Orchestra Underground: Sins & Songs Composer Spotlight – Sarah Kirkland Snider

Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider writes music of direct expression and vivid narrative that has been hailed as “rapturous” (The New York Times), “haunting” (The Los Angeles Times), and “strikingly beautiful” (Time Out New York). ACO’s Orchestra Underground and special guest Shara Worden will perform “The Swan” and “The Witch” from Sarah’s 13-song cycle Unremembered at Sins & Songs, February 27 at Carnegie Hall. Sarah was kind enough to share some thoughts about the piece and the upcoming performance.

Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider

American Composers Orchestra: Unremembered features the poetry of New York-based poet Nathaniel Bellows. What initially drew you to his poetry? What prompted you to use his work in Unremembered?
Sarah Kirkland Snider: Nathaniel is an old friend of mine; we met while undergraduates at Middlebury College. Unremembered began as a commission from the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth. I had been looking for an opportunity to collaborate with Nathaniel for a few years; I think our work shares a sensibility in terms of its lyricism and attraction to shadowed, elegiac, and dramatic narratives. The Roomful of Teeth residency took place at Mass MoCA, which seemed like an ideal place to collaborate with Nathaniel, since much of his work is about his childhood in rural Massachusetts. 

ACO: Shara Worden and Orchestra Underground will perform “The Swan” and “The Witch” from your 13-song cycle. What made you choose these 2 songs over others for the February 27 concert at Carnegie Hall?
SKS: It was partly practical: these songs feature only Shara, whereas other songs in the cycle feature a tenor (D.M. Stith) and/or baritone (Padma Newsome), or all three of them together. Beyond that, I thought these two songs would pair well, as they’re of contrasting moods and tempos. “The Swan” begins gently, slowly, with reflection, while “The Witch” is a more raucous and somewhat terrifying affair. And together they represent the larger meaning of the cycle; on the whole, Unremembered is about innocence, experience, and the hard-won wisdom that comes with the passing of time. 

ACO: What should the audience listen for during your songs?
SKS: I guess I think that if I’ve done my job well, the audience won’t have to listen for anything in particular, but can engage with and appreciate the music on different levels, emotionally and intellectually. I strive to create immersive listening experiences where the narrative is vivid and cogent, the details and form are carefully considered, and the emotional impact is direct and immediate. 

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the performance of your music at Carnegie Hall by Shara Worden and Orchestra Underground?
SKS: It’s my first time collaborating with ACO, so I’m looking forward to that, and to having my music be part of such an interesting and adventurous program. And it’s always an unspeakable thrill to hear my music performed by my dear friend Shara, whose exquisite voice, emotional precision, and dramatic gifts never fail to leave me speechless.

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