Concert Notes

Roberto Sierra’s Fandangos 

Notes by TŌN percussionist Felix Ko

The Composer 
Born in 1953 in Vega Baja, Pureto Rico, Roberto Sierra studied composition both in Puerto Rico and Europe, where one of his teachers was György Ligeti at the Hochschule für Musik in Hamburg, Germany. His works have been performed by orchestras, ensembles and festivals in the Americas and Europe for more than three decades. Sierra came to prominence in 1987, when his first major orchestral composition, Júbilo, was performed at Carnegie Hall by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Sierra has served as Composer-in-Residence with the symphonies of Milwaukee, Puerto Rico, and New Mexico, as well as the Philadelphia Orchestra. He has also been nominated for a Grammy twice in the Best Contemporary Composition category. 

The Music 
Fandangos was commissioned in 2000 for the National Symphony Orchestra and its music director Leonard Slatkin, who gave the world premiere in Washington, D.C., on February 28, 2001. Since then, it has become one of the composer’s most-performed orchestral works. This piece is inspired by two 18-century baroque style fandangos: one is a harpsichord fandango by Antonio Soler, and the other is a guitar quintet fandango by Luigi Boccherini. 

Triple-meter fandango is probably the most characteristic Spanish dance form. It is part of the flamenco performance and perhaps represents the most standard “Spanish” flavor. While quoting and blending these two resources, Sierra keeps most of his fandangos consistent in meter, rhythm, and harmonic aspects, and explores different possibilities in orchestral colors and textures through several episodic variations. It not only moves from very light orchestration to very heavy, but also constantly changes in various ways. The flamenco origin keeps the work always energetic and colorful, and the trumpet fanfare as well as castanets remind everyone of its Spanish roots. 

In Sierra’s Own Words 
Sierra himself wrote: “I bring [the fandango] to the present through some transformations of the musical fabric. When we are hearing something that may sound Baroque, a window into our time opens, and the piece is transformed. My title Fandangos (in plural) refers to the multi-dimensionality of the work.”