Roberto Sierra – Reviews


Roberto Sierra


about Missa Latina

Grant Park Music Festival Orchestra and Chorus/Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor           June 28, 2017

“Using the Latin text of the Ordinary as his framework, Roberto Sierra incorporates additional texts and, within an essentially classical musical grammar, laces the whole with Caribbean gestures and rhythms reflecting his Puerto Rican heritage…The colorful scoring, with large percussion battery in which congas, bongos, maracas and timbales (Cuban tom-toms) are prominent, reinforces the folkloric sensibility that permeates the seven sections of this concert Mass…The musical result is at once direct and accessible, tonal and melodic, sophisticated and artless.”        — John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune


about Sinfonia No. 3 “La Salsa;” Beyond the Silence of Sorrow; Borikén; El Baile    Naxos American Classics #8.559817

Sierra Sinfonia No.3 Naxos CD graphic redMartha Guth, soprano     Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra/Maximiano Valdés

“Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra musical director Maximiano Valdés conducts a dazzling collection of works by contemporary classical Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra showcasing the composer’s entrancing aesthetic range…this [recording] should be counted among the best contemporary classical recordings of the year.”             —Lewis J. Whittington,


about Trio No. 4, “ La Noche”  Centaur Records 3336 (World Premiere recording)

Arcos Trio

Sierra Trio 4 Arcos 4tet CD cover 2“…the real find on [this] program: another premiere, [is] the Trio No. 4 (La Noche) composed in 2011 by Puerto Rican-born Roberto Sierra. Now teaching at Cornell, Sierra has journeyed from his birthplace in a small rural village through study in Europe… arriving at a style that’s astonishing and delightful. The trio, titled “La Noche,” evokes night sounds in the village of his childhood. Through it streams memories and associations, of local dance, exotic birds, and humming insects. Messiaen isn’t far away at certain moments, but Sierra, who has a melodic gift, disguises his learning in an idiom that’s perfectly accessible—at one point the violin imitates an unseen flying bug buzzing past our ears. ”                                        — Huntley Dent, Fanfare


about Concerto for Saxophones & Orchestra

James Carter, saxophones                      Oregon Symphony/Carlos Kalmer                                              May 8, 2015

“…Saturday night, the Oregon Symphony brought [the saxophone] back to the concert hall, with an electric performance of Roberto Sierra’s Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra, the centerpiece of a jolting and sometimes jazz-inflected program…

…soloist James Carter inspired Sierra to compose his concerto, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing it. Easily moving between precise integration with the orchestra and free improvisation in cadenzas, [Carter] was agile, versatile and mesmerizing…The second movement of Sierra’s concerto harkened back to an age when improvisation was integral to music, with the orchestra laying a framework for impromptu solo display. Carter’s fantastic, freewheeling performance Saturday night was unique, bridging the divide between classical rigor and jazz spontaneity…”                                                                                                                   — James McQuillen, The Oregonian


about Cantares     WORLD PREMIERE

Cornell University Glee Club and Chorus; American Symphony Orchestra          Carnegie Hall, New York, NY    April 19, 2015

…In this panoramic work, the cultures of the African, Spanish, Native Peruvian, and Aztec peoples are entwined in vivid musical settings…A long sustained tone opens Cantares; then, emerging from dark turbulence, the chorus begins to ‘speak’…The music is mystical and – with the under-pacing of rhythmic chant – takes on an other-worldly feeling…the composer has been successful in drawing us to contemplate the oft-forgotten (or ignored) events surrounding the injection of Christianity into the Western Hemisphere. And musically it’s truly brilliant.

Oberon’s Grove


about Fandangos, Sinfonia No. 4, Carnaval     (Naxos American Classics 8.559738)

Nashville Symphony/Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor

Roberto Sierra is Puerto Rico’s finest composer and this is the fourth Naxos CD devoted to his work.

Fandangos …has a clear Latin-American texture and utilizes harpsichord works by Antonio Soler, Boccherini and Scarlatti, all very effectively. It conjures up the sensuality of this dance and the orchestral color is most effective.

Sinfonia No. 4 is part of the great Symphonic tradition but as Sierra writes in the excellent notes it changes from within its form…although this was new to me I found it attractive and is clearly a work of some substance. It would be really great to hear this live.

Carnaval has five movements inspired by mythical creatures but with a nod to Robert Schumann. …The imagination of the composer, very strong throughout these works, is at its height here…It was all too soon when the piece ended. This is true of all the works here…

This is a hugely enjoyable CD and my only regret was that although there was room for another piece the selection finished with Carnaval. Sierra’s work certainly deserves more public performances and I look forward to hearing again from him.

— David Dunsmore, Music-Web International


about Duo Concertante     WORLD PREMIERE

Elizabeth Derham, violin; Jiwon Kim, viola   (New Juilliard Ensemble)                Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY     July 20, 2014

The engaging program opened with the world premiere of Roberto Sierra’s Duo Concertante for violin and viola, a four-movement showpiece full of rhythmic pep and sophistication. The violinist Elizabeth Derham and the violist Jiwon Kim gave a high-energy performance from the outset of the first movement, a propulsive, syncopated race that pits the two instruments against each other. The alluring array of sounds included woodblocklike pizzicati …and, in the second movement’s “Nocturno,” hollowed-out timbres and glassy harmonics. Even within the relatively short movements, Mr. Sierra proved adept at subverting expectations, whether it was the will-o’-the-wisp violin flourish that put an end to the layered harmonies of the third movement or the constant changes of metrical footwork in the dancelike final movement.

— Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, New York Times

Sierra’s 2013 piece, Duo Concertante for violin and viola…reflected the high quality of the series’ programming and playing. Duo Concertante is a finely made, stimulating and rewarding composition, with agile rhythms and lean harmonies, the two instruments dancing and singing around each other in five concise movements.

Though written predominantly in single lines, Sierra modulates through keys with such skill and sense of proportion that the music has a rich effect. There are welcome nods towards Ravel, and an underlying emotional feeling of Lorca’s duende, especially in the impassioned third movement, “amplio y sonoro.”                                                                                    — George Grella, New York Classical Review


about Montuno     Pennsylvania Premiere

Allentown Symphony; Diane Wittry, conductor                                                                             November 1 & 2, 2014

Montuno was a slinky, seductive fusion of Spanish guitar and vocal music with the vibrant rhythms of Afro-Cuban percussion. Heavily based on the clave, a traditional Latin rhythmic pattern, the piece opened with the slow, rhythmical tapping of the claves — a pair of short wooden dowels found in African, Cuban and Brazilian music.

From there it bloomed into a vibrant series of variations, each successively more energetic — à la Ravel’s “Bolero” — before coming to an exhilarating close. The work’s complex Latin rhythms were wonderfully orchestrated, and played by the orchestra with finesse.

— Steve Siegel, The Morning Call


about Introducción, canción y descarga     WORLD PREMIERE

Juan Carlos Garvayo, piano                                                                           Museo Reina Sofia (Madrid)     April 21, 2014

From the Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra we heard the premiere of Introducción, canción y descarga, a piano work [full] of rhythmic force and Caribbean emotion that the composer humbly describes as a bit “salsera.” It is, of course, but so much more [than that.] With a coherent sense of musical development and engaging capacity, [pianist] Juan Carlos Garvayo’s polished performance was an absolute success.                                                                 — Juan Ángel Vela del Campo, El Pais (Madrid)


about Fandangos

St. Louis Symphony/Leonard Slatkin, conductor                                               Powell Hall, St. Louis, MO                       April 25, 2014

The concert opened with a local premiere, Roberto Sierra’s Fandangos from 2000. The work was commissioned by Mr. Slatkin and was inspired by a “Fandango” for harpsichord by Spanish composer Antonio Soler (1729–83)…the composer describes the piece as “a fantasy, or a ‘super-fandango,’ that takes as point of departure Soler’s work and incorporates elements of Boccherini’s fandango and my own Baroque musings.”

In practice, that translates as a lively, kaleidoscopic elaboration on Soler’s original that ripples through every section of the ensemble—a kind of mini-“concerto for orchestra” that gave everyone a chance to show off. It was a great choice for an orchestra with the SLSO’s depth of talent and was enormous fun to hear. Mr. Slatkin, as you might expect, knows the music well—he conducted without a score—so I think one would have to regard his performance as definitive.                                                                                — Chuck Lavazzi,


Boston Symphony/Giancarlo Guerrerro, conductor          Symphony Hall, Boston, MA     November 8-10, 2012

…conductor Giancarlo Guerrero was on the podium, opening the evening with Roberto Sierra’s Fandangos, a festive and approachable curtain-raiser that shows off the orchestra to great effect. Sierra proudly embraces the traditional Spanish dance form, which here is just lightly modernized, splashed with other Latin sounds, and on occasion playfully smeared with dissonance. Guerrero led a zesty and colorful reading.   — Jeremy Eichler, Boston Globe


Guerrero, a champion of new music, opened the program with Roberto Sierra’s Fandangos for Orchestra (2000), a colorful work loosely based on two 18th-century versions of the triple-meter Spanish dance by Antonio Soler and Luigi Boccherini.

Fandangos is a post-modern tour de force. In a series of episodic variations, the orchestra develops the stylized dance rhythm—an ostinato similar to that used in Ravel’s Bolero—throughout the single-movement piece. Sierra’s musical language, at times, resembles that of George Rochberg’s neo-Romantic symphonies, where powerful, dissonances clash periodically with winding melodic lines and dense tonal harmonies.       — Aaron Keebaugh,


about  Sinfonia No. 4, Fandangos, Carnaval (Naxos CD 8.559738)

Nashville Symphony/Giancarlo Guerrerro, conductor

…Roberto Sierra is important to today…These are works that stand apart from the typical offerings one can hear for the orchestra in the new Millennium. They span periods and styles, Spanish idioms and classical forms and transform everything into a Sierranian landscape   of kaleidoscopic fullness…The disk is a definite winner! Do not let this one slip by…   —


Fandangos is a truly ingenious exercise on tonic and dominant harmonies in fandango rhythm, 11-minutes long and without a dull moment. A brilliant concert-opener, it can be considered a marvelous comment on or even substitute for Ravel’s Bolero. It is played with dazzling virtuosity by this terrific orchestra, and is well worth the price of admission.  — Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide



about Carnaval

Nashville Symphony/Giancarlo Guerrerro, conductor          Schermerhorn Center, Nashville, TN     September 20-22, 2012

Thursday’s concert opened with the music of another great contemporary American composer – Roberto Sierra’s Carnaval. Sierra’s piece could be subtitled “Carnival of the Mythical Animals.” Each of the five movements is named for a legendary beast – gargoyle, sphinx, unicorn, dragon and phoenix. Sierra’s vivid orchestration suggests the character of each creature: the unicorn is gentle and luminous; the sphinx mysterious and atmospheric; and so on. Guerrero and the NSO had little trouble taming this menagerie. Their performance was full of color, energy and sweep, and it earned the group considerable applause. It was an auspicious beginning of the NSO’s 2012-13 SunTrust Classical Series.

— John Pitcher,

Audience reaction via social media – Twitter:

@heidipeta : @nashvillesymph just blew me away with Roberto Sierra’s fantastic “Carnaval”! Complete with a standing o for the composer. Wow.


about Trio Tropical

Made a splendid impression. A master of rhythm and atmosphere, gathering Caribbean, Latin American and jazz elements into a classical idiom . . .these diverse sounds intersect within a keenly demarcated frame; the result is a sensuous, ever-shifting musical picture poised between impressionism and rhythmic modernism. This is as fine a piano trio as has appeared in recent years.  — The New York Times


about Imagenes

Roberto Sierra might be considered the Aaron Copland of Puerto Rico. His music is richly colorful, folk inspired, and infused with dance rhythms common to the Caribbean.

The American Record Guide


about Bayoan

Mr. Sierra’s score was vivid all the way through; he is first and foremost. A brilliant and colorful orchestrator, master of a wide range of advanced textures, but also an engaging melodist and manipulator of rhythm.

The New York Times


about Saludo

Sierra’s neatly crafted, rhythmically vigorous fanfare was an exhilarating dialogue between the orchestra and a large percussion section.

The Washington Post


about Glosas

A fascinating new work-a shimmering composition of scales layered over and under sophisticated Caribbean rhythms… Sierra has created a score that sounds both exotic and familiar.

Chicago Sun Times


about Idilio, Predinbulo

Sierra represents a new generation of American composers who seek ways to combine a progressive musical idiom with more accessible traditional elements, particularly those drawn from folk and popular music. Sierra is a skillful and imaginative creator, and the sources of his musical inspiration have enduring appeal. The programmatic element is key in bridging the gulf between a moribund avant garde and concert audiences who must be won back for contemporary classical music. Roberto Sierra is winning them back…

American Music


about Evocaciones

Easily the most profound-with multi-layered complexity, tension, varying levels of energy and heavily brooding moments-all the things that make life so grand.

The Tribune Review (Pittsburgh)