Length: c. 18 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion (crotales, cymbals, bass drum, maracas, claves, vibraphone, xylophone, snare drum, guiro, marimba], strings, mixed chorus, and percussion quartet (batas, ok6nkolo, it6teles, iya, djembe, rasp, guiro, wood boxes, shekere, jam block, crotales, caj6n, caxixi, drum set, claves, congas, bongos)
About this Piece
As the daughter of two founders of the group Los Folkloristas, Gabriela Ortiz grew up immersed in the sounds of Mexican vernacular music. Yet she is also highly trained at some of Mexico's and Europe's most esteemed music schools, ultimately obtaining a doctorate from London's City University. The interaction of street and academy, of improvised traditional music and rigorous electronic formulas, has been crucial in much of her work. !The Los Angeles Philharmonic commissioned and premiered her Altar de Piedras, a concerto for percussion ensemble and orchestra, in 2002. The LA Phil also commissioned and gave the world premiere of Téenek - lnvenciones de Territorio in 2017, and has performed it a number of times since, including on tour.)
Yanga originated when Alejandro Escuer, a Mexican flutist who has recorded an album of music by Ortiz, proposed an opera on Gaspar Yanga to her. Yanga was the African leader of a band of escaped slaves who successfully resisted recapture by the Spanish in the early 17th century and established the free town of San Lorenzo de los Negros, near Vera Cruz. (The town was renamed Yanga in his honor in 1932.)
The Spanish playwright and critic Santiago Martfn Bermudez created a libretto for this prospective opera, which is still pending. When Ortiz received the commission for this piece, to be a companion to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and its "Ode to Joy," she was at first uncertain about what text to use. Aware of the Yanga project, her friends Jan Karlin and Jeff von der Schmidt (founding directors of Southwest Chamber Music in Los Angeles) suggested something based on that inspirational story. Martín Bermudez wrote a new poem for the text, to which Ortiz added traditional chant texts from the Congo.
"Yanga is divided into four rhythmic and slow contrasting sections," Ortiz writes.
One of the most important features of the work is the use of African instruments that arrived in Latin America, such as the batás, guiros, shekeres, and cabasas, among others. My idea was to add the unique color of these instruments into a musical discourse from my imaginary sound world, without trying to directly emulate Afro-Latin American rhythms. The choir is often used rhythmically, creating various polyphonic textures and thus in dialogue with the solo percussion parts and the orchestra.
"To me, Yanga is a work about an immense expressive force that speaks of the greatness of humanity when in search of equality and the universal right to enjoy freedom to the fullest."
– John Henken