Mexican Composer Gabriela Ortiz Talks About “Yanga”


— I received this commission by Gustavo Dudamel and he asked me to write a piece that should be paired with Beethoven’s Ninth. And, he also asked me to use a choir and the possibility of the choir singing in Spanish. I was a little bit terrified. But, fascinated at the same time. — It’s very difficult for a composer to write a piece that would pair with Beethoven’s Ninth, you know. Because it’s like, my God. This is the cathedral. — Immediately I knew that I wanted to do something about Yanga for this commission, for the LA Phil. Well, he was an African prince. He was enslaved and he came to Mexico in 1575. He escaped from the Spanish and he founded the first free town in America. Well, that was a story that really attracted me for many reasons. One reason is because he’s talking about our third root, which is the Afro-Mexican root. One idea that I had in mind immediately when I decided to work, about Yanga, was to introduce a percussion quartet. Tambuco is, well, they are amazing musicians, but also, they have the ability to understand the way of playing ethnic instruments. I’m not emulating any African rhythm, but of course, the color is there. — What she creates with this is amazing. And she represents this soul of, you know, of Mexican music. Latin music. And “Yanga” is a combination, it’s about freedom. — I’m very grateful with the LA Phil, I should say. Because it’s an orchestra that is looking to the future. The openness that they have, is really incredible. And I feel very proud and very grateful that I’m part of this.