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Meet the Composer

Gabriela Lena Frank

If you look at me, I don't look like most composers in classical music. I'm not white; I'm a woman; I'm alive... And: I'm hearing-impaired. ”

Gabriela Lena Frank

Meet Gabriela Lena Frank and learn about her journey to music composition and her residency with the DSO in the video below. You can also watch the new performance of "Coqueteos" from her work Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout, which was recently featured on the Educational Concert Series, by clicking here.

Gabriela's three-season composer residency with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra began in the 2013-2014 season. The DSO thanks New Music USA for their support of Gabriela's Music Alive composer residency which has had a lasting impact on the DSO and the greater Detroit community as the DSO continues to program and promote Gabriela's compositions.

Meet The Composer: Gabriela Lena Frank

I had this instinct that the world needed me to go into an environment that didn't represent multi-racial, Latina-identifying individuals like myself. ”

Gabriela Lena Frank


Born in Berkeley, California (September, 1972), to a mother of mixed Peruvian/Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent, Gabriela explores her multicultural heritage through her compositions. Inspired by the works of Bela Bartók and Alberto Ginastera, Gabriela has traveled extensively throughout South America in creative exploration. Her music often reflects not only her own personal experience as a multi-racial Latina, but also refract her studies of Latin American cultures, incorporating poetry, mythology, and native musical styles into a western classical framework that is uniquely her own.

Gabriela's composer residency with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra began in the 2013-2014 season and was in effect for three seasons. While in residence with the DSO, she composed Walkabout: Concerto for Orchestra, which was ultimately premiered in February 2017 as part of the 2016-17 Classical Series. The DSO also programmed many of her existing works during the residency.

Gabriela's first orchestral work, Elegía Andina, was performed in January 2014 as part of the DSO’s Neighborhood Concert Series. Another orchestral work, Concertino Cusqueño, was performed in May 2015 as part of the 2014-15 Classical series. In addition, an excerpt of "Highland Harawi" from Three Latin American Dances for Orchestra was performed during an Educational Concert Series webcast performance in April 2016. There were 65,000 global views of the composition, with 30,000 of those views coming from students in the city of Detroit.

In March 2015, the DSO and guest artist Jessica Rivera performed Gabriela's The Keeper and the Dove (La centinela y la paloma), a new work for soprano and chamber orchestra. A distillation of an opera in progress at the time by Frank and playwright Nilo Cruz, this song cycle features two characters: Catrina, the keeper of souls who bestows a gift once a year to spirits that wish to visit their loved ones still living; and Frida, who yearns to see Diego once again. The piece was performed in partnership with the Detroit Institute of Arts, who presented a Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo exhibit at the time of the performance. Pre-and post-concert Q&A sessions and panels were planned to engage audiences.

Ms. Frank also focused on a variety of community and education outreach activities during her residency. The first of two community engagement projects partnered Gabriela with American House Senior Living Communities, where she collaborated with the American House’s choir and residents to produce an original work for the choir to perform. Lyrics were collected from the personal stories of the residents, gathered through interviews conducted by the American House’s own choral director in conjunction with the composer, and the piece was arranged for choral performance for string quartet. The resulting composition, "American House Anthem," was premiered in the Peter D. and Julie F. Cummings Cube in July 2015.

The second community engagement project partnered Gabriela with the Detroit Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital. Drawing on an existing song writing program led by DMC music therapists, she collaborated with patients and their families to produce a composition drawing on their emotions and experiences. Additionally, she contributed simple melodies that can be enjoyed by premature infants in intensive care as they grow through their delicate first few weeks and months; and a few simple arrangements of nursery rhymes that can be enjoyed by older children.

Gabriela's educational outreach brought her to many local schools. One visit in particular sticks out: visiting with Deaf and hard of hearing students who attended school at the Detroit School of Arts High School. As a female composer of color who has experienced hearing loss, she hoped that her unique story would inspire students to forge a path in the performing arts. Focusing on individuals who already found their way to a career in composition, she also served as a mentor composer for the EarShot Classical Roots reading sessions that the DSO hosted in March 2014 and March 2019. The header photo above shows Gabriela in Orchestra Hall, working with composer Brian Nabors as his composition is read by the orchestra.

Learn more about Gabriela's current projects and the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music here

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