On Saturday, September 11, 2021 at 7:30pm, the American String Quartet, praised by The New York Times for its “…luxurious, beautifully sculpted performances,” will perform Robert Sirota’s Triptych (2002), written to commemorate the victims of September 11, 2001. Presented by Barrington’s White House, this concert honoring the 20th anniversary of 9/11 will also include Dvořák’s famed American Quartet (String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96), George Walker’s Lyric for Strings, and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The ensemble will perform at Barrington’s White House in the evening, following a commemorative Village of Barrington ceremony earlier in the day at Memorial Park.
Conceived as an extended meditation on 9/11, Triptychwas premiered by the Chiara String Quartet on September 26, 2002, at Trinity Church on Wall Street, one of the churches on the periphery of Ground Zero. Sirota explains, “The musical composition was created in tandem with a painting of the same name by Deborah Patterson; the three panels of the painting bear the same subtitles: ‘Desecration,’ ‘Lamentation,’ and ‘Prayer.’ The first movement is an explicit evocation of an horrific event. I imagine that when the twin towers went down, every car alarm in lower Manhattan went off simultaneously, so I have incorporated the sound of sirens, as well as a dying car horn, into the end of the movement.
The second and third movements are a kind of meditation on the tragedy, first a grieving and then a consolation. Similarly, in the painting, the center panel shows the body of Father Mychal Judge, the priest who died in the World Trade Center, being carried by a group of firefighters. This realistic depiction of an actual event is flanked by two rather more abstract panels. The panel on the left shows the smoke and dust of the towers collapsing, and then the panel on the other end is a kind of reverse image as light ascends to heaven. These images are analogous to my music, which is also a mixture of the “abstract’ and “real,” a blend of atonality and tonality. Just as Deborah layers her paints and colors, I try to layer sound in a sonic technique similar to the painter’s use of sfumato and chiaroscuro.”
Triptych is the first string quartet in a trilogy spanning fifteen years which Sirota began in 2002, each conceived as a long journal entry reflecting a response to our times. Sirota’s second string quartet, American Pilgrimage, celebrates the rich diversity of the American landscape and the American spirit, and was completed in spring 2016. The American String Quartet released the world premiere recording in 2018, of which AllMusicwrote, “the work is attractively eclectic … its four movements depict four times of day and four American locales, drawing on Protestant hymns, gospel music, Native American music, and jazz, as well as quoting (in the “Evening: Manhattan” finale) the Dvorak “American” quartet.”
Wave Upon Wave (2018), his third quartet, is about our fears, our hopes, and our prayers that we will triumph over the forces of darkness which threaten to overwhelm us. In 2018 Sirota wrote, “Now, given the uncertainty of this moment in our history, rife with threats of tyranny, environmental catastrophe, and the human potential for evil, I find myself turning inward to examine the topography of the human heart: our vast potential for creative energy, idealism and altruism.” It was written for and premiered by the Telegraph Quartet, on the occasion of winning of the 2018 Naumburg Competition.
About Robert Sirota: Over five decades, composer Robert Sirota has developed a distinctive voice, clearly discernible in all of his work – whether symphonic, choral, stage, or chamber music. Writing in the Portland Press Herald, Allan Kozinn asserts: “Sirota’s musical language is personal and undogmatic, in the sense that instead of aligning himself with any of the competing contemporary styles, he follows his own internal musical compass.”
Robert Sirota’s works have been performed by orchestras across the US and Europe; ensembles such as Alarm Will Sound, Sequitur, yMusic, Chameleon Arts, and Dinosaur Annex; the Chiara, American, Telegraph, Ethel, Elmyr, and Blair String Quartets; the Peabody, Concord, and Webster Trios; and at festivals including Tanglewood, Aspen, Yellow Barn, and Cooperstown music festivals; Bowdoin Gamper and Bowdoin International Music Festival; and Mizzou International Composers Festival. Recent commissions include Jeffrey Kahane and the Sarasota Music Festival, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, Palladium Musicum, American Guild of Organists, the American String Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, the Naumburg Foundation, yMusic, and arrangements for Paul Simon. Commissions for [email protected] in honor of his 70th birthday include works for Thomas Pellaton, Carol Wincenc, Linda Chesis & the Cooperstown Summer Music Festival, and Sierra Chamber Society.
Recipient of grants from the Guggenheim and Watson Foundations, United States Information Agency, National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, and the American Music Center, Sirota’s works are recorded on Legacy Recordings, National Sawdust Tracks, and the Capstone, Albany, New Voice, Gasparo and Crystal labels. His music is published by Muzzy Ridge Music, Schott, Music Associates of New York, MorningStar, Theodore Presser, and To the Fore.
Before becoming Director of the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in 1995, Sirota served as Chairman of the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions at New York University and Director of Boston University’s School of Music. From 2005-2012, he was the President of Manhattan School of Music, where he was also a member of the School’s composition faculty.
A native New Yorker, Sirota studied at Juilliard, Oberlin, and Harvard and divides his time between New York and Searsmont, Maine with his wife, Episcopal priest and organist Victoria Sirota. They frequently collaborate on new works, with Victoria as librettist and performer, at times also working with their children, Jonah and Nadia, both world-class violists. For more information, visit www.robertsirota.com.
About the American String Quartet: Internationally recognized as one of the world’s finest quartets, the American String Quartet has spent decades honing the luxurious sound for which it is famous. The Quartet celebrated its 45th anniversary in 2019, and, in its years of touring, has performed in all fifty states and has appeared in the most important concert halls worldwide. As champions of new music, the Quartet has given numerous premieres, including works by George Tsontakis, Curt Cacioppo, Richard Danielpour, Robert Sirota, and Tobias Picker, and have won widespread critical acclaim with their presentations of the complete Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Schoenberg, and Bartók quartets.
Recent seasons featured collaborations with Salman Rushdie, National Book Award-winning author Phil Klay, and poet Tom Sleigh to present programs featuring music and readings. They have also featured performances of the complete Beethoven cycle, tours of South America, numerous international radio and television broadcasts, and an all-sextet program with Roberto and Andrès Díaz.
Resident quartet at the Aspen Music Festival since 1974 and at the Manhattan School of Music in New York since 1984, the American has also served as resident quartet at the Taos School of Music, the Peabody Conservatory, and the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
Barrington White House Photos are courtesy of the Barrington White House