Arlene Sierra's beehive

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The plight of honey bees and their possible extinction is much in the news these days, sad to say.

Some attribute to Albert Einstein a quote that, “if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live,” although most likely that’s a paraphrase of something Maurice Maeterlinck wrote in his 1901 book entitled “The Life of the Bee.”

Bees show up in the concert hall on occasion, too. Think of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” from the 19th century and Arvo Pärt’s “If Bach Had Kept Bees” from the 20th. In the 21st century, this bee-inspired chamber work for 14 players by the American composer Arlene Sierra debuted on today’s date in 2009 at the Miller Theater in New York City.

It’s titled “Colmena,” which means “beehive” in Spanish, and Ms. Sierra says, “Coloring this idea is a subtle nod to the stylized Franco-Iberian sound of early 20th century scores, with simmering energy and sweeping gestures,” and, “…the idea of a mass of insects hibernating, as beehives do each year, brought about the… exploration of a kind of buzzing repose.”

An American composer based in London, Arlene Sierra’s music has been described over there as having (quote) “its own character, in which historical and contemporary influences are fused into a highly flexible and distinctive style,” while back home, a New York magazine called her music “spry, savage, sly and seductive.”