Last Friday, ALIAS held its Fall Concert featuring the World Premiere of Hilos, by composer Gabriela Lena Frank. The event was featured on the cover of the Nashville Scene's recent fall guide, where readers learned that Friday's performance was a big-deal collaboration between major educational and governmental institutions, with a tie-in educational component for Paragon Mills Elementary School in Nashville (read more about that at the NEA interview with the composer, here).
ALIAS has had a good year on the Nashville Scene cover; founder Zeneba Bowers appeared on a March cover, as well, when it was announced that Hilos had been commissioned:
In partnership with Vanderbilt and St. Paul, Minn.'s world-renowned Schubert Club, Alias has commissioned a quartet by internationally acclaimed composer Gabriela Lena Frank. A young, vibrant composer of Peruvian/Jewish/Chinese/Lithuanian descent (yes, you read that right), Frank is on the cutting edge of modern classical music, creating works that reflect all of those cultural roots, not to mention her extensive travels through South America. In addition to live performances, the project will include a Naxos recording of Alias playing Frank's composition along with the recording premieres of several other pieces.The fall guide cover story about Hilos is fascinating - this Hilos commission was not only a real coup but quite the cooperative venture - and explains the broader community context of the performance:
The Spanish word for "threads," Hilos alludes to the image of Andean weaving as a unifying metaphor for the work, but it might well also refer to the many-stranded nature of the project itself. The multiple sponsors have supported not only the commission, concerts and recording, but also a significant community outreach initiative: "Mestiza Music in Music City," which coincides with National Hispanic Heritage Month, will feature several performances at area schools and a family-oriented concert at 4 p.m. Oct. 3 at Antioch High School.The Tennessean posted a glowing review of last Friday's performance, starting with this praise:
ALIAS Chamber Ensemble can do more than make good music: It can, for a time, alter the season and time of day.In its review, the Scene reports that Blair's Turner Hall was packed and that the various members of the ensemble were spot-on:
Frank certainly couldn't have hoped for a better performance. An accomplished pianist, she joined Alias musicians Zeneba Bowers, violin, Lee Levine, clarinet, and Matt Walker, cello, in a rendition that was both spontaneous and intensely musical. Frank tossed off the work's bold tremolos and glissandi with dramatic flair, making the music sparkle. But she was also a sensitive accompanist whose flexible phrasing always brought out the best in the other players.Nashville will certainly be looking forward to that album.
Bowers, Alias' artistic director, proved to be a serious and stylish artist. Her golden tone made Frank's highly emotional melodies seemingly melt, and her perfect intonation allowed her to hit every note dead center — no mean feat given that many of "Hilos' " special effects (quick slides and pizzicatos) turned notes into moving targets.
Levine delivered some of the evening's most memorable performances. Her playful melodies in the opening movement, "Canto del Altiplano" (Song of the Highlands), readily called to mind the sound of traditional panpipes and flutes. She added colorful counterpoint in the next movement, "Zapatos de Chincha" (Shoes of Chincha).
Walker, Alias' executive director, also gave an impressive performance. He played with an amber tone and a solid technique — his playing of fast passages in the fourth movement "Danza de los Diablos" (Devil Dance) had real fire. But he was also a team player whose careful listening resulted in a beautifully synchronized performance.
Alias has recorded "Hilos" for an all-Frank album due for release on the Naxos label in 2011. If the recorded rendition is half as good as the live performance, it will surely be regarded as definitive.