky, with the anxious desire to stay dry while the undesirable in-between phase of sleet insistently pounds the pavement in front of you. – Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9pm hour today to hear this piece.