Born in Berkeley, Calif., to a mother of Peruvian/Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent, the pianist and composer Gabriela Lena Frank has always placed identity at the center of her music. Inspired by extensive travel throughout South America, Frank’s oeuvre reflects her studies of Latin-American folklore, incorporating poetry, mythology and native musical styles into a Western classical framework uniquely her own.
21CM’s Mark McCoy interviewed the artist during a residency at DePauw University School of Music.
On the critical role school plays in a musician’s career:
“I can trace every single one of the things that I have today—prestigious Carnegie Hall premieres, writing for Yo Yo Ma … to a school connection. … The people you are [in class with] are the ones you are going to be working with in the future. They’re going to carry your name forth and help seed those future projects.”
On her latest work in development:
“I am working [on an opera] with the wonderful playwright Nilo Cruz … tackling the subject of famed Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera but in a new light. We are … [welding their] stories with El Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. What would Frida say if she came back to reminisce with Diego?”
On the next stage of her career:
“At 44 … I’m now starting to see some patterns where I think I’m going to leave a legacy. There are pieces that point to career and professional success but may not withstand my death. … But there are others that speak beyond my presence because performers own them more than I do. When [that happens[, it is the greatest gift … because it’s bigger than the composer.”
On the importance of being a curious artist:
“Curiosity, I think, is an absolute must for any happy artist. … The more I know, the more I realize I don’t know. If you dare to go out and look at the world, you’re going to realize how big it is and [how] small you are. But that’s marvelous.”