The Modesto Symphony Orchestra wanted to do something special to celebrate moving into the new Gallo Center for the Arts this season.
So the group got a grant from the American Composers Forum's Continental Harmony project to commission new pieces inspired by the region.
The finished works, by Berkeley composer Gabriela Frank, will première next week at the orchestra's "From the New World" concert, conducted by David Alan Miller. They are the orchestral work "Two American Portraits" and the choral work "San Joaquin."
Frank wrote the pieces after spending a year visiting the region as much as she could, meeting residents and learning about local history.
"Two American Portraits" opens with the movement "Frank's Alborada," an homage to Frank Mancini, the late founder of the Modesto Symphony Orchestra. Because Mancini played clarinet, two clarinets perform the alborada, which is a traditional dawn song of welcome from Spain.
"It's important to honor a musical founder of Modesto," the composer said in an e-mail interview. "Frank gave a tremendous amount to this community and represents a generous, community-oriented, pioneering spirit to me. I see a lot of that in Modesto's history, and encountered it in the people I met in Modesto today."
The piece's second movement, "Old Modesto," features the whole orchestra and is intended to convey the spirit of the valley's miners, farmers and horsemen. Frank said she drew her inspirations from her visits to the McHenry Museum, the Oakdale Cowboy Museum and Bob Brunker's steer ranch, Rancheria del Rio Estanislaus.
"San Joaquin," which will be performed
a cappella by the Modesto Symphony Orchestra Chorus, is a slow, contemplative work set to a poem by Fresno's William Everson that praises the valley.
"She wants the audience to get the message of the poetry," said Daniel Afonso, the MSO Chorus director.
Frank said both works are "songful, lyrical, direct, accessible, very American sounding."
For the remainder of the concert, the orchestra will perform Copland's "Old American Songs" and Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World").
Paul Jan Zdunek, the orchestra's chief executive officer, said he is excited that Modesto audiences will get to listen to a living composer's work.
"We're hoping this will re-engage the community and have them not be afraid of new music," he said.
Gabriela Frank will give a preview of her new works on piano at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Modesto Junior College Recital Hall, 435 College Ave. Admission is free.