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UpBeat Blog | The Music of Roberto Sierra

Upbeat! Blog #3 –
The Music of Roberto Sierra by Marc Peloquin

I am full of anticipation as I prepare for a concert of three recent solo piano works by Robert Sierra which I will be presenting on March 17, 2023 in the David Greer Concert Hall.  Since 2020, maestro Sierra has been writing sonatas for solo piano that combine incredible rhythmic energy with a fascinating and deeply musical exploration of the expressive and dynamic range of the instrument. Sonata No.2 from 2020 will be presented along with the 2022 Sonata No. 7 for left hand alone. The third work that I will perform is the Album for the Young, an imaginative collection of 15 short character pieces written for the advancement and enjoyment of pianists no matter what age. I’m very much looking forward to sharing these pieces with the BSM community!

Born in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, Sierra studied composition in both Puerto Rico and Europe. He attended the Hochschule für Musik in Hamburg, Germany, where he worked in the studio of György Ligeti. He is professor emeritus at Cornell University.

For more than three decades his works have been part of the repertoire of many of the leading orchestras, ensembles and festivals in the USA and Europe. At the inaugural concert of the 2002 world renowned Proms in London, his Fandangos was performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a concert that was broadcast by both the BBC Radio and Television throughout the UK and Europe. Sierra’s numerous commissions include works for many of the major American and European orchestras. International ensembles that have performed his works include the orchestras of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, New Mexico, Houston, Minnesota, Dallas, Detroit, San Antonio and Phoenix, as well as by the American Composers Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich, the Spanish orchestras of Madrid, Galicia, Castilla y León and Barcelona, among others.

Piano sonatas have been written since the time of Haydn and even before and are a critical part of the pianist’s repertoire. Think of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Copland and Ives. Most sonatas have three or four movements of contrasting moods, tempos and styles. Sierra’s Sonatas are part of that tradition, infusing his own unique musical style including the incorporation of various rhythms and melodic inflections heard in folk music from Puerto Rico. Rhythm is paramount in his music, sometimes to the point of obsession which is what makes them so irresistible and intoxicating. Melodies and themes are carried along in a virtuosic and breathless cascade of intertwining rhythmic figures that fly off the page. Hold on to your seats!

The Album for the Young is a great addition to the collection of piano works in music history that evoke memories from childhood such as Robert Schumann’s Kinderscenen and Debussy’s Children’s Corner Suite. In Sierra’s childhood world you will hear sounds from nature (snow falling, thunderstorms), the sounds of children jumping in a lake, a dog chasing its own tail and an evocation of a starry night from long ago.

I hope to see you on the 17th! Happy listening and practicing.