The Houston Symphony has commissioned a new work by Gabriela Lena Frank. The world premiere will take place this weekend (September 19-21) as the kick-off of the 101st concert season. From the press release about the upcoming performance:
A Houston Symphony commission, Karnavalingo draws upon the musical culture of Frank’s mother’s homeland of Perú with its rich and varied sounds deriving from native Indian, African and Spanish influences. As a graduate of Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, Frank has dedicated the piece to a beloved English professor, Edward Doughtie, who encouraged her as a blossoming musician and passed away in spring of 2014.
It’s disappointing to see that though Frank is the composer-in-residence at the Houston Symphony, the premiere of her work is listed last in the release – the featured story, as seen by the publicist, is Andre Watts performing Rachmaninoff as the first concert under the direction of Andrés Orozco-Estrada.
However, it seems as though the Houston Symphony is at least attempting to be conscientious about the inclusion of diverse programming. In the news release for the season, they specifically boasted about the works by women that will be heard:
In what is typically considered a male-dominated profession, this season showcases musical works written by living women composers. California-born Gabriela Lena Frank is featured in three programs next fall, with one in September premiering a brand new composition created in honor of Andre´s’ Inaugural Season. Frank will also take up a two-week residency with the Houston Symphony to go into the community and connect with Symphony audiences. Frank has strong ties to Houston, having received a master’s degree from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. Another American female composer, Jennifer Higdon, is showcased in the Robert Spano-conducted concert in April 2015. Two of her orchestra pieces will be featured: Concerto for Orchestra and Blue Cathedral, an emotionally-charged composition inspired by her younger brother who died of cancer.
I think we can all agree that including works by two women (one being the composer-in-residence, the other being one of the most widely recognized and performed contemporary composers – and, at that, performing two of her most well-known works) still falls short of “showcasing” the works of women, or being truly inclusive.
To get a sense of Frank’s process and style, here is an interview that Frank did on the Craig Fahle show after her appointment as composer-in-residence to the Detroit Symphony where she currently is also showcasing her talents: