New Music Biennial 2014
Discover new music all over the UK

Arlene SierraArlene Sierra

Urban Birds



Xenia Pestova, piano & percussion

Kathleen Supové, disklavier

Sarah Nicolls, piano

Jose Miguel Fernandez, electronics


This new piece brings together three international soloists in a tour de force for three pianos with electronics, sampled birdsong, and percussion, combining spectacle with refined classical keyboard artistry, and juxtaposing harmony and rhythmic drive with sounds from nature in a powerful and engaging way.

Urban Birds is in three movements:

1. Sylviid Babblers

This movement features the extended song of the Blackcap with answers from related species known collectively as Sylviid Babblers, as well as from the pianos and a single crotale.


2. Skylark Loops

A looped fragment of the Skylark's song is transcribed, manipulated, and repeated with percussive contributions from stopped piano strings and woodblock.

3. Cuculus-cornuta

Cuckoo calls dominate this movement, punctuated by the guiro, until rogue elements are introduced in the form of an extended passage for pre-programmed Disklavier and the call of a very different bird: the South American Horned Screamer.

"I am delighted to be selected for the New Music Biennial to compose 'Urban Birds', a piece that juxtaposes natural and electronic sources in an extended pianistic sound world showcasing three formidable soloists. The work will engage musically with one of the central preoccupations of our time: Our relationship with the natural world." Arlene Sierra

"The INTER/actions Festival of Interactive Electronic Music is proud to present the world premiere of Arlene Sierra’s 'Urban Birds'. We are excited to bring together three acclaimed keyboard soloists Sarah Nicolls, Xenia Pestova and Kathleen Supové, combining acoustic piano, digital piano, electronics, percussion and sampled birdsong in an enticing mix." INTER/actions


About Arlene Sierra

An American composer based in London, Arlene Sierra writes music that takes its impetus from rich sources including military strategy, Darwinian evolution and game theory. The Guardian describes her work as having ‘its own character, in which historical and contemporary influences are fused into a highly flexible and distinctive style’, while Time Out New York describes it as ‘spry, savage, sly and seductive.’

Performers include the Tokyo Philharmonic, the London Sinfonietta, New York City Opera VOX, ICE, Psappha, Lontano, the New Juilliard Ensemble, the Schubert Ensemble, and many others. Recent commissions include a piano concerto Art of War for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Game of Attrition for the New York Philharmonic, Cicada Shell (Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust), Insects in Amber (Cheltenham Music Festival), Neruda Settings (Tanglewood Music Festival),

Hand Mit Ringen (Huddersfield Music Festival, Moler for the Seattle Symphony and Urban Birds (PRSF New Music Biennial).

Born in Miami to a family of New Yorkers, Arlene Sierra is a graduate of Oberlin College-Conservatory, Yale School of Music and the University of Michigan. Dr Sierra is Senior Lecturer and Director of Postgraduate Taught Programmes and MMus Composition at Cardiff University School of Music. Her guest professorships and master classes have included Eastman School of Music, Bowdoin International Music Festival, Yonsei University (Seoul, South Korea), Cambridge University, and Kings College London.



About INTER/actions

INTER/actions is a symposium and mini-festival focusing on performance and interaction in electronic music. It provides a lively environment to exchange new ideas and instigate collaborations for composers, performers, sound artists and music technologists interested in the concept of ‘performance’ in electronic music.



The press says:

'[...] intriguing – she's a name to watch.' BBC Music Magazine



Arlene Sierra: Urban Birds

BBC Radio 3





The performance of Urban Birds was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 12 July 2014 and is available as a digital download in MP3 and FLAC formats here.


New Music Biennial: Meet Arlene Sierra



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