Game of Attrition CD

Game of Attrition: Arlene Sierra, Vol. 2, is Sierra's orchestral portrait disc, released by Bridge Records to international critical acclaim.

Arlene Sierra's Nature Symphony had its US premiere as part of Sierra's role as Composer in Association with the Utah Symphony. Thierry Fischer conducted two performances of the work on April 8th and 9th, 2022, to audience and critical acclaim. 

Composer Arlene Sierra acknowledges applause at the Utah Symphony's US premiere of her Nature Symphony, April 8, 2022 Photo: Kathleen Sykes 


Utah Symphony conjures nature in extremes with Arlene Sierra and Hilary Hahn

Through repeated motives and ostinati — layered on top of one another and providing a backdrop to irregular swoons and swells — Nature Symphony imitates the inevitable but chaotic processes of nature. Listening to it unfold provides a fascination similar to watching birds or insects and puzzling over their behavior.

The first movement, “Mountain of Butterflies,” flutters frenetically and occasionally swoops without warning. Though atonal, the piece has a strong rhythmic drive and a captivating sense of motion, and it creates tension and resolution in the development of its three and four note melodic cells. Fischer’s sense of counterpoint and transparency served this movement well, as he highlighted each layer of counterpoint and gave the piece a sense of urgency. The brass and percussion were particularly effective rising menacingly above the rhythmic churn.

The second movement, “The Black Place,” is named after a desolate landscape painting by Georgia O’Keeffe. It is slow, ominous, atmospheric and dark. In the program notes, Sierra noted that O’Keeffe’s iconic location in New Mexico is now a fracking site, and existential dread permeates the piece. Melodic fragments repeat and evolve slowly over a sustained single note that ascends and descends one step, and occasionally splits into an unsettling minor second. Fischer and the orchestra captured the movement’s dark, contemplative mood and gave shape to the swells in the strings.

The final movement, “Bee Rebellion,” is inspired by the phenomenon of hive collapse, where a colony’s worker bees will revolt and abandon their queen. Using oboes, bassoons, flutes and, in the end, all sections of the orchestra, Sierra evokes bees buzzing busily and somewhat angrily. On Friday, a motive consisting of four eighth notes ascending and descending a minor third ricocheted through the orchestra, as if signaling the rebellion that would eventually destroy the hive. As they did with “Butterfly Mountain,” Fischer and the orchestra mastered the frenetic energy of “Bee Rebellion” and highlighted the many interlocking melodies. The movement — and apparently the hive — ended with an increasingly forceful repeated figure in the low brass.

– Rick Mortensen, Utah Arts Review

Click here for more information about Nature Symphony