‘Walkabout: Concerto for Orchestra’ premieres at DSO

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

On Friday, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will premiere “Walkabout: Concerto for Orchestra,” by California composer Gabriela Lena Frank.

If Frank’s name rings a bell, it’s because she’s been the composer-in-residence at the DSO the past three years, a gig just winding up that was underwritten by New Music USA and the League of American Orchestras.

Frank did her graduate work in composition at the University of Michigan, graduating in 2001, so in many ways the partnership with the DSO has been a homecoming.

The residency was an opportunity to work with what she called “a storied institution,” and a chance to witness Detroit’s uptick first-hand.

“It’s been a privilege to come to Detroit the past three years and see the city just explode between visits,” she said Wednesday. “And the orchestra has gone through an exciting revitalization at the same time.”

Frank, who grew up in the Bay Area, often draws on her mother’s Peruvian heritage in her music, and “Walkabout” is no exception.

That influence might be hard to discern in the first three movements, she said, unless you really know Andean music. But the fourth and last movement, “Tarqueado,” uses what Frank called a familiar melody drawn from marching bands playing “tarkas,” or wooden flutes.

The movement, she said, has an “extended, very mysterious opening. But when the groove starts two or three minutes into it, it’s constant drum beats, trading off between the big bass drum and timpani.”

“Tarqueado” may remind some of Ravel’s “Bolero,” Frank added, “in that there’s this melody that comes and goes and then comes back.”

The DSO has performed a number of Frank’s earlier works, including her doctoral dissertation. But as a freelance composer, she’s always juggling compositions for a variety of ensembles. Upcoming gigs include a premiere of a symphony at Carnegie Hall, a commission for the famed Silk Road Ensemble and an opera at the Fort Worth Opera.

The latter might be of particular interest to Detroiters. The story involves the ghost of Frida Kahlo, who comes back to earth on the Day of the Dead to reminisce with Diego Rivera.

Gabriela Lena Frank:

‘Walkabout: Concerto for Orchestra’

Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Orchestra Hall, 3711 Woodward, Detroit

10:45 a.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $15 - $100

(313) 576-5111