Thomas M. Sleeper

Roberto Sierra: Sinfonías Nos. 1-3

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Cornell-based composer Roberto Sierra has a gift for writing music that satisfies the rigorous demands of the academic music community and is also hugely popular with audiences. Part of his appeal may lie in his willingness to let his roots in the Spanish Caribbean shine through his music. Not all of his works have a distinctively Caribbean flavor, but they are infused with a rhythmic vitality and have a colorful harmonic and orchestrational palette that reflect the energy of the music of that region. Sierra's four-movement Sinfonía No. 3 is subtitled "La Salsa," and it fully lives up to the expectations created by its title. Its rhythmic drive, infectious harmonies and lyrical melodies have a distinctly popular flavor, and while it is a musically substantial piece, it could reasonably be characterized as "light music," and has the immediate appeal to sound at home at a pops concert. Sinfonía No. 2, "Gran Passacaglia," in a single movement, uses the convention of the passacaglia -- a bass line that is repeated continuously throughout the piece -- but with a twist. To achieve the tonal variety to sustain interest over its 11-minute length, in successive iterations of the bass line the composer raises and lowers each of its pitches. He writes, "The contour of the passacaglia remains the same, but the intervals change throughout the work." The resulting piece has none of the overt Caribbean sounds of Sinfonía No. 3, but is a compelling and energetic essay in abstract music. Sinfonía No. 1 has a rhythmic drive similar to the third, but uses a more complex harmonic language, and makes several gestural nods to Beethoven's Symphony No. 1. Sierra's attractive music receives committed and lively performances from Frost Symphony Orchestra of the University of Miami, conducted by Thomas M. Sleeper. Albany's sound is clear and present.

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