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It's the music of conflict, bees and evolution; COMPOSER INSPIRED BY UNLIKELY SOURCES.


A MODERN classical music album inspired by mythical conflicts, Darwinism and even the structure of bee societies has been released by a Welsh academic.

The unusual collection has been released by Cardiff University senior lecturer Dr Arlene Sierra, which is the first of multi-volume series to be released by the composer. The release - titled The Music of Arlene Sierra, Volume 1 - draws inspiration from an array of unlikely sources including blueprints for ancient weapons, Darwinist evolution and a number of real and mythical conflicts.

It features the first compilation of a decade's worth of work from the composer, mainly reflecting the two seemingly conflicting ideas of natural organisation and military strategy.

At 41, she has also become one of the youngest people to be asked to produce a compilation of their work by Bridge Records, a New York record label.

The process of making the record took about two years.

Natural history features as a running influence, with the structure of bee societies also cited by Dr Sierra as the catalyst for the collection to accompany song titles such as Cicada Shell and Birds and Insects, Book 1. Dr Sierra - lecturer in composition at the School of Music for the past seven years - told the Western Mail the seemingly unrelated subjects were interlinked.

She said: "When you think of bees, you think about a huge mass of little creatures working, rather than thinking of an individual bee.

"When I wrote that piece when bees had been in the news a lot, going through a crisis, with bee colonies dying out - and I read some scientific literature about how hives worked.

"It seemed certain bees were more individualistic than others and hives are actually a balance between individuals bees and more co-operative bees.

"So it does seem that more 'entrepreneurial' bees can have an effect on what a hive does, which does mirror how humans behave."

Many pieces are based on military history and strategists - with one piece based on the teachings on Sun Tzu, the legendary Chinese general, which were linked to modern-day conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Dr Sierra said: "My pieces [Surrounded Ground and Cicada Shell] grew out of the Iraq War.

"I was another angry American horrified by what we were doing - I took part in the London protest against the war. "It sparked me to read and get interested in reading a little bit about military history and the strategies people had and the ideas behind these kinds of things.

"I had heard about Sun Tzu of course and how his ideas had been co-opted by management types - but it is actually full of strategic, organisational ideas of how to get groups doing things, and how to deal with guerrilla warfare."

The New York-educated composer's collection was named the joint winner of the Classical Recording Foundation's Composer of the Year on the back of the album.

Pianist Vassily Primakov, soprano Susan Narucki, the Daedalus Quartet and the International Contemporary Ensemble, with conductor Jayce Ogren, were all contributors to the collection.

Dr Sierra was one of the first composers to be commissioned by the New York Philharmonic in its opening season under music director Alan Gilbert in 2009, and other recent commissions include works for the Carducci Quartet and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

"I would like to think the fact that I've been asked to do this is a reflection of the work I'm doing, but that there's a burgeoning scene for modern, classical music in Wales," she said. "Since I've have been teaching here at Cardiff University we have had more and more students coming in that are not satisfied with just playing Beethoven sonatas," she said.

"They want to grapple with the subject in a creative, individual way. There are so many performances of new music and festivals in Wales and in the rest of the UK.

"It is a sort of new theatre and poetry - and it is not something that most people know about, and all we have to do is scratch the surface and there is a lot going on."

? The Music of Arlene Sierra, Vol 1 is available from Bridge Records, on Amazon and on iTunes.


* Dr Arlene Sierra says the Iraq War influenced her work
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 13, 2011
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