CONQUEST REQUIEM

Friday, May 5, 2017 at 8:00 PM
Saturday, May 6, 2017 at 8:00 PM 
Sunday, May 7, 2017 at 2:30 PM 


Program Notes

The Conquest Requiem is in seven movements, totaling about 38 minutes, with a substantial role for the choir that sings, even if just a few lines, in every movement.  While a requiem in the traditional sense in that it speaks generally of life and loss, this requiem is positioned from the vantage point of the Spanish Conquest of the New World in present-day Mexico.  More specifically, we hear the voices of Malinche, the multi-lingual concubine of conquistador Hernán Cortés, and their son Martín, one of the first "mestizos" of the New World, as they describe the destruction and rebirth of their land.  

The Conquest Requiem features a solo soprano, a solo baritone, and SATB choir; and three languages are utilized: Latin, Spanish, and Nahuatl, the Indian language of the Aztecs.  The Latin texts draw from traditional liturgical texts generally used in requiem, the Spanish texts are original words by playwright Nilo Cruz, and the Nahuatl texts draw on rescued poetry from Aztec nobility.  

The choir ONLY sings in Latin.  Traditional Italian pronunciation is preferred and text-setting was employed accordingly.  The soloists mostly sing in Spanish and Nahuatl, but also occasionally in Latin.  

A brief description of each movement follows:

I. Introit: Cuicatl de Malinche (Song of Malinche)

This is a substantial movement that features both sung words and humming on the part of the choir as well as a large role for the solo soprano.  The choral lines are mostly tonal and supported harmonically by the orchestra.  I think the biggest challenge of this movement will be breath endurance as some of the oscillating lines are long.  

II. Judex ergo cum sedebit

This is a vigorous movement just for the choir until the baritone comes in at the very end with one final line and takes us attacca into the third movement.  The choral lines are mostly tonal and supported harmonically by the orchestra, and there is quite a bit of repetition.  

III. Dies Irae: Cuicatl de Martín

I believe that this movement will be the most challenging for the choir.  It is almost like an opera scene as the "action" music moves quickly, even erratically, and is not typically tonal.  Wherever possible, the lines are supported in the orchestra.  Most of choral singing is in the first half of the piece but they do sing, even if just intermittently, throughout as the baritone carries a very big solo.  There is some repetition.  

IV. Recordare, Jesu pie

A short movement just for choral sopranos with the solo soprano taking the very last line.  Quite tonal, not difficult.

V. Rex Tremendae

Big part for the solo soprano, with a somewhat brief but powerful appearance for the choir that is harmonically supported by the orchestra.  

VI. Confutatis maledictis

Brief movement with slow tonal lines for the altos and basses singing together, then a brief appearance of sopranos and tenors before the solo baritone takes the final line.  Choral lines are supported harmonically by the orchestra.  

VII. In Paradisum: Benedicion de Malinche y Martín (Blessing of Malinche and Martín)

After an extended duet between solo soprano and baritone, the choir enters with music that is quite similar to what was sung in the opening Introit movement.

 

 
  Photo: Sabina Frank

Gabriela Lena Frank, Composer-in-Residence

Identity has always been at the center of Gabriela Lena Frank's music. Born in Berkeley, California, to a mother of mixed Peruvian/Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent, Gabriela explores her multicultural heritage most ardently through her compositions. Inspired by the works of Béla Bartók and Alberto Ginastera, she is something of a musical anthropologist. She has traveled extensively throughout South America, and her pieces reflect and refract her studies of Latin American folklore, incorporating poetry, mythology and native musical styles into a western classical framework that is uniquely her own.

She says, "There's usually a story line behind my music; a scenario or character." Even a brief glance at her titles evokes specific imagery: Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout; Cuatro Canciones Andinas and La Llorona: Tone Poem for Viola and Orchestra. Her compositions also reflect her virtuosity as a pianist—when not composing, she is a sought-after performer, specializing in contemporary repertoire. 

This premiere of Gabriela’s Requiem is the culmination of her tenure as the Houston Symphony’s Composer-in-Residence. This multi-cultural work interweaves traditional Latin and Meso-American texts with contemporary text by Pulitzer Prize-winning Cuban-American writer Nilo Cruz. Gabriela has developed a number of projects with Cruz, among them La Centinela y la Paloma (The Keeper and the Dove), a song cycle for Dawn Upshaw and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Journey of the Shadow for the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra. 

Other recent premieres include Iberian Songs for Music From Angel Fire; Five Scenes for the San Diego Symphony and Malashock Dance; Cuentos Errantes: Four New Folk Songswritten for The Sphinx Virtuosi; My Angel, His Name is Freedom for the Library of Congress and the Handel and Haydn Society; Karnavalingo for the Houston Symphony; Will-o'-the-Wisp for piccolo player Mary Kay Fink and the Cleveland Orchestra; Saints for the Berkeley Symphony, soprano Jessica Rivera and the San Francisco Girls Chorus; and Concertino Cusqueño for the Philadelphia Orchestra. 

Gabriela earned a B.A. and M.A. from Rice University. At the University of Michigan, she received a D.M.A. in composition. Her music is published exclusively by G. Schirmer, Inc. 


Nilo Cruz, original texts

Nilo Cruz is a Cuban-American playwright whose work has been produced widely across the United States and Europe. In 2003, he won the Pulitzer Prize and the Steinberg Award for Drama for his play Anna in the Tropics and was nominated for a Tony award. In 2009, he won the Helen Merrill Distinguished Playwright Award and the Laura Pels Mid-Career Playwriting Award, as well as the Fontanals-Cisneros USA Fellowship in Literature. Nilo’s 2016 work, Bathing in Moonlight, received an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award and a Greenfield Prize.

Nilo is a frequent collaborator with Houston Symphony Composer-in-Residence Gabriela Lena Frank. They have completed a set of orchestral songs, La centinela y la paloma (The Keeper and the Dove), for soprano Dawn Upshaw and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, which premièred under the baton of Joana Carneiro (2011); The Saint Maker, for soprano Jessica Rivera, mezzo-soprano Rachel Calloway, the San Francisco Girls Chorus and the Berkeley Symphony (2013); and Journey of the Shadow for narrator and ensemble of 11 players, which premièred with the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra (2013).

Also, Nilo penned the libretto to incoming Houston Symphony Composer-in-Residence Jimmy López' opera Bel Canto, which had its world première at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2015.

His plays have been seen at McCarter Theatre, New York Shakespeare Festival’s Public Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, Arena Stage, Victory Gardens, Repertorio Español, South Coast Rep., Arena Stage, Mark Taper Forum, Victory Gardens, New York Theatre Workshop, Magic Theatre, Minneapolis Children’s Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Florida Stage and many others. Internationally, his plays have been produced in Canada, England, France, Australia, Germany, Belarus, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama, Japan, Russia, and in many cities throughout Spain. 

Nilo Cruz taught playwriting at University of Iowa, Brown University, NYU Gallatin School and Yale University.

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