Reviews

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Missa Latina

"...the 'Missa Latina' is remarkably organic in its expression: If it is music that sets out to be liked -- perhaps loved -- it is also a unified and, one suspects, deeply felt utterance of the heart. It certainly received a joyful send-off. The chorus sounded both transparent and powerful; soprano Heidi Grant Murphy sang her long, limpid part with a fresh and florid sweetness, while Nathaniel Webster brought decorum and agility to the passages for baritone. Slatkin, who commissioned the 'Missa,' seemed to be having the time of his life, working hard, conducting with affection, with a full command of the score's many complications and that same sense of rapt, delighted discovery I recall from his years with the St. Louis Symphony. Judging any work on the evidence of such a brief acquaintance is always risky; still, it is probably safe to say that the 'Missa Latina' will bring pleasure to a great many listeners. (Indeed, the 'Sanctus' could almost be turned into a pop song.) Samuel Johnson used to say that the first duty of a book was to make us want to read it through; similarly, I can't imagine anybody who starts listening to the 'Missa Latina' wanting to turn it off before it is over." The Washington Post (Tim Page) 

"[Missa Latina] the most significant symphonic premiere in the District since the late  Benjamin Britten's stunning War Requiem was first performed in the still-unfinished  Washington National Cathedral in the late 1960s ...Mr. Sierra's new work is, quite simply, shockingly brilliant...Despite the Hispanic expectations evoked by the work's title, Mr.  Sierra's Mass often relies on classical European musical tradition. This makes his Latino  eruptions all the more unexpected and irresistible -- no more so than in this delightful  'Sanctus.'In this section's 'Benedicte,' Mr. Sierra also convincingly breaks the postmodernist  taboo against melody, giving his soprano the most achingly beautiful solo we have heard in decades. Chorus, orchestra and soloists then take the 'Agnus Dei' to an emotionally satisfying and redemptive conclusion. A huge bravo to Mr. Sierra for having the courage to  invite audiences back to the concert hall by gifting them with something wonderful."  The Washington Times (T. L. Ponick) 

“I had read the extremely positive reviews of the Washington, D.C. premiere in 2006 of Roberto Sierra’s Missa Latina ‘Pro pace’ and looked forward to eventually hearing the piece. This Naxos release with the Milwaukee Symphony and Andreas Delfs (great champions of Sierra’s music) makes a very strong case for this exciting work. The music is both joyful and poignant and, as with the best of Sierra’s work, the combination of traditional Latin music with the language of contemporary concert music is seamless and stirring. Those who were fans of Osvaldo Golijov’s extremely popular La pasión según San Marcos (2000) will enjoy the language of this work, although I believe the Sierra is a far stronger and more inspired piece.” Fanfare Magazine (Carson Cooman)

“The Texas premiere of Roberto Sierra’s inventive and exciting Missa Latina lends Event Status to this weekend’s performances by the Houston Symphony...’Con gran expresión’ Sierra has marked his Kyrie, second of seven sections in the 85-minute work. Indeed, practically everything about the Missa Latina seemed con gran expresión at Thursday night’s performance...the work quickly establishes its basic pattern of subdued passages punctuated by outbursts from the brass and enlarged percussion section, or alternating reverential expressions with celebratory ones bustling with propulsive Latin rhythms and salsa flavoring. The overall effect is compounded of luscious harmonies, rhythms layered upon other rhythms, some haunting themes (especially in the Agnus Dei) and colorful orchestrations. A hymnlike interlude gives way to a calypso beat. A section stressing the standard symphonic complement of strings gives way to one sparked by xylophone, bongos and maracas. After an inspired a cappella passage for Murphy and chorus, the Allelulia finale bursts forth like a Caribbean holiday — a stroke of showmanship that ends the work on an exultant high... Sierra’s accomplished use of the orchestra, chorus and soloists, his level of invention and genuineness of feeling mark Missa Latina as a major achievement.” Houston Chronicle (Everett Evans)

“File Roberto Sierra’s impressive ‘Missa Latina’ under contemporary liturgical music with a twist — or two or three. For starters, the musical language swerves gamely between Western classical music and aspects of his Puerto Rican heritage. The work’s title itself refers to both the conventional Latin text and passages of Latin musical colors and energies. Sierra’s expansive, 75-minute 2006 work — the composer’s most ambitious venture to date — was given a mostly glorious West Coast premiere performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Sunday, as the suitably grand season-closing event for the Los Angeles Master Chorale... Sierra takes advantage of the massed forces involved, with its enhanced sonic and dramatic possibilities, and, despite the unorthodox nature of his project, keeps a close watch on the project’s accessibility...the climax-seeking sweep of the Gloria and the glimmering resolutions of the ‘alleluia’ moments in the Offertorium and the Agnus Dei are the emotive norm in the work, more about peaceable nature than spiritual tumult. This is, as they say, not your father’s Mass, but it’s not your son’s, either. With ‘Missa Latina,’ Sierra has concocted a unique musical amalgam, with roots in his native tradition as well as the deep legacy of musical liturgy, but also with links to the pluralistic, multicultural musical now.” LA Times (Josef Woodard)

“The joy, the mystery and the law of religion are plain to hear in Roberto Sierra’s ‘Missa Latina’...The joy percolates in the irresistible Caribbean dance rhythms that bubble up through most of this Mass, from 2006, and permeate the ‘Gloria.’ Conductor Andreas Delfs really gets these rhythms... The rhythms look complicated on the page, but once you get them under your skin, they feel more than right — they feel like delight in simply being alive in a human body. At one point during the “Gloria,” Delfs set the layered rhythms in motion, then quit conducting for a bit and just bobbed his shoulders to the beat, which went right on. The mystery lies in the snaky, melismatic tangents for soprano Heidi Grant Murphy and, frequently, for Stephen Colburn’s oboe. These evocations of Moorish Spain, in exotic scales with flatted second degrees, wind like smoke through lacy orchestral textures glinting with lightly stroked cymbals and gongs...The law lies in stentorian pronouncements from baritone Nathaniel Webster and in a dark ‘Credo’.” The Milwaukee Journal (Tom Strini)

“Occasionally the series [NAXOS American Classics] has struck gold with premiere recordings of major new works...It appears to have done so again with Roberto Sierra’s Missa Latina ‘Pro Pace’... Although expansive, the work is tightly structured. Sierra’s idiom is decidedly modern but never off-putting; dissonance is balanced with sufficient lyricism and occasional forays into diatonic major. Understandably, its most prominent characteristic is its infectious rhythm, often enhanced with a subtle use of Latin percussion. Norman Scribner, whose Choral Arts Society of Washington premiered the work, said: ‘Members of the chorus are ‘crazy’ for this work. It is so engaging.. . . It is the kind of music that you cannot be part way into; if you are in it, you are in it up to your neck, it grabs your body. In a lovely dance, it pulls you right along’.” Choral Journal (Frank DeWald)


Sinfonía No. 4

“Roberto Sierra's Sinfonia No. 4, which the BSO helped to commission with 11 other orchestras. The composer's knack for creating both razzle-dazzle and subtle shimmering from essentially traditional instrumentation was evident at every turn.
The first movement's dark harmonies added a piquant flavor; the way the movement slowly ground to a halt, like an engine running out of fuel, produced an intriguing effect. The brassy, percussive punch of the second movement and the ultra-Latin dance band drive of the finale proved irresistible.
The ensemble seemed to share Mena's obvious enthusiasm and delivered considerable technical and expressive fire. Acknowledging the warm ovation afterward, the conductor picked up the score from the podium and gave it its own bow.“
The Baltimore Sun (Tim Smith)

"A Puerto Rican-born composer who now teaches at Cornell University, Sierra is one of the world’s leading orchestral colorists. He has a penchant for working with traditional European classical forms – his immense oeuvre includes numerous symphonies, concertos, chamber music and choral works. But his treatment of this music is delightfully idiosyncratic. Specifically, he likes to subject the conventional styles to a process he calls “tropicalization.” His methods infuse the time-honored forms with vibrant instrumental colors and, at least in some instances, a pronounced Latin accent...Sierra’s Sinfonia No. 4, which closed the concert, is a textbook example of how this composer breathes new life into old forms. The piece is basically a classic Germanic symphony imbued with Spanish sensibilities and reinvigorated with new harmonies and rhythms. Sierra gives us a “Rápido” instead of a scherzo, a “Tiempo de bolero” in lieu of a tempo di valse. The overall effect is music that’s uncommonly vivid and sensuous. The NSO performed this complex music with clarity, color and an irresistible sense of flow. Guerrero even had a fast, furious and fun little dance going on the podium during the finale." ArtsNowNashville (John Pitcher)

"The work's gestures are broad and clear, despite complex textures and melodies often moving peripatetically between instruments. The music is peppered with pungent dissonances, often at the climax of a dynamic swell, but these supply direction and lead to resolution even if the harmonic details are not always conventionally tonal. The third movement's deliciously voiced final chord seemed at first to be a freer coloristic dissonance, but even here Sierra was preparing a larger-scale resolution into his rousing finale…Sierra's Sinfonia No. 4 and Weilerstein's Shostakovich pretty much stole the show from the more familiar works. Chalk this up as evidence that a composer's real audience is the performer. Great players convinced of a piece's worth will convey that to listeners; and, judging by the crowd's response, that was certainly the case here." American Record Guide (Russell Johnston)


Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra

"You read accounts of premieres 150 years ago where the audience clamored to have movements repeated. In your lifetime, did you witness such a thing - the reprise of a new work on the spot? Neither did I, until Thursday night, when Carter and conductor Neeme Järvi finally gave in to a storm that showed no signs of abating and recapped the last long stretch of Roberto Sierra's brilliant 'Concerto for Saxophones'... His three-movement concerto, which has the soloist switching off between tenor and soprano saxophones, is a delight and a thriller, idiomatic and challenging in its jazzy language, affecting in its bluesy-ballad turns, electrifying in its solo flights and as colorfully fashioned for the orchestra as it is for the man with the horn." The Detroit News (Lawrence B. Johnson)

"Sierra's Concerto, starring the irrepressible Carter, created the same rip-snorting impression as it did at last year's premiere. Carter raced from the basement of the tenor sax into the the stratosphere. The rollicking scherzo, nutty boogie-woogie and cadenzas left room for him to improvise gloriously." Detroit Free Press (Mark Stryker)

"...one of the best of all works for saxophone and orchestra." The Buffalo New (Herman Trotter)


Fandangos

"This 10-minute piece is Sierra’s best-known composition and for good reason – it’s positively brimming with memorable melodies, vital rhythms and sparkling orchestrations. The NSO’s rendition was remarkable for its careful dynamic shading, which seemed to enhance all of the Fandangos’ lush tropical colors." ArtsNowNashville (John Pitcher)

"Remarkable ...accessible, excellent structure, splendorous orchestration..." La Opinión - Spain (Julio Andrade Malde)

"[a] work of truly remarkable beauty because of the interior energy that permeates it from beginning to end and the lush treatment of the orchestral textures" Mundoclásico - Spain (Julián Carrillo)

"In his 'Fandangos' (2001) written for Leonard Slatkin and the National Symphony Orchestra, the Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra took this fascinating dance as point of departure for his 'tropicalization' of Western music. With great fantasy and finesse he transformed Soler's Fandango into an exhilarating work for symphony orchestra..." NRC Handelsblad (Holland) (Door Wenneke Savemije)

"It is an expertly scored piece that takes a dance by Soler and passes it repeatedly through the prism of contemporary harmonic and rhythmic procedures; the result is attractive..." The Guardian-London (Andrew Clements)

"...an up-to-date version of Respighi's Ancient Arias and Dances." The Independent-London (Martin Anderson)

"A sort of Hispanic 'Bolero', 'Fandangos' was pure fun and should be repeated again on some program..." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Andrew Druckenbrod)

"Roberto Sierra’s 'Fandangos' was another treat. Here was a contemporary composition that is surely destined to become a popular orchestral display piece." The Classical Source (Timothy Ball)


Folias (click to hear Manuel Barrueco playing Folias with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra on NPR)

"The audience loved it, and so did I. Melodic beauty, clear structure, magnificent orchestration ... Applause, bravos and several calls to the stage for the composer, conductor and soloist." La Opinión - Spain (Julio Andrade Malde)

“Sierra’s Folías is a soaring, ecstatic, and fiery masterpiece based on Spain’s 16th- and 17th-century dance music; it conjures up dizzying echoes of Boccherini’s ‘Introduction and Fandango’ mixed with an exhilarating exchange between tempo and rhythms, accented by Spanish castanets … Sierra’s one-movement Concierto Barrocco is a lively and colorful evocation of an imaginary moment (based on Alejo Carpentier’s novel of the same name) in which Scarlatti, Handel, Vivaldi, and a man and his servant from India gather to make music.” Acoustic Guitar (Julia Crowe)

“…Sierra achieved – masterfully – a synthesis of a tradition five centuries old…This work is truly a masterwork, comparable with the best achievements of twentieth century composers like Rodrigo and Ohana.” Soundboard (Eladio Scharrón)

"The high point of the concert was the performance of 'Folias' for guitar and orchestra by Roberto Sierra, in which Manuel Barrueco shone" Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Benedikt Stegeman)

"... a brilliant, Hispanic- flavored guitar piece by Puerto Rican-born composer Roberto Sierra ... exuberant ... Sierra's charismatic approach was to have the tune's harmonic progression run its course, while he embellished, interrupted and accented it with Hispanic musical flavors, from Flamenco guitar riffs to soaring trumpets." The Indianapolis Star (Whitney Smith)

“But most will be buying this disc [Conierto Barroco/Koch] for the Sierra, and rightly so: both Folias and Concierto barroco are witty, highly colourful works... They deserve a wide audience.” Gramophone (William Yeoman)

"The major offering, Roberto Sierra's 'Folias', written only last year...Vieaux's consummate handling of a virtuoso solo part that had Bach and flamenco sharing the same hacienda." The New Zealand Herald (William Dart)


Sinfonías 1, 2 & 3 

“Sierra's first two symphonies, in any case, showcase his ability to be quite serious, emotionally speaking, without compromising his music's brilliance. No. 1 is a compact piece that makes charming reference in spots to Beethoven's First Symphony. It's a sign of Sierra's talent that he makes these gestures entirely his own. They don't sound like borrowings or foreign objects at all. As with the Second Symphony, which is cast in the form of a single-movement passacaglia, the First makes no obvious reference to Latin American music, but the excitement and rhythmic energy are there all the same. Not the least of Sierra's gifts is the ability to write highly dissonant music that's still enjoyable and tantalizing to the ear.” ClassicsToday.com (David Hurwitz) 


Carnaval

"Like the Schumann piano piece from which it takes its name, 'Carnaval' is a collection of character sketches, in this case a bevy of mythical creatures...The result is a breezy, fresh-sounding entertainment that moves nimbly from one section to the next and keeps the listener engrossed throughout...[Sierra] fleshes out those ideas with ingratiating melodies and a masterful orchestral range." San Francisco Chronicle (Joshua Kossman)

“...a spirited piece in five parts, evoking the composer’s rich imagination of mythical creatures consisting of ‘Gargoyles, Sphinxes, Unicorns, Dragons and The Phoenix.’ ... Roberto's exuberantly-crafted Carnival reflects the rich Latin rhythms of his homeland, while the score is structured in the classical symphonic tradition ... Sierra’s rhythmic wizardry combined with the succinct structure brought the five character sketches together into a cohesive whole. It is an extraordinary piece, worthy of more performances.” Classical Sonoma (Donna Kline)

“Sierra charmingly quotes Schumann's keyboard showpiece Carnival. A Unicorns section explodes with lavish string and wind sonorities. The Dragon movement recalls Shostakovich at his wild, unhinged zenith. The Phoenix, a stunning finale, channels brilliant Latin rhythms and orchestral magic. This sure fire crowd pleaser is destined to become an orchestral standard.” Music & Vision (Lawrence Budmen)

“[The Phoenix] took life from a matrix of sensuous instrumental interactions incubated in a persistent ostinato (a la Ravel's ‘Bolero’) and swooped upward into inspiring flight with power, precision and spirit.” The Grand Rapids Press (John Phipps)


Sonata No. 1 for flute and piano

“The disc ends with Roberto Sierra’s Sonata, a three movement work in traditional fast-slow-fast form. The piece is based on two sets of four notes, which reappear throughout the three movements without becoming repetitive or predictable. The rapid first movement is dramatic and bright, while the expressive second movement is more gentle but equally flowing, performed with a lightness of touch which appeals. The Latin-inspired final movement features dance rhythms and explosive gestures. Sierra’s compositional style is mature and full of substance, and this is a fascinating work.”  MusicWeb International  (Carla Rees)


Concierto de Cámara

“But the real meat of the program was Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra's Concierto de Cámara for winds and string quartet...a sturdily wrought, player-friendly score sure to enter the mainstream woodwind repertoire.” New Haven Advocate review of concert by the Imani Winds at the Chamber Music Society at Yale concert series.


Variations on a Souvenir

“On Saturday at the Carlsen Center, the Illinois-based chamber orchestra Sinfonia da Camera devoted a whole concert to this intriguing Puerto Rican composer. The program, certainly a highlight of this or any season, featured the premiere of ‘Variations on a Souvenir,’ a new piano concerto co-commissioned by the Carlsen Center and performed by pianist conductor Ian Hobson. Sierra writes music that is both approachable and challenging, where the ear is simultaneously aware of technical craft and an enormously appealing sonic surface.” The Kansas City Star (Paul Horsley)


Güell Concert 

“The most immediately engaging work here was Roberto Sierra’s ‘Güell Concert’ (2006). Mr. Sierra uses a medieval Spanish cantiga as the work’s motto, but leaps quickly into modern rhythmic and harmonic complexities… precise, energetic scoring creates its own excitement, whatever the densities of the language.” The New York Times (A Kozinn) 


Tríptico

“Roberto Sierra’s Tríprico for guitar and string quartet achieves the difficult balance between accessibility and craft.  The piece is as inventive as it is engaging - and as virtuosic as it is inventive.” The Boston Musical Intelligencer (Peter Van Zandt Lane)


Tres homenajes húngaros

“Existing somewhere between the extremes of guitar-based new music composers and the rest of the composer community is Roberto Sierra. Sierra has composed a ton of music involving the guitar—solos, concertos, chamber works, you name it. But he has also written scads of other things. He is a rare composer who is perfectly at home within and beyond the world of the guitar. And his Three Hungarian Tributes offer the best of both worlds—simultaneously bringing new ideas to the table as well as an insider's craftsmanship. I was particularly blown away by the work's final movement, "à Ligeti," a tribute to his one-time teacher and mentor, which does on guitars what the zany piano etudes of Ligeti's later years do on a keyboard. Works such as these prove that you can do whatever you want compositionally with guitars, and players like Newman and Oltman will be ready for it.” ConcertoNet.com (Frank J. Oteri)


Cancionero Sefardí

“I was surprisingly emotionally moved by two of the works...Roberto Sierra’s Sephardic Songs, sung by Sharla Nafziger with the breathtaking line of Dawn Upshaw, made these seven melodies utterly bewitching...Particularly exciting, though, was the concordance of Jewish, Moorish and Spanish motifs. Yes, one heard the Jewish klezmer clarinet (finely tootled by Carol McGonnell) and the Arabic octaves by all the instruments, as well as the Spanish jumping rhythms at times. But personally it brought me back to Morocco, also a trilogy of these cultures, and the music gave it emotional meaning.” ConcertoNet.com (Harry Rolnick


© Roberto Sierra 2014