NEW YORK, NEW YORK ― The Violin Channel recently caught up with American composer, Robert Sirota.
In a VC-exclusive blog, Robert discusses the creation of his string quartet – which will be premiered by the American String Quartet on September 23rd at the Manhattan School of Music, in New York City.
“Writing a string quartet is the composer’s mountaintop experience. Like climbing a mountain, it requires maximum effort, but can yield maximum rewards. The 250-year history of the string quartet is the story of pieces the best of which are true monuments to human achievement. I have always been in in awe of the achievements of Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Bartok, Shostakovich, Lutoslawski, Carter. Perhaps this is why it took me so long to produce my first string quartet. Well, I actually composed a couple of quartets earlier in my life, but they were not pieces I considered worthy of the genre, so they are not in my catalogue. To produce a “keeper” I had to wait for the right subject matter, and for my technique to catch up to my aspirations.
I’m glad I waited. I composed my “first” string quartet, Triptych, in 2002 as an impassioned response to the 9/11 tragedy. It was written for the Chiara String Quartet, who have played it many times, and have recorded it. Other groups have also taken it up, most notably the American String Quartet, who made it a part of their concert repertoire, and who asked me to write a new quartet for them. I must confess that while I was grateful for the impact that Triptych has had on performers and audiences, I was also hesitant to compose another quartet until I had a clear vision of what it would be. I think that in American Pilgrimage I have found that vision.
American Pilgrimage is conceived as a true companion piece to Triptych. Triptych is a meditation on one of the most tragic chapters in our national history. American Pilgrimage is a celebration of the beauty, pathos, and variety of both our geography and culture. It is laid out in four movements:
1. Morning: Waldo County, Maine
2. Mid-day: Mother Emanuel Church, Charleston, South Carolina
3. Sunset: High Desert, Santa Fe, New Mexico
4. Evening: Manhattan
The raw material of American Pilgrimage is drawn from four sources: Protestant hymnody, Gospel music, Native American songs, and jazz. Since I literally just finished the 28-minute work a couple of days ago I am the last person to speak objectively about whether it is successful or not. What I can say is that the foremost thought in my mind has been to capture a glimpse of the epic quality of our country – the awesome diversity of its landscape and its people.
A graduate of the Juilliard School, Oberlin College and Harvard, Robert Sirota has has served Senior leadership roles at the Peabody Institute, New York University School of Performing Arts, Boston University School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music. His chamber music works have been performed extensively – by contemporary ensembles including Sequitur, yMusic, TACTUS Ensemble and Chameleon Arts Ensemble at major international festivals including Tanglewood, Aspen and Yellow Barn.