Sara Kirkland Snider ~ Composer of Music

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.

Interview with Choreographer, George Williamson

February 1st, 2018

Here is an interview with the lovely George Williamson, the British choreographer with whom I’m writing Embrace, a 35-minute narrative orchestral ballet for Birmingham Royal Ballet, which will premiere June 15, 2018 at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. He speaks about our ballet and what drew him to working with my music.


Gertrude Stein Estate Permission Granted for STANZAS IN MEDITATION

January 5th, 2018

Delighted to learn that the Gertrude Stein Estate granted me permission to use some of Stein’s text from her long poem, Stanzas in Meditation, for my 2005 piece by the same name, written for two sopranos and harp. (I wrote this piece in 2005 under the mistaken impression that the work was in the public domain, and it’s since languished on my desk, unperformable.) I wrote it as a student at Yale, but it actually remains one of my favorite things I’ve written, so I’m very happy it can now have a life away from my desk.

It will receive its next performance on April 26, 2018, as part of Illuminarts: A Female Force, a program inspired by the work of celebrated Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta at the de la Cruz Collection in Miami, Florida.

Click here to read more about this piece on this site.

You can listen to a recording of the piece I made years ago with two of the brilliant Synergy Vocals vocalists, Micaela Haslam and Amanda Morrison, along with Louise Martin on harp.

Birmingham Royal Ballet Commission Announced!

November 24th, 2017

Excited to announce that Sarah will be writing a 3o-minute ballet with choreographer George Williamson for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, to premiere at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, England, on June 15, 2018.

The full press release:

Birmingham Royal Ballet, in association with Sadler’s Wells, is pleased to announce the first three choreographers and first two composers commissioned as part of Ballet Now  a unique five-year programme of professional development for choreographers, composers and designers funded by Oak Foundation.

What is Ballet Now?Ballet Now will create two new one-act ballets per year for five years, each with a choreographer, composer and designer who are creating their first dance piece for a large company on a large stage. In total 30 artists will collaborate on these new works, helping to grow the pool of artistic talent available to ballet companies world-wide. This not only guarantees ten new ballets for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s dancers to perform, and for the Company’s audiences to see, but it offers those 30 artists an individual mentoring plan, a budget for their work and a level of creative support that they will not previously have experienced.

This ground-breaking initiative has been developed and overseen by a Creative Consortium; a panel of experts drawn from across the world of ballet, supporting the selection of creative talent, as well as overseeing mentoring opportunities and the on-going success of the programme.

The Consortium consists of David Bintley  (Director, Birmingham Royal Ballet), Alistair Spalding  (Sadler’s Wells Artistic Director and Chief Executive), Sally Beamish  (Composer), Ted Brandsen  (Director, Dutch National Ballet), Sally Cavender  (Director, Performance Music and Vice-Chairman, Faber Music), Koen Kessels  (Music Director, Birmingham Royal Ballet), Cassa Pancho  (Artistic Director, Ballet Black), Emma Southworth  (Studio Programme Senior Producer, The Royal Ballet).

Who will be part of the programme?The first three Ballet Now choreographers are George WilliamsonJuanjo Arqués and Didy Veldman. The first two Ballet Now composers are Sarah Kirkland Snider (working alongside George Williamson) and Gabriel Prokofiev (working with Didy Veldman). These artists have been selected by the Creative Consortium because of the originality, insight and world-class potential shown in their previous work. Ballet Now will give them the opportunity to challenge their choreographic practice and work on the largest scale, whilst leading a creative process in a major ballet company.

Abigail Reeve, producer of Ballet Now, commented: 

Ballet Now is a unique programme of development and new work that Birmingham Royal Ballet is delighted to be launching in association with Sadler’s Wells. Its aim is to develop the next set of creative voices for the dance world. Our first three choreographers commissioned through the programme bring with them fresh outlooks and ideas which will excite audiences across the world.’


The Ballet Now programme will also support one designer per commission; further details will be announced in 2018.The first Ballet Now commission, choreographed by George Williamson, will be performed as part of the In the Upper Room mixed programme at Sadler’s Wells (16-17 June 2018) and Birmingham Hippodrome (20-23 June 2018).

The Blue Hour: World Premiere and Tour

November 20th, 2017

A Far Cry, photographed in South Boston, MA, USA on Tuesday, September 29, 2015. (Photo by Yoon S. Byun)



It was magical to bring The Blue Hour to life a couple weeks ago. The work premiered at Washington Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and from there began a U.S. tour. The piece received rave reviews from The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, and I Care If You Listen. From the A Far Cry website:

The Blue Hour features Grammy-winning singer Luciana Souza in a song cycle written by a collaborative of five leading composers – Rachel GrimesAngélica Negrón, Shara NovaCaroline Shaw, and Sarah Kirkland Snider. The text that serves as the libretto is by 2017 Windham-Campbell Prize winner Carolyn Forché. The excerpted poem, “On Earth,” is from Forché’s 2003 collection Blue Hour. The remarkable poem takes the form of an abecedarium: a listing of images, thousands of them, in alphabetical order, like a flurry of memories from a life coming to its end.

A Far Cry and the composers collaborated through ongoing communication and artist retreats. Mirroring A Far Cry’s democratic creative process, the composers worked together to develop the text adaptation from Forché’s poem for this musical setting, maintaining the abecedary form. While each composer created individual songs, they also worked together on instrumental transitions, refrains, and musical themes to create a continuous, integrated work.

A group of Criers (A Far Cry musicians) first met with the composers in July 2016 to begin work on the project. Everyone agreed that the new work should be as collaborative as possible. The composers wanted the freedom to create individual songs on their own, yet they also wanted to immerse themselves in the collective process to sculpt the larger experience with each other and with the orchestra. The Criers will also embody a dynamic link between the music and text, including passages of spoken word and stage choreography, possibly reciting poem fragments in the concert space as the audience enters.

Luciana Souza, vocalist

The group has also talked a great deal about structure: the orderly alphabetical structure of the poem juxtaposed with the nonlinear narrative of the subject’s life, remembered haphazardly, but gradually coming into focus. Scale then becomes a critical element, considering the enormity of the poem, making it possible to zoom in on a single image, but also to zoom out and see thousands. That sense of dimension – from the micro to the macro – will be a core guiding principle for the eventual work.

Finally, at the meeting in July, the group asked themselves, “Why do this project? What does it represent?” and from that, the following statement emerged:

“In a time when we are seeing masses of people dehumanized – by war, displacement, poverty – we are looking here at a single life, the beautiful detail of one human existence. There is something precious in that; that through our sense of empathy with this one individual, we are given a lens through which to see our own world with greater clarity.

— A Far Cry

The world premiere of the work will be presented by co-commissioner Washington Performing Arts in Washington, DC on November 4, 2017. The other co-commissioners are Bucknell UniversityUniversity of Iowa’s Hancher Performances, and Florida State University.

National Symphony Orchestra Will Perform Excerpt from SOMETHING FOR THE DARK

November 1st, 2017

The National Symphony Orchestra has added a concert to their calendar with conductor Edwin Outwater, in which they will perform an excerpt from Sarah’s SOMETHING FOR THE DARK, the piece commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for the Elaine Lebenbom Award. The concert will take place at January 6 at the Kogod Courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

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