Arlene Sierra

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Arlene Sierra
Background information
Birth nameArlene Elizabeth Sierra
BornMiami, Florida, U.S.
OriginNew York City, New York, U.S.
Years active1997–present
LabelsBridge Records

Arlene Sierra is an American composer of contemporary classical music, working in London, United Kingdom.


Sierra studied at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, Yale University School of Music and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, receiving a DMA in 1999; her principal teachers were Martin Bresnick, Michael Daugherty and Jacob Druckman. A composition fellow at the Britten-Pears School (Aldeburgh Festival) in 2000 and Tanglewood in 2001, teachers included Louis Andriessen, Magnus Lindberg, and Colin Matthews. She also worked with Judith Weir at the Dartington International Summer School in 1999, Paul-Heinz Dittrich in Berlin in 1997-8, and Betsy Jolas at The American Conservatory of Fontainebleau Schools in 1993.[1]


Sierra's music has been commissioned by organizations including the Seattle Symphony,[2] Tanglewood Music Festival,[3] the New York Philharmonic,[4] the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival,[5] the Albany Symphony, the Cheltenham International Festival, the Jerome, PRS and Cheswatyr Foundations, and the Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust. Performers of her work have included New York City Opera VOX, the American Composers Orchestra, the London Sinfonietta, the New Music Players, Psappha, the International Contemporary Ensemble, Chroma, the Schubert Ensemble, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and the Tokyo Philharmonic.

In 2001, she was the first woman to win the Takemitsu Prize;[6] in 2007 she received a Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters[7] with a citation for music, "by turns, urgent, poetic, evocative and witty." In 2011, a debut CD of chamber music was released by Bridge Records: Arlene Sierra, Volume 1[8][9] and she was named Composer of the Year by the Classical Recording Foundation.[10] A second CD, Game of Attrition: Arlene Sierra, Vol. 2, was released in 2014 including four orchestral works recorded by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Jac Van Steen, conductor.[11] In the same year, Moler, an orchestral work commissioned by the Seattle Symphony, was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award.[12] Sierra's latest release on the Bridge label, Butterflies Remember a Mountain – Arlene Sierra, Vol. 3 (2018) is a chamber disc including performances by Nicola Benedetti, Leonard Elschenbroich, the Horszowski Trio, and Quattro Mani.[13] Sierra has been named Composer-in-Association with the Utah Symphony for the 2020-21 season.[14]

Sierra was a Composition Tutor at Cambridge University in 2003-4 before joining Cardiff University School of Music in 2004, where she is Professor of Composition.[15]

Her music is published by Cecilian Music (ASCAP).

Musical style[edit]

Sierra's compositions are rooted in early training in classical piano and in electronic music at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.[16]

Many of Sierra's mature works have their origins in military strategy and game theory, with literary sources including Vitruvius and Sun Tzu, notably: Ballistae (2000) for large ensemble and Surrounded Ground (2008) for sextet,[17] as well as Art of War (2010), a concerto for piano and orchestra.[18]

Sierra is also inspired by bird song, insect calls, and sounds and processes from the natural world including Butterflies Remember a Mountain (2013), a piano trio which was inspired by a peculiar detour in the annual mass migration of monarch butterflies. This trio was the starting point for her Nature Symphony (2017) commissioned by the BBC Philharmonic and BBC Radio 3.[19] Other works that employ natural sounds and processes include Cicada Shell (2006) for ensemble, Birds and Insects, Books 1 and 2 (2007, 2015) for piano solo, Insects in Amber (2010) for string quartet, and Urban Birds (2014) for three pianos with percussion and electronics.[20]

These two interests – nature and military strategy – are both evident in her 2009 orchestral work Game of Attrition which takes its structure from processes described by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species.[21]

Sierra has also demonstrated an interest in dramatic and stage works centered on women protagonists, in scenarios ranging from Faust in the opera Faustine[22] to human trafficking in the collaborative chamber opera Cuatro Corridos.[23] Since 2012, she has been working on a series of new scores to films by Maya Deren, including Meditation on Violence[24] and Ritual in Transfigured Time.[25]

See also[edit]

Articles and interviews[edit]


  1. ^ "Arlene Sierra | London-based American composer | Biography". Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  2. ^ The Seattle Symphony and Music Director Ludovic Morlot Announce 2012–2013 Season "Press release" (Press release). Archived from the original on 26 May 2012. Retrieved 11 March 2012.
  3. ^ Oestreich, James, A First and a Finale, Along With A Birthday, The New York Times 23 July 2002 [1]
  4. ^ Rogers, Madeline, Contact! – Present at the Creation [2], Playbill, 16 Dec 2009
  5. ^ Fanning, David, Paean to a Great Dane,[3], The Daily Telegraph, 27 Nov 2002
  6. ^ Takemitsu Award results, 2001 Archived November 23, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ American Academy of Arts and Letters Press Release, Music, 2007 Archived 2011-06-17 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Quinn, Michael, Bridge Records to launch series dedicated to music by Arlene Sierra,, 5 April 2011 [4] Archived 24 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Clements, Andrew, Sierra: Cicada Shell; Birds and Insects Book 1; Surrounded Ground, etc – review, The Guardian, 14 July 2011 [5]
  10. ^ "Classical Recording Foundation Honors Robert Paterson and Arlene Sierra with Composer of the Year Awards". 23 November 2011.
  11. ^ Clements, Andrew (27 February 2014). "Piano Concerto: Art of War; Game of Attrition; Aquilo; Moler review – game-theory, teeth-grinding and natural selection". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  12. ^ "Latin Grammys 2014: Complete list of nominees and winners". Los Angeles Times. 21 November 2014. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
  13. ^ "Review". Gramophone. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  14. ^ "Utah Symphony Announces 2020-21 Season". USUO. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  15. ^ "Professor Arlene Sierra". Cardiff University. Archived from the original on 2 July 2016. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
  16. ^ Oberlin Composers – Making it New [6] (2009/10) Oberlin Conservatory.
  17. ^ Schweitzer, Vivien (16 March 2009). "Odes, Bees and Battles in Textured Sounds". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 26 March 2020.
  18. ^ "Arlene Sierra Explores Darwin, Warfare and Chinese Philosophy | New Sounds | Hand-picked music, genre free". newsounds. Retrieved 26 March 2020.
  19. ^ "Premieres: November's new music". Rhinegold. Retrieved 26 March 2020.
  20. ^ "Birdsong piece wins £20,000 fund". BBC News. 12 May 2013. Retrieved 26 March 2020.
  21. ^ "Unflinching depictions of nature". Natural light. Retrieved 26 March 2020.
  22. ^ Filipski, Kevin (12 March 2011). "VOX Contemporary American Opera Lab: Exploring the Future of Opera". Playbill. Archived from the original on 26 March 2020. Retrieved 26 March 2020.
  23. ^ "Critic's Pick: Unflinching 'Cuatro Corridos' opera comes to Zipper Concert Hall". Los Angeles Times. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 March 2020.
  24. ^ Clements, Andrew (24 October 2012). "Lontano/De la Martinez – review". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 26 March 2020.
  25. ^ "Ritual in Transfigured Time | REVIEW". The Cusp Magazine. 7 October 2016. Retrieved 26 March 2020.

External links[edit]