Dr Arlene Sierra BA, BMus (Oberlin), MMus (Yale), DMA (Michigan, Ann Arbor)

Dr Arlene Sierra BA, BMus (Oberlin), MMus (Yale), DMA (Michigan, Ann Arbor)

Senior Lecturer in Composition

+44 (0)29 2087 4382
1.02, Music Building

I am a composer of chamber, orchestral and vocal music, as well as opera, music for dance, and music for film. My work often takes its impetus from military strategy, game theory, Darwinian evolution, and the natural world. For information about commissions, performances and recordings, please see the biography page or visit my personal website.

Born in Miami, I am from New York City and have resided in the U.K. since 2000. Prior to my appointment at Cardiff, I was a Composition Tutor at Cambridge University.

Previous academic positions

  • Composition Tutor (UG and PGT) - Cambridge University

Speaking engagements

  • BBC Radio Three
  • Bristol University
  • Bowdoin International Music Festival
  • Cambridge University
  • Cheltenham Composer Academy
  • Cheltenham Festival
  • Columbia University
  • Eastman School of Music
  • Ewha University (Seoul)
  • Frankfurter Museums-Gesellschaft e. V.
  • Freie Akademie der K√ľnste (Hamburg)
  • Institute of Musical Research (London)
  • Kings College London
  • Kings Lynn Festival
  • Kingston University
  • Opera America New Works Forum (New York)
  • New Music Biennial, Southbank Centre (London)
  • National Portrait Gallery (London)
  • New York City Opera VOX
  • Philharmonische Gesellschaft Bremen 
  • Sangmyung University (Seoul)
  • University of California at San Diego 
  • Walker Art Gallery (Minneapolis)
  • WNYC Radio
  • Yale University
  • Yellow Barn Festival (Vermont)
  • Yonsei University (Seoul) 
  • York University

An American composer based in the U.K., Arlene Sierra writes music that takes its impetus from rich sources including military strategy and game theory, Darwinian evolution, and the natural world. Her music has been lauded for its “highly flexible and distinctive style” (The Guardian), “by turns, urgent, poetic, evocative, and witty” (American Academy of Art and Letters). Performers include the Tokyo Philharmonic, the London Sinfonietta, New York City Opera VOX, ICE, Psappha, Lontano, the New Juilliard Ensemble, the Schubert Ensemble, and the Benedetti-Elschenbroich-Grynyuk Trio. Important commissions include Game of Attrition – New York Philharmonic, Art of War – BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Insects in Amber – Carducci Quartet and Cheltenham Music Festival, Neruda Settings – Tanglewood Music Festival, Hand Mit Ringen – Huddersfield Music Festival, Moler – Seattle Symphony, Butterflies Remember a Mountain – Bremen Philharmonic Society, and Urban Birds – PRS New Music Biennial.

Declared “a name to watch” by BBC Music Magazine, Arlene Sierra first gained international recognition when her orchestral work Aquilo was awarded the 2001 Takemitsu Prize. Subsequent awards have included the Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Classical Recording Foundation Composer of the Year, and fellowships including Aspen, Aldeburgh Britten-Pears, and the MacDowell Colony. She has had the honour of Composer Portrait concerts at the Crush Room, Royal Opera House, London, the Yellow Barn Chamber Music Festival, Vermont, and Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, New York. In 2014, Sierra’s orchestral showpiece Moler was nominated for a Latin GRAMMY for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.

Her music is the subject of a series of portrait recordings by the prestigious Bridge Records label. Arlene Sierra, Vol. 1, recorded by the International Contemporary Ensemble, received rave reviews internationally and was featured by NPR Classical, which described its “remarkable brilliance of color, rhythmic dexterity and playfulness.” Game of Attrition: Arlene Sierra, Vol. 2 includes world- premiere recordings of recent orchestral works performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Jac Van Steen, conductor. It has also met with widespread critical acclaim, praised for “vividly scored, colorful works” by the New York Times and described by The Guardian as “remarkably sure-footed... quirky and individual” and “startlingly fresh and assured.”

Sierra’s catalogue ranges from song cycles Streets and Rivers and Neruda Settings to operas Faustine and Cuatro Corridos. Chamber works include the piano album Birds and Insects, two piano trios Truel and Butterflies Remember a Mountain, string quartet Insects in Amber, ensemble works Ballistae, Cicada Shell and Colmena, and a series of new scores to Maya Deren avant grade films from the 1940’s. Urban Birds, for three pianos with percussion and sampled birdsong, was featured by BBC News and toured UK venues including London’s South Bank Centre and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Butterflies Remember a Mountain has been championed by the Benedetti- Elschenbroich-Grynyuk Trio, with performances at the 2015 BBC Proms, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and the Frankfurt Alte Oper.

Born in Miami to a family of New Yorkers, Arlene Sierra holds degrees from Oberlin College-Conservatory (BA, BMus), Yale School of Music (MMus) and the University of Michigan (DMA). Her principal teachers were Martin Bresnick, Michael Daugherty and Jacob Druckman; she also worked with Betsy Jolas and Dominique Troncin at Fontainebleau, and Paul-Heinz Dittrich in Berlin. At Tanglewood, Aldeburgh, and Dartington she studied with Louis Andriessen, Magnus Lindberg, Colin Matthews, and Judith Weir.

Dr Sierra is Senior Lecturer in Composition at Cardiff University School of Music, where she is the recipient of a University Research Leave Fellowship for 2015-2016. Her guest professorships and master classes have included Eastman School of Music, Bowdoin International Music Festival, Yonsei and Ewha Universities (Seoul, South Korea), Kings College London, and Cambridge University.

I supervise PhDs in acoustic and electroacoustic composition. My doctoral students are writing works for orchestra, ensembles, instruments and voices, for concert performance and for the stage, with and without electronic media.   

At undergraduate level and postgraduate taught levels, I teach modules on composition, orchestration and contemporary repertoire. 

I also supervise the School's programme of professional composition workshops and guest seminars.

I am currently working on a series of new scores to Maya Deren’s avant garde films from the 1940’s, including Meditation on Violence, Ritual in Transfigured Time, and At Land. 

In addition I am continuing work on two extant series of thematically-linked pieces for varying instrumentations ranging from solo to orchestra. 

The first is a Darwinian series exploring aspects of nature including birdsong and insect calls (works include Game of Attrition, Insects in Amber, Cricket-Viol, Birds and Insects, and Urban Birds). 

The second is a series of pieces employing concepts and interactions inspired by game theory and military strategy (including works Art of War, Surrounded Ground, Truel and Cicada Shell).