Arlene Sierra's Nature Symphony - Preview Interview
Premieres: November’s new music
Deputy Editor, Classical Music
8:00, 1st November 2017
Following pieces such as Game of Attrition and Avian Mirrors, Arlene Sierra’s Nature Symphony is yet another example of her fascination with the natural world. The composer likens her attraction to this subject to the series of artworks produced by visual artists: ‘My mom is a painter, so I grew up going to art exhibitions and seeing group and solo shows. Visual artists are always obsessing about the same material; they tend to have huge series of something like 50 paintings based on the same idea, whereas with modern composers it tends to be all about reinvention, or even abandoning the last thing you did. I like the painters’ idea more. There are a few outliers among my works, but I tend to have different series of interconnected pieces. This is the biggest statement yet, but I’m sure there will be more.’
The Nature Symphony is as much an expression of the composer’s concern at the fragility of nature as a celebration of it, however. ‘It’s partly my interest in process, and putting extra-musical processes in my music; not narratives, stories or personal impressions so much as just a way to make ideas work amongst rhythms and pitches,’ says Sierra. However, her interest is more than just conceptual: ‘I don’t see how anyone living today can fail to realise the urgency of what is going on with the natural world and what we human beings are doing to change things. I have a little boy now, who’s five, and I’m so conscious of how different the environment is from when I was a child. It’s a personal sense of urgency, as opposed to trying to put my walk in the woods into a piece of music.’ She pauses, then adds: ‘It’s funny in a way, because I’m not really an outdoorsy person, and I’ve lived in cities all my life. But I love and think about nature on many different levels.
The seed from which the seed grew came from another of Sierra’s nature pieces, a trio called Butterflies Remember a Mountain. ‘That piece is about butterfly migration; I took very fragmentary, tiny fluttering ideas and put them in a big cyclical, migratory form. Somehow, I still felt there was something about those ideas which was not finished with that piece, so when I got this commission one of the first things I wanted to do was to take some of the fluttering and cyclical ideas and put them in an orchestral context. I was really excited about the possibility of taking a tiny idea and increasing it exponentially.’ The concept for the first movement of the piece was complete when Sierra read about the destination of the butterfly migration, a place in Mexico known as the ‘Mountain of Butterflies’, lending the movement its title.
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