October 9, 1953 -
born in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, composed during the Contemporary period
Among the most important contemporary Latin American composers, Roberto Sierra burst onto the scene in 1987 when the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra presented the North American premiere of Júbilo at Carnegie Hall. The event was a resounding success and was followed by a string of other notable premieres. Perhaps the most important of these was the 2006 first performance of Sierra's Missa Latina in Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C., under Leonard Slatkin. It was a critical triumph of epic proportions, prompting the Washington Times to compare its success with that Britten's War Requiem. Sierra's style has been somewhat eclectic in fusing progressive compositional methods, some of which were introduced by his teacher Ligeti, with folk elements of Puerto Rican and Latin origins, as well as with jazz. Sierra's works are available on a variety of labels, including Naxos, Koch International, Dorian, Albany Records, Newport Classic, and Fleur De Son.
Roberto Sierra was born in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, on October 9, 1953. His musical education was thorough and extensive, with studies first at the Puerto Rico Conservatory (1969-1976), the University of Puerto Rico (1976-1979), the Royal College of Music in London and London University (1976-1978), Utrecht-based Institute for Sonology (1978-1979), and finally the Hamburg Hochschule für Musik (1979-1982), where he both studied and worked with Ligeti.
Following his studies Sierra returned to Puerto Rico and wrote the choral work Cantos populares (1983), and there soon followed his watershed work Júbilo (1985). Meanwhile, he supported himself by working in two educational administrative posts (1982-1989): Director of Cultural Activities at Puerto Rico University and Chancellor of the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music.
In 1989 Sierra, still tasting the success from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra's North American premiere of Júbilo, was named composer-in-residence of the MSO, serving until 1992. He joined the faculty at Cornell University in 1992, where he remains today as the chair of the music department. Throughout the 1990s Sierra received numerous prestigious commissions, including a joint one from the Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and Utah Symphony Orchestras, which resulted in the Violin Concerto Evocaciones (1994).
Other notable works came from his prolific pen, including the percussion concerto Con madera, metal y cuero (1998). The sensational successful of Missa Latina at its 2006 premiere led to further performances, including at the 2007 Casals Festival in Puerto Rico. Naxos released a recording of it in 2009, with Andreas Delfs leading the MSO. He was a finalist for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for his Concerto for Viola. ~ Robert Cummings, Rovi