Pinching myself in Philo: Bueno Yabbelow concert at the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music

Greg Krouse, contributing writer, Anderson Valley Advertiser

Gabriela Lena Frank’s Bueno Yabbelow Music Series concert at the Anderson Valley Grange #669 (Sept 19th, 2017) was pretty impressive. Joshua Roman, Cellist and Johnny Gandelsman, Violinist, are world class performers. Gabriela named her series carefully including our mixed culture with the notion of a conversation. Yabbelow (Boontling) means ‘active excited chatter’ with bueno (Spanish) meaning good active chatter. Gabriela school, the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music, has many objectives: to find seed ideas, realize these with evolving skills of music notation, develop community within musicians, and exchange with musicians to a yet larger community. This Bueno Yabbelow introduces the fruit of a year’s newly-created pieces. Unlike a traditional recital, where most music is solely interpreted by listeners, we were provided a kernel of the seed thoughts from the composers themselves. The first piece on the concert (Zapatos de Chincha, or "shoes from Chincha," a coastal Peruvian town) was composed by Gabriela. A provocative piece, with lots of breath and sweeping sounds from both instruments.

Roger Zare, a new professor of music at the University of Northern Iowa, based his piece on the distorted world of artist Escher in a triptych. Imagine interpreting Escher musically? The image-A bicycle wheel penetrates a quiet pond surrounded by ruts & debris. The instruments managed untraditional sounds to depict the tire with tranquil trills of birds, I assume. It had lots of contrast. The second movement had lots of staccato (bursts) and syncopation. The final Escher’s drawing were of images moving into one another. The music felt like opposites, and yet the instruments would bend and churn together.  

Next, Violinist Johnny Gandelsman soloed, playing a piece by Edward Perez.  This was Peruvian dance based on Bach dances as a tribute to his friend, Gabriela. It was complex, syncopated with lots of internal Latino rhythm. Gandelsman’s bow flew over the four strings with plucking punctuations. His foot taps were audible as we all swayed a bit. It was contagious, a show stopper. I pinched myself. Ow, not a dream!

Akashaya Tucker introduced Breathing Sunlight, a piece based on musical forms from India where the sense of light presented itself, passed from violin to cello and then grew to a huge crescendo and dissipated. It was very sweet, yet powerful.

Christine Hedden, an Irish lass composed a piece from a Gaelic word about the color of sunrise.  It passed back in forth between the two instruments with the cello plucking and bowing. It was very moving and grew to a strong complex crescendo.

Joshua Roman played a striking solo of a Bach’s Prelude for in G Major from the first cello suite and I pinched myself again. Philo? Hey that hurts. Awake!

Michael Thomas-Foumai, a Hawaiian music professor who traveled from Honolulu, wrote a composition called Stellar Cartography evolved from star maps, an evolution of the universe. He described stars exploding, occurring almost immediately as Gandelsman violin exploded with sound. We were off on a journey that only a star could make, seemingly directed and yet at times like an ADD star, bumbling in some detail, then exploding again. A sense of inner spacial-ness was created with the passages appearing to echo. I enjoyed the journey.

Finally, Noah Luna, stepped forward mentioning that he started in music as a band member and well, for him the social and joint creation was core. Noah’s piece was Porchlight Sessions based on memories of adolescent guitar playoffs in his home. It was there, a classical standoff, with these two Virtuosos battling. Then Johnny strummed his instrument as if a guitar and well.., it got interesting. It was a fun piece.

The Q&A of all performers and composers afterwards where most of the audience stayed: Composers start from all sorts of angles: a kernel of sound, a passage of music from a previous composer, and visual ideas. Gabriela said that sometimes the musical conservatories miss the importance of inspiration and exchange between composers and musicians. Also that notation is limited, identifying only notes and meter when music is even more than that. But as violinist Johnny noted, Zare’s piece had a section where the two instruments played out of synch. A simple edge of score note was crucial, one of Gabriela’s Academy teaching points. We learned about the instruments, how musicians practice new music and where their drive came from. ¡Bueno!

What is the Bueno Yabbelow Music Series as curated by the Boonville-based Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music? One, discovering how these pieces manifest in the composer. Two, who is behind the music, composer and artist. Three, classical music on the Grange stage. The last, the author’s slow dream that materialized last year at the annual highly-attended Anderson Valley Variety Show, with Gabriela, a smidge of a gal with a huge heart, monstrous talent, and equally large vision, introducing herself for the first time to our community. Using top performers and a small audience, she sees these Bueno Yabbelow performances as a means to engage her students in community, try these brand spanking new pieces on an audience and create a dialogue. The dream manifested grandly and Bueno Yabbelow will return again and again.

A subset is the Piano series, Dancing on Ivories, which returns this Saturday Oct. 7th at 7:30 with none other than Gabriela Lena Frank. A Grammy winning musician, performing magic on the Grange grand piano with a mix of classic past and her own composition and some Bueno Yabbelow of her own,! Ouch! It’s not a dream!

Gabriela Lena Frank