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Spanish, American Music on WSO Masterworks II Program

When composer Roberto Sierra hears the Wheeling Symphony perform his “Fandangos” next week, he will be listening more as an audience member than as a composer.

During a three-day residency with the orchestra, Sierra will work with university students and meet members of the community. The residency will culminate with the Wheeling Symphony’s Masterworks concert at the Capitol Theatre at 8 p.m. next Friday, Nov. 7.

The composer wrote “Fandangos” in 2000 on a commission from the National Symphony Orchestra. Since its premiere, the piece has been performed more than 300 times, he said.

“It is one of those pieces that has a life beyond my control,” Sierra remarked. “It rarely happens in the life of the composer. Most pieces are played only once. It’s very hard to get a piece into the repertoire like that.”

After hearing many performances of “Fandangos” over the years, the composer said, “I listen to it more like a listener. I realize in a way why it has this longevity.”

Sierra thinks the piece has a cathartic element for the performer and contains “something of substance” that excites the audience. The piece’s elements work “in a very interesting way,” he said, adding, “I enjoy listening to it now.”

In addition to attending the orchestra’s rehearsal next week, Sierra will meet with students at West Liberty and West Virginia universities. He also will speak about “Fandangos” at Wheeling Jesuit University’s Center for Educational Technologies at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Sierra, WSO Maestro Andre Raphel and guest violinist Michael Ludwig will discuss “Spanish and American Music” at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling at 7 p.m. Thursday and at a concert talk in the Capitol ballroom at 7 p.m. next Friday.

Sierra said he absolutely enjoys working with students. “There is nothing more revealing and stimulating than being in touch with younger generations and seeing what they’re thinking,” he commented. “There’s a generational sort of distance in ways of thinking. I bring them my own experience, and maybe they can take something out of that.”

He has done a number of residencies through the decades, starting in 1989, when he became composer in residence with the Milwaukee Symphony for three years. The program was developed by an organization called Meet the Composer. “That was, in the way, what started this concept,” he said.

“It (the Milwaukee residency program) was a very complex project. It had a huge budget from one of these big foundations through Meet the Composer,” Sierra explained.

“The interesting thing, it was that program that started the fire and motivated and made it part of orchestra organizations that they should have a composer as part of their orchestra.

“In Wheeling, during that period I am there, I will be doing that type of outreach, talking to the audience, being there for the rehearsal. It’s very much related to that other program I was doing back in 1989,” he said.

Recently, Sierra finished composing two pieces, one that had a successful premiere at the Morgan Library in New York City and one that the American Symphony will perform at Carnegie Hall. Now, he said, “I am working on an interesting violin competition, a required piece for the players in the Allentown Symphony next year.”

A native of Puerto Rico, Sierra moved to the mainland in 1989. He tries to return to the island at least once a year.

Memories from Puerto Rico influence his music “100 percent. I’m from there. I’m also expressing my experience of living in the United States for 22 years. Soon I will have lived here for longer than I lived in Puerto Rico. Intellectual things are influenced by where you are.”

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