Dr Arlene Sierra
BA, BMus (Oberlin), MMus (Yale), DMA (Michigan, Ann Arbor)
Reader in Composition
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.
U.K.-based American composer Arlene Sierra writes music that takes its impetus from rich sources including military strategy and game theory, Darwinian evolution, and the natural world. The Guardian describes her work as having “its own character, in which historical and contemporary influences are fused into a highly flexible and distinctive style”, while Time Out New York describes it as “spry, savage, sly and seductive.” Performers include the Tokyo Philharmonic, the London Sinfonietta, New York City Opera VOX, ICE, Psappha, Lontano, the New Juilliard Ensemble, the Schubert Ensemble, and many others. Important commissions include Game of Attrition – New York Philharmonic, Art of War – BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Cicada Shell - Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust, Insects in Amber – Cheltenham Music Festival, Neruda Settings – Tanglewood Music Festival, Hand Mit Ringen – Huddersfield Music Festival, Moler – Seattle Symphony,Tiffany Windows – Albany Symphony, 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.” A new disc of chamber works Arlene Sierra, Vol. 3 will be released by Bridge in 2017, including two critically-acclaimed piano trios, Truel and Butterflies Remember a Mountain. Other labels representing Sierra’s work include NMC and Coviello Classics.
Arlene 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, 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 including Meditation on Violence and Ritual in Transfigured Time. 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.
Dr Sierra is co-director of the Advanced Composition summer course at MusicFest Aberystwyth, and has given lectures and master classes at the invitation of universities, conservatories and music festivals including Bowdoin International Music Festival, Yellow Barn Chamber Music Festival and Eastman School of Music in the U.S., Cheltenham Composer Academy, Cambridge University, and Kings College London in the U.K., and Yonsei University, Ewha University and Sangmyung University in South Korea.
Born in Miami to a family of New Yorkers, Arlene Sierra is a graduate of Oberlin College-Conservatory, Yale School of Music and the University of Michigan. 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 Reader in Composition and Director of Research at Cardiff University School of Music.
Honours and awards
- Nomination for Best Contemporary Classical Composition (Moler for Symphony Orchestra), Latin GRAMMY Awards, 2014
- Composer of the Year, Classical Recording Foundation, 2011
- Charles Ives Fellowship, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2007
- Otto Eckstein Fellowship, Tanglewood Music Center, 2001
- 1st Prize, Toru Takemitsu Composition Award, Tokyo Opera City Cultural Foundation (Aquilo for Symphony Orchestra), 2001
- Member, AHRC Peer Review College (Academic and International sections)
- Writer and Publisher Member of PRS and ASCAP
Previous academic positions
- 2004 - 2015, Lecturer/Senior Lecturer, Cardiff University
- 2003 - 2004, Composition Tutor (UG and PGT), Cambridge University
- 1994-1999, Rackham Doctoral Fellow, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
- Royal Holloway, University of London (2017)
- Cheltenham Composer Academy (2016, 2014, 2013)
- DePaul University (2016)
- BBC Radio Three (2013-6, 2010, 2007-8)
- Yale School of Music (2015)
- York University (2015)
- Ewha University, Seoul (2015, 2012)
- Cheltenham Festival (2014, 2011)
- Frankfurter Museums-Gesellschaft e. V. (2013)
- Bowdoin International Music Festival (2013)
- Yellow Barn Festival (2013)
- Sangmyung University, Seoul (2013)
- University of California at San Diego (2013)
- Institute of Musical Research (2013, 2008)
- Kingston University (2013, 2004)
- Yonsei University, Seoul (2012)
- Bristol University (2012)
- Opera America New Works Forum (2011)
- Eastman School of Music (2011)
- New York City Opera VOX (2011)
- Miller Theatre at Columbia University (2009)
- Kings College London (2009)
- Louise Blouin Institute (2009)
- National Portrait Gallery, London (2009)
- WNYC Radio (2006, 2007)
- Cambridge University (2004)
- Kings Lynn Festival (2004)
- Freie Akademie der Künste, Hamburg (2002)
- Walker Art Gallery, Minneapolis (2002)
- 2016 - present: Chair, Research Committee
- 2012 - present: Executive Committee Member and School of Music Rep, University and College Union
- 2013 - 2015: Chair, Postgraduate Taught Board of Studies
- 2008 - 2012: Chair, Concert Committee
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 am currently working on a large-scale orchestral piece for the BBC Philharmonic.
Many of my works are part of 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).
In addition I am composing a series of new chamber scores to Maya Deren’s avant garde films from the 1940’s and 50’s, including Meditation on Violence, Ritual in Transfigured Time, Meshes of the Afternoon, Ensemble for Somnambulists, and At Land.