Friday, January 26, 2007

Roberto Sierra to attend Spivey Hall premiere of his SONGS FROM THE DIASPORA

Spivey Hall is proud to present the Southeast premiere of Roberto Sierra's Songs from the Diaspora on Sunday, February 4 at 3:00 pm, performed by the excellent St. Lawrence String Quartet, celebrated Metropolitan Opera soprano Heidi Grant Murphy and distinguished pianist Kevin Murphy. I've just had the good news that composer Roberto Sierra will attend this concert (thanks to the generosity of The Friends of Spivey Hall) and will speak briefly about his work at the free 2:00 pm pre-concert talk led by Dr. Kurt-Alexander Zeller. Roberto is a highly successful composer whose works have garnered international acclaim. More about Roberto at

This will be the fourth-ever public performance of Songs from the Diaspora, which receive their world premiere January 30th at Penn State, then are performed at Cornell University (where Roberto is professor of composition) and the University of Maryland in College Park before Spivey Hall welcomes them next Sunday. The musicians were in intensive rehearsals last week in New York preparing to give life to these songs, and I'm greatly looking forward to hearing them. Roberto may also speak to the audience from stage before the performance, which I hope will enhance the listening experience of everyone who attends.

Here's Roberto's program note about the Songs:

Roberto Sierra (born 1953, Vega Baja, Puerto Rico)
Songs from the Diaspora

In 1492 a royal decree from Their Catholic Majesties (that was their official title), Fernando de Aragón and Isabella de Castilla put an end to the largest and one of the most important Jewish settlements in Europe. The expulsion of these Spaniards who for centuries made important contributions to the arts and the sciences, who were an integral part of the fabric of the Spanish culture, was not only a tragic event for countless people who had to leave the land they called home, but also a great loss for Spain. This politically and religiously motivated expulsion forced the Jews to leave their Sepharad (the term they used for the Iberian Peninsula) and wander to find new places to live. With them they brought their language (Ladino), their music and their poetry. You can still find Sephardic poetry and music, largely unchanged by time, for many wonderful songs have been passed down from one generation to the next through the centuries. Not long ago it would not have been unusual to hear in Sofia (Bulgaria) an old grandmother singing a fragment from De las mares altas.

In my settings I selected some of those texts that reflected a sense of longing, and that made references to the Diaspora, as well as some of those that represented aspects of their lives as ordinary people. Many times what has remained is just a fragment of a tune, but in most instances the lyrics are found in several completed verses. In completing the melodic fragments, I tried to do so in a seamless fashion. When I wrote these songs I wanted to recreate the spirit as reflected in the melodic fragments, and to evoke with the accompaniment a sound world that reflected the beautiful and profoundly moving imagery expressed in the verses.

The cycle opens with the song titled From the High Seas (De las mares altas), which tells the story of how the Queen became jealous of a beautiful girl that came from far away lands dressed in gold and pearls, crowned with sapphires. The next song, Echate a la mar y alcançalo (Go to the Seas and find him), originates from Jerusalem and also makes references to the sea, to going away. Here the theme of the wanderer is paired not with exotic imagery but rather with the language of daily routines, almost childlike in its simplicity: the water of the ocean becomes the bath water where one is washed, purified.

El rey de Francia tres hijas tenía (from Izmir, Turkey), which resembles many medieval romances, tells the story of the three daughters of the King of France. The song describes how the princesses labored in the palace, and how one day the youngest one fell asleep while embroidering. As the Queen tried to wake her up, she tells her mother of the beautiful dream she was having, but the Queen quickly explains (perhaps a warning) the symbolic nature of the dream: “the moon is your mother-in-law, the star ‘Diana’ is your sister-in-law, the three birds are your brothers-in-law and the golden pillar is the son of the King, your boyfriend”. The mother-in-law as subject is a common thread in the Sephardic tradition, and it could not be more clearly exposed with all its negative connotations (“my mother-in-law is stronger than death itself…”) as in the song that follows: My mother-in-law the evil one (Mi suegra la negra), which originates from Filipopolis, modern day Plovdic in Bulgaria.

The next two songs are from Sarajevo. Caminí por altas torres (I wandered by the High Towers) brings us back to the Diaspora: “…I navigated in lands, where the cock doesn’t crow, where nobody knew me. Rain falls from the heavens, tears from my eyes.” De que lloras Blanca niña also tells us about crying and sadness, but this time it is a girl the one that cries for the love that goes away and never comes back. The cycle closes as it opened: with the ocean and a song from Sofia (The Siren). In this song the ocean is the world of the siren, that mysterious and mad creature who wants sailors to love her.

Songs from the Diaspora was commissioned by Music Accord for Heidi Grant Murphy, Kevin Murphy and the St. Lawrence String Quartet.

* * * * *

In addition to the Songs, the program includes Chausson's gorgeous Chanson perpetuelle featuring all the musicians, and the Quartet (hailing from Canada) will perform Mozart's C-major String Quartet K. 465 as well as Shostakovich's Quartet No. 3. The SLSQ's recording of the Shostakovich has earned fantastic reviews (The New York Times calls it "a suberb" and finds all sorts of expressive words to describe its emotional impact). This will mark a welcome return of the SLSQ to our series (I heard them last summer at the Spoleto Festival and they were simply magnificent) but the first appearance with their new second violinist, Scott St. John (also no stranger to Spviey Hall). This promises to be another great highlight of the season. Don't miss it -- there are good seats still available.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sam, any hopes of seeing Hector Olivera on the "menu" for next season? He's always been a favorite of Spivey audiences!

2:57 PM  
Blogger Spivey Hall said...

Delighted you're interested in Hector Olivera. We're still putting the finishing touches on next season, which we plan to announce in April. Suffice it to say that Hector remains a welcome guest artist at Spivey Hall whom we hope to present regularly here. [You aren't his manager, are you? ;-)]

4:59 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home