listen to vocal works HERE • listen to chamber and solo works HERE
Please note: Some samples are taken from recordings of live performances, playback levels may vary

Nature Symphony (2017)
for orchestra

"The title suggests something programmatic, and the symphony’s three movements all have evocative titles, but there is nothing in them that’s obviously descriptive. The mechanics of natural processes fascinate Sierra and find their way into her music, so it is the idea of endless cycles of migration, year after year, that creates the steadily accumulating loops of the opening Mountain of Butterflies, while the sense of something ominous and threatening in the melodic fragments and ticking ostinatos of the slow central Black Place was inspired by Georgia O’Keefe’s dark paintings of New Mexico.

The finale, Bee Rebellion, is based on the phenomenon of hive collapse that is sometimes seen in bee colonies, when the insect society can suddenly break down into anarchy; it’s music of unpredictable cycles and accumulations, with taunting wind solos, all cut short by a brassy, percussion-driven ending that offers no escape. Lasting just over 20 minutes, the symphony does what Sierra sets out to do with impressive economy and a succession of striking orchestral ideas."

- Andrew Clements, The Guardian

1. Mountain of Butterflies

2. The Black Place (after O’Keeffe)

3. Bee Rebellion

Moler (2012)
for orchestra

"Arlene Sierra has the distinction of writing what must surely be the first ever piece inspired by the phenomenon of bruxism, which in case you're wondering is teeth-grinding. Thus the title of Sierra's piece, Moler, which means 'to grind' in Spanish. Bruxism is usually caused by anxiety as the composer points out, and for her it has interesting musical connotations of roughness, nervousness, and energy. And the Spanish term refers to a certain rhythmic playfulness underlying the music's regular 4/4 meter."
- Ivan Hewett, Hear and Now, BBC Radio 3

Moler was commissioned by the Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Morlot, Music Director.

Listen to an excerpt from Bridge Records: Arlene Sierra, Vol. 2, performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Jac Van Steen, conductor:

Art of War (2010)

Concerto for piano and orchestra

The piano concerto Art of War is an oppositional drama inspired by Sun Tzu's work of the same name, an ancient book of military strategy. The piece is in two movements of equal length entitled Captive Nation and Strategic Siege. Material from the first movement reappears in the second, suggesting a larger, single ‘battle scenario’ that plays out with two different outcomes.

Click here to see the dedicated page on this site.

Listen to excerpts from Bridge Records: Arlene Sierra, Vol. 2, performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Huw Watkins, piano and Jac Van Steen, conductor:

Game of Attrition (2009)
For chamber orchestra

A game of attrition gradually reduces the strengths of the opponents through sustained attack or pressure; in game theory, it is when two contestants compete for a resource while accumulating costs and losses over time. Natural selection as described in Darwin’s Origin of Species was probably the first description of this game in nature: When two species share the same place in the same environment, they will compete all the more to survive.

Click here to see the dedicated page on this site.

Listen to an excerpt from Bridge Records: Arlene Sierra, Vol. 2, performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Jac Van Steen, conductor:

Colmena (2008)
For 14 players

Colmena, which means ‘beehive’ in Spanish, explores accumulation and change from micro to macro levels. Having read of the nature of beehives, and how their societies depend on a fine balance of outgoing and less enterprising individuals, my initial impetus for the piece was one of hidden changes bringing about a transformation of the whole.

Coloring this idea is a subtle nod to the stylized Franco-Iberian sound of early 20th-century scores, with simmering energy and sweeping gestures. Finally, the idea of a mass of insects actually hibernating, as beehives do each year, brought about the music of the last section of the piece – an exploration of a kind of buzzing repose.

Colmena was commissioned by the Miller Theatre at Columbia University with funds from the Cheswatyr Foundation.

Listen to an excerpt from Bridge Records: Arlene Sierra, Vol. 1, performed by ICE, Jayce Ogren, conductor:

Listen to the American Public Media Composers Datebook podcast about Colmena:

Tiffany Windows (2002)
For 12 players

Tiffany Windows was commissioned by David Miller and the Albany Symphony to be a musical response and companion to a set of stained glass windows at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Troy, New York. The windows have remarkable color, texture and depth thanks to numerous novel techniques employed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, who created such windows for many churches before developing the decidedly secular, more decorative glasswork that made him world-renowned.

The first movement Light through Dark Glass is a musical version of that unique aspect of stained glass, employing dark and low instrumental timbres for a solemn and then shimmering effect.

The second Favrile (Hand Made) takes its name from a technique employed in Tiffany’s glassworks using hand mixing of glass to create complex textures and colors. The movement attempts to do the same musically, while also incorporating something of the metallic hammering and frenetic rhythmic activity that might be
part of the life of a glassworks.

The third and final movement Cloud Circle takes its title from a window at St. Joseph’s Church that beautifully depicts the ascension of Mary into Heaven. The figure of Mary is surrounded by curious angelic "heads with wings" which seem to flutter around her in a cloud. The movement involves the timbral transformation of a chorale with fluttering effects used throughout as a textural motif.

Listen to excerpts from each movement, performed by the Albany Symphony, David Alan Miller, conductor:

Aquilo (2001)

For orchestra

Aquilo is a classical name for the Northeast wind as designated by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius in his Ten Books on Architecture. Vitruvius writes of the theory of winds beginning from heat and moisture, stating this is proven by experiments with aeoliphiles: bronze spheres filled with water through a tiny opening. When the aeoliphile was heated, a rush of steam would escape, convincing the ancients that winds had similar origins. Vitruvius elaborates upon the theory with his idea that there are eight winds which flow over the expanse of a disc-shaped earth.

The work begins as an aural aeoliphile, with musical representations of fire and water mixing to create a rush of air. This rush of air is the wind Aquilo, heard as a melody which develops within a large aural space. It is later joined by three others and the four gather momentum until there is a powerful “directional shift”, introducing four new melodic lines all accumulating energy and complexity as they move in space. After the eight melodic “winds” make their individuality “felt”, the original melody returns. Aquilo travels until the environment breaks it down to elemental components, returning to the original spark of its creation

Aquilo was first performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic, Susanna Mälkki conductor, at Tokyo Opera City in the Takemitsu Prize Final Concert and was declared winner of the Takemitsu Composition Prize in May 2001.

Listen to an excerpt from Bridge Records: Arlene Sierra, Vol. 2, performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Jac Van Steen, conductor:

Listen to a BBC Radio 3 Interview with Arlene Sierra discussing Aquilo

Ballistae (2000)
For 13 players

In a classical treatise The Ten Books of Architecture by Vitruvius, the Roman architect/engineer provides detailed instructions for building many ancient machines of warfare, both for attack and defense. The Roman ballista was a double-armed artillery machine; essentially a large, mounted crossbow whose cord of twisted sinew or hair was pulled back by a winch. It could hurl heavy rocks with great force and for considerable distances.

The circumstances, construction and operation of ballistae shape all aspects of this work. The aggression and fear necessary for waging war, the organization and effort required of soldiers who built such machines, and the preparations of the distant enemy are all ideas that contribute to the piece. In a more concrete manifestation of a ballista, twelve instruments of the ensemble are divided to constitute each arm of the machine while the largest and heaviest instrument (in effect, the stone) is moved into its central place with considerable effort. The strings provide the appropriate sinews which are tightened and tuned, finally achieving sufficient tension to launch the heavy missile. After following the journey of the missile, the work concludes with its violent and sudden impact.Ballistae was premiered by the London Sinfonietta in 2001 as part of State of the Nation Weekend at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, London.

Listen to an excerpt from Bridge Records: Arlene Sierra, Vol. 1, performed by ICE, Jayce Ogren, conductor: