Arlene Sierra

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Arlene Sierra (born June 1, 1970) is an American composer of contemporary classical music, working in London, United Kingdom. Sierra was born in Miami. She 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, Oliver Knussen, 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 and Dominique Troncin at The American Conservatory of Fontainebleau Schools in 1993.

Her music has been commissioned by organizations including the Seattle Symphony,[1] Tanglewood Music Festival,[2] the New York Philharmonic,[3] the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival,[4] 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;[5] in 2007 she received a Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters[6] 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[7][8] and she was named Composer of the Year by the Classical Recording Foundation. 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. Her work Moler from the same disc was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award in 2014.

Sierra was a Composition Tutor at Cambridge University in 2003-4 before joining Cardiff University School of Music as Lecturer in Composition in 2004. She was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2010 and to Reader (academic rank) in Composition 2016. Sierra lives in London with her husband British composer Kenneth Hesketh and son Elliott Sierra Hesketh.

Her music is published exclusively by Cecilian Music (ASCAP).

Musical style[edit]

Arlene Sierra's compositions are rooted in early training in classical piano with Dr Rosalina Sackstein (a student of Claudio Arrau) and in electronic music at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music,[9] as well as her interests in dance and orchestral sonority and timbre. 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, Truel (2002-4) for piano trio, A Conflict of Opposites (2005) for violin or clarinet with piano, Surrounded Ground (2008) for sextet, and Art of War (2010), a concerto for piano and orchestra.

Sierra is also inspired by bird song, insect calls and sounds and processes from the natural world. Her 2009 work, Game of Attrition – commissioned by the New York Philharmonic – takes its structure from processes described by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species. 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, Butterflies Remember a Mountain (2013) for piano trio, and Urban Birds (2014) for three pianos with percussion and electronics.

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


Works for Orchestra[edit]

  • Nature Symphony for Orchestra (2017)
  • Moler for Orchestra (2012)
  • Game of Attrition for Chamber Orchestra (2009)
  • Aquilo for Orchestra (2001)
  • Aquae for Orchestra (2000)
  • Ballistae for Orchestra (2000)
  • Mantegna Diptych for Orchestra (2000)

Soloist and Orchestra[edit]

  • Art of War Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2010)
  • Dedication and Dance Trombone Concerto for Orchestra or Symphonic Winds (1994, revised 2003)

Wind Ensemble[edit]

  • Dedication and Dance Trombone Concerto for Orchestra or Symphonic Winds (1994, revised 2003)

Large Ensemble (7 or more players)[edit]

  • Colmena for 14 Players (2008)
  • Cicada Shell for Septet (2006)
  • Tiffany Windows for 12 players (2002)
  • Four Choreographic Studies for 10 Players (2001)
  • Ballistae for 13 Players (2000)

Soloist and Large Ensemble (7 or more players)[edit]

  • Neruda Settings for Soprano and Chamber Ensemble (2002-5)

Works for 2 to 6 Players[edit]

  • Butterflies Remember a Mountain for Piano Trio (2013)
  • Avian Mirrors for Violin and Cello (2013)
  • Insects in Amber String Quartet (2010)
  • Surrounded Ground for Sextet (2008)
  • A Conflict of Opposites for Violin or Clarinet and Piano (2005)
  • Truel for Piano Trio or Clarinet Trio (2004-7)
  • Truel 1 for Piano Trio or Clarinet Trio (2002-3)
  • Counting-Out Rhyme for Cello and Piano (2002)
  • Zwei Huhner for Oboe and Trombone (200o)
  • Harrow-Lines for Quintet (1999)
  • of Risk and Memory for Two Pianos (1997)
  • Four Love Songs for Viola and Piano (1993)
  • Duo for Violoncelli (1993)

Solo Works[edit]

  • Birds and Insects, Book 2 Piano Solo (2015-8)
  • Cricket-Viol for Solo Viola/Voice (2010)
  • Birds and Insects, Book 1 Piano Solo (2007)
  • The Art of Lightness Flute Solo (2006)
  • Two Etudes After Mantegna Cello Solo (1998)

Solo Voice and up to 6 Players[edit]

  • Hearing Things for Soprano and Piano (2008)
  • Streets and Rivers for Baritone and Piano (2007)
  • Two Neruda Odes for Soprano, Cello and Piano (2004)
  • Hand Mit Ringen for Soprano and Trio (2002)
  • Three Descriptions for Soprano and Piano (1997)

Electroacoustic Works[edit]

  • Urban Birds for 3 Pianos with Percussion and Recorded Birdsong (2014)

Works with Film[edit]

  • Meditation on Violence chamber ensemble score to the Maya Deren film (2012)
  • Ritual in Transfigured Time chamber ensemble score to the Maya Deren film (2016)

Opera and Music Theatre[edit]

  • Cuatro Corridos - Dalia Opera Scena for Soprano and Ensemble (2013)
  • Faustine Opera in one act for 5 Singers and Orchestra (2011-)


  • Four Choreographic Studies for 10 Players (2001)


  • Alike Dissolving for SATB, Children's Choir and String Orchestra (2001)
  • Alike Dissolving for Unaccompanied SATB (2001)
  • Alleluya (Bitter-Sweet) for four men's voices or SATB Chorus (2000)

Articles and interviews[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ THE SEATTLE SYMPHONY AND MUSIC DIRECTOR LUDOVIC MORLOT ANNOUNCE 2012–2013 SEASON "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-05-26. Retrieved 2012-03-11.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ Oestreich, James, A First and a Finale, Along With A Birthday, The New York Times 23 July 2002 [1]
  3. ^ Rogers, Madeline, Contact! - Present at the Creation [2], Playbill, 16 Dec 2009
  4. ^ Fanning, David, Paean to a Great Dane,[3], Daily Telegraph, 27 Nov 2002
  5. ^ Takemitsu Award results, 2001 Archived November 23, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ American Academy of Arts and Letters Press Release, Music, 2007 Archived 2011-06-17 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Quinn, Michael, Bridge Records to launch series dedicated to music by Arlene Sierra,, 5 April 2011 [4]
  8. ^ Clements, Andrew, Sierra: Cicada Shell; Birds and Insects Book 1; Surrounded Ground, etc – review, The Guardian, 14 July 2011 [5]
  9. ^ Oberlin Composers - Making it New [6] (2009/10) Oberlin Conservatory.