Sara Kirkland Snider ~ Composer of Music


December 21st, 2018

On December 16 and 17, 2018, George Steel’s Vox Vocal Ensemble gave the world premiere of You Must Feel with Certainty, for choir and percussion, at New York’s Guggenheim Museum. You Must Feel with Certainty was commissioned in 2018 by Guggenheim Works & Process to celebrate Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future, the Guggenheim’s retrospective of Hilma af Klint, the pioneering and long under-recognized Swedish female abstract artist.

Sarah writes in her program note for the piece: “The Guggenheim gave me access to some of her recently-translated journals, in which I found the text for this piece. Af Klint practiced automatic writing and drawing, creating work at the behest of spirits she channeled in seances with a group of four other women called ‘The Five.’ With this text, titled simply “September 16, 1903,” it’s unclear whether Hilma channeled these words or wrote them to herself. Regardless, they seem to speak not only to the faith and tenacity required by the creative process, but presciently, to the recognition of Hilma’s artwork, which over a century later now finds itself in bloom.

Deeply inspired by Hilma’s art, openness, and story, while writing this piece I strove to open myself to voices I don’t always hear. The full text as found in her journal is as follows:

September 16, 1903 

You are bewildered by what we have told you, but the phenomenon we are trying to explain is truly bewildering. What is this phenomenon, you ask? Well, beloved, it is that which we want to call the secret growing. How often have we heard you say that everything is futile, that nothing comes of all your labors. Yet like amorphous buds your endeavors sprout in all directions. You see everything as formless and you forget that this is a sign of life. Gradually the formlessness takes on more precise contours and the steadily growing roots feed an ever stronger plant, which will one day explode with an abundance of leaves and flowers. You know this is so, but you must perceive this knowledge with such vividness that you dare to build on it. You have to feel with certainty that even the smallest effort to grow in goodness leaves a clear trace inside you. When you do not see an outer result, this must not discourage or tire you in your efforts, for just as invisible hands help and tend every plant on this green Earth, so every budding sprout of goodness is tended and shaped and protected by invisible powers and when the time comes your eyes will open and you too will see the beautiful plant that grew in secrecy, the product of your noble endeavors and your pure intentions. Accept our account as a greeting from us so that you shall never tire when all seems lost.”

Rick Perdian of Seen and Heard International reviewed the concert December 19, writing of Sarah’s piece: “A new work was also premiered, Sarah Kirkland Snider’s ‘You Must Feel with Certainty’. It was commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum for this concert to celebrate ‘Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future’, a current retrospective of the pioneering and long under-recognized Swedish female abstract artist’s works. Af Klint also practiced automatic writing and drawing, creating works at the behest of spirits that she channeled in seances. Snider set one of these texts, ‘September 16, 1903’, for chorus and percussion (it’s not known whether the words were channeled or if af Klimt wrote them herself).

‘You Must Feel with Certainty’ exploited the Rotunda’s unique acoustical qualities with high-pitched drones, antiphonal effects, glissandos in the marimba, vibraphone and voices and quick staccato passages. With her ability to paint words (especially vivid when it came to depicting sprouting plants) in music and convey ideas in sound, Snider creates music that is not only beautiful but intriguing, capturing the spirit of the Swedish mystic whose paintings could be glimpsed in the adjoining galleries.”

New York Premiere and NYT Review of SOMETHING FOR THE DARK

November 25th, 2018

A New York premiere of an orchestral piece is always exciting, but a New York premiere alongside the world premiere of a reconstructed symphony by Julius Eastman is something altogether spectacular. I was  deeply honored to have my orchestral piece Something for the Dark performed by the Mannes Orchestra alongside Eastman’s Symphony No. 2 (edited by Luciano Chessa) and Rautevaara’s Symphony No. 3.

Of Something for the Dark, The New York Times wrote: “The concert opened with Sarah Kirkland Snider’s “Something for the Dark,” which also approaches sound as a vast, malleable substance. In this sophisticated piece, repetition transforms the emotional charge of musical motifs. A turn of phrase may appear pretty at first, then take on shades of nostalgia before registering as a creepy obsession haunting the ear. Ms. Snider skillfully draws a wide arc, with throbbing brass accents and slashing chords driving up tension. The work ends quietly, as if on a question.” You can read the whole article here.

Update, 1/6/19: The concert topped Log Journal and New Yorker critic Steve Smith’s Top 10 Memorable Music Moments of 2018: “In November, the composer and musicologist Luciano Chessa conducted a polished, committed Mannes Orchestra in the world-premiere account of Eastman’s Symphony No. 2, a fantastically scored aural chronicle of love, loss, and regret, newly edited by Chessa—and thoughtfully showcased among substantial pieces by Sarah Kirkland Snider and Einojuhani Rautavaara.”

Composer Residency at UC-Boulder College of Music

November 10th, 2018

I’m honored to be Composer-in-Residence at UC-Boulder College of Music for the 2018-2019 year. I’ll make three visits to campus to give composition lessons and lectures, and to coach rehearsals and a performance of my music. I’m excited to learn from the students and to see mountains. I’ll also work with the Boulder Symphony on my large orchestral work, Hiraeth (a snippet of which I am obliged to tell you can be listened to here, alongside a beautiful film by Mark DeChiazza.)

Twelve Performances of SKS Orchestral Works in 2018-2019 Season

September 5th, 2018

The Arapahoe Philharmonic performs Something for the Dark

Sarah’s orchestral works Something for the Dark and Hiraeth will, together, receive twelve performances in the 2018-2019 season. There will be ten performances of Snider’s fourth orchestral work, Something for the Dark, including its European premiere with Maestro Andreas Delfs and the Aarhus Symfoniorkester at the Hamburg ElbphilharmonieCommissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 2014 when Snider won the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award, Something for the Dark’s other performances will be given in the U.S. and Denmark by the Boulder Symphony, the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra, the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra, the Mannes Orchestra, and the Aarhus Symfoniorkester. Her 27-minute work for orchestra (and optional film by Mark deChiazza), Hiraeth, originally commissioned by North Carolina Symphony and Princeton Symphony Orchestra, will be performed by the Arapahoe Philharmonic and the Columbia Orchestra.

European premiere of SOMETHING FOR THE DARK at Elbphilharmonie

August 28th, 2018

Sarah’s 2015 orchestral work, Something for the Dark, received its European premiere by the Danish Aarhus Symfoniorkester August 23, 2018, under Maestro Andreas Delfs, at Hamburg’s stunning Elbphilharmonie. Part of a concert entitled “Seven Deadly Pearls,” it shared a program with music by Kurt Weill and Shara Nova, and subsequently received performances in Aarhus, Denmark.

Something for the Dark was inspired by a Philip Levine poem and commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as the prize for the Elaine Lebenbom Competition for female composers, which Sarah won in 2014. You can listen to the original version (Sarah revised it in 2016) of the piece here.

SKS in NPR’s 200 Greatest Songs by 21st Century Women

August 5th, 2018

“The Lotus Eaters,” a movement from Sarah’s 2010 song cycle Penelope, was included in this feature by NPR entitled “The 200 Greatest Songs by 21st Century Women.” NPR writes: “This list is part of Turning the Tables, an ongoing project from NPR Music dedicated to recasting the popular music canon in more inclusive – and accurate – ways. This year, our list, selected by a panel of more than 70 women and non-binary writers, tackles history in the making, celebrating artists whose work is changing this century’s sense of what popular music can be. The songs are by artists whose major musical contributions came on or after Jan. 1, 2000, and have shifted attitudes, defied categories and pushed sound in new directions since then.”

Of “The Lotus Eaters,” critic Lara Pelligrinelli writes: “A woman’s husband appears at her door after an absence of 20 years, suffering from brain damage…” That’s the premise behind Sarah Kirkland Snider‘s Penelope with lyrics by playwright Ellen McLaughlin and sung by Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond). The gorgeous, haunting song cycle updates Homer’s Odyssey from the perspective of its female characters. Snider has been taken to task for writing music that is too vulnerable and too expressive. In “The Lotus Eaters,” she answers her critics powerfully with restless music that overflows from an intoxicating desire to forget.”

World Premiere of ‘Embrace’ by Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

June 25th, 2018

On June 15-17, Embrace, Sarah’s new orchestral ballet with choreographer George Williamson, had its world premiere by the Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. The inaugural commission of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s new Ballet Now program, this highly personal 39′ work explores ideas of sexuality and individual identity, and examines what happens when these concepts come into conflict with societal expectations.

While choreographer George Williamson was praised for breaking new ground with gender roles in ballet, Sarah’s music received generous note as well:

Embrace is a new work by up-and-coming dance-maker, George Williamson, to a tremendous commission from the notable American composer Sarah Kirkland Snider. Snider creates a thrilling sound world, using the many sonorities of a full orchestra and building her music into truly impressive climaxes. It is rich and satisfying, an impressive first dance score from her, making one wish to hear more of her work very soon….superb.”

–G.J. Dowler, Classical Source, June 16, 2018

Embrace is the most interesting work I’ve seen from Williamson, who is associate artist at English National Ballet… The sense of collaboration is strong. Snider’s new score supports the action with atmospheric, lyrical music.”

–Zoe Anderson, The Independent, June 18, 2018

“…as a showcase for [Williamson and Snider’s] emerging talents, the piece makes an exciting impression…Snider’s score is perfectly suited to Williamson’s theme, rooted in classicism but attuned to the modern ear, with its lushly filmic, melodic quality, and brilliantly handled by Koen Kessels in the pit. I hope she will be commissioned for more dance works henceforth.”

Amanda Jennings and Deborah Weiss, Dance Europe, July 2018 (print only)

Embrace is a powerful work driven by a strong score and an ever simmering tension that revolves around the figure of the ‘outsider’. Yet for all the drama on display, it’s easy as a viewer to drift through sections.”

–Rachel Elderkin, The Stage, June 18, 2018

“Sarah Kirkland Snider’s new and undoubtedly American score with its echoes of Bernstein, Copeland and Barber supports the action well. At a time when it seems de rigueur that new music has to be difficult, Snider manages to be challenging without being hard on the ear.”

–David Mead, Seeing Dance, June 20, 2018

Update (December 2018): Dance Europe and The Stage named Embrace one of the best ballet premieres of 2018! 

A Mass about endangered animals

May 1st, 2018

I wrote a Mass about endangered animals. And it had a world premiere, on April 26, 2018 — at St. Paul’s Chapel, Trinity Wall Street, NY, NY, by the stupendous Choir of Trinity Wall Street and NOVUS NY, who commissioned it. The Mass is part of “Mass Reimaginings,” a commissioning project that asked five composers–Daniel Felsenfeld, Jonathan Newman, Paola Prestini, Julian Wachner, and myself–to re-imagine the Mass for today, with a combination of secular and traditional text. My frequent collaborator, Nathaniel Bellows, wrote some very beautiful text for our Mass.

I really loved writing this piece and was so grateful for the experience. We’ll record it next year. For now, you can stream the live performance here.


UNREMEMBERED Featured in European Festivals Spring/Summer 2018

March 9th, 2018

A new production of Unremembered will be featured at two adventurous European new music festivals this Spring and Summer 2018: the Podium Festival in Esslingen, Germany in May, and the Oranjewoud Festival in Oranjewoud, Holland, in June.

In the Podium Festival (5/5), this German premiere of Unremembered will kick off the final evening of the festival, when, according to the program, “it is not clear where the concert ends and the closing party begins. After the German premiere of the magical “Unremembered” by Sarah Kirkland Snider and a furious orchestral performance on the KOMMA stage, it’s all about flowing into danceable instruments.”

At the Oranjewoud Festival (6/10), Unremembered will enjoy a special midnight-in-the-park (!) outdoor performance, in what will be the Dutch premiere of the chamber octet arrangement of the piece. We’re really looking forward to this! Hard to imagine a more fitting setting for Unremembered than midnight in a park in the summertime. From the program:


During the Night of the Park, you’ll enter an enchanting world where light is supplanted by darkness, dreams merge with reality, and silence makes way for amazing sounds.

Part 1: Sheherazade’s Dream (22.15 to 23.30)

As you walk through the Overtuin at night, brief musical performances appear as suddenly as they disappear. You hear tender night songs by Schubert, then lonely songs calling you like a siren from the foliage.

Songs, edited for baritone and guitar.

Part 2: Midnight concert (0.00 to 1.00)
As midnight approaches, everyone will gather for the Midnight Concert with a performance of Unremembered composed by Sarah Kirkland Snider. A meditation on memory, innocence, and the haunted grandeur of the natural world, listening to this piece is like looking at the world through the eyes of a child, in preparation for the sometimes terrifying events to be faced as an adult.

UNREMEMBERED Now Performable in Several Arrangements and Suites

March 3rd, 2018

My song cycle Unremembered is now available for performance in several different arrangements and suites of songs. You can read about them all here.

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