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 chamber works have been performed by Alarm Will Sound; Washington Square Contemporary Music Society; Sequitur; Sandbox Percussion; Yale Camerata; yMusic; pianist Jeffrey Kahane; TACTUS Ensemble; Chameleon Arts Ensemble; New Hudson Saxophone Quartet; Left Bank Concert Society; Dinosaur Annex; Concerts on the Slope; the Chiara, American, Telegraph, Ethel, Elmyr, and Blair String Quartets; the Peabody, Concord, and Webster Trios; and the Fischer Duo, and at festivals including the Tanglewood, Aspen, Yellow Barn, and Cooperstown music festivals; Bowdoin Gamper and Bowdoin International Music Festival; and Mizzou International Composers Festival. Orchestral performances include the Seattle, Vermont, Virginia, East Texas, Lincoln (NE), Meridian (MS), New Haven, Greater Bridgeport, Oradea (Romania) and Saint Petersburg (Russia) symphonies, as well as conservatory orchestras of Oberlin, Peabody, Manhattan School of Music, Toronto, and Singapore.
Photo by Ryuhei Shindo
Sirota’s liturgical works include three major commissions for the American Guild of Organists: In the Fullness of Time, a concerto for organ and orchestra, Mass for chorus, organ and percussion, and Apparitions for organ and string quartet, as well as works for solo organ, organ and cello, and organ and piano.
Robert Sirota celebrated his 70th birthday with Sirota @ 70 in 2019-2020. A season-long celebration featured performances of his works spanning 20 years. World premieres of commissions for the occasion included Job Fragments for baritone Thomas Pellaton, cello, and piano with text adapted from the Book of Job; Dancing With the Angels for flute, viola, and harp, for Carol Wincenc; and Blackbird Singing, for flute, clarinet, and piano, based on the Lennon/McCartney song, for Linda Chesis and the Cooperstown Summer Music Festival. Due to COVID-19 cancellations, the premieres of Prayer for organ, composed for Sirota’s wife Victoria Sirota, and Family Portraits, for cello and piano, composed for the Fischer Duo, were rescheduled for a later season, eventually having their world premieres in May and June, 2021, respectively. The premiere of Contrapassos, with libretto by Stevan Cavalier for the Telegraph Quartet and soprano Abigail Fischer, for the Sierra Chamber Society, was also rescheduled and had its world premiere performance in July 2022.
In 2021, Sirota launched the Muzzy Ridge Concerts series at his studio in Searsmont, Maine. Held in August each year, Muzzy Ridge Concerts is committed to presenting intimate performances by world-class musicians. Featured musicians have included flutist Carol Wincenc, composer/pianist Nico Muhly, violist Nadia Sirota, violist Jonah Sirota, oboist Regina (Gigi) Brady, organist/pianist Victoria Sirota, cellist Velléda Miragias, violinist Laurie Carney, pianist David Friend, the Fischer Duo, and the Neave Trio.
Sirota is currently at work on Rising, a concert-length dance piece featuring the Neave Trio and Pigeonwing Dance in choreography by Gabrielle Lamb. Rising is a meditation not only on rising temperatures and sea levels, but also on humanity’s rising awareness of our connection to and dependence on the Earth’s oceans.
Additional recent highlights include the release of Family Portraits, a recording by the Fischer Duo in celebration of Sirota’s 50+ years of friendship with the Fischer Family, which was released on the Duo’s 2022 Navona Records album, 2020 Visions; world premiere performances of Sirota’s third string quartet, Wave Upon Wave, at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall commissioned by the Naumburg Foundation for the Telegraph Quartet; Immigrant Songs, scored for choir, soloists, organ, recorder, chalumeau, oud, kanun, harp, and frame drum, commissioned for and premiered at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine; Luminous Bodies for yMusic and pianist Jeffrey Kahane, commissioned for and premiered at the Sarasota Music Festival; Hafez Songs, a Palladium Musicum commission for soprano, baritone, flute, oud, cello and piano, premiered at Newport Art Museum; and his Cello Sonata No. 2, commissioned and premiered by cellist Benjamin Larsen and pianist Hyungjin Choi. Sirota has also been commissioned by the American String Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, and yMusic. Sirota’s arrangements of songs for Paul Simon and yMusic were performed on Simon’s farewell tour, including an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Sirota’s passion as an educator is reflected in his schedule of university seminars and residencies, most recently at the the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory in Singapore, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Samford University, Carnegie Mellon University, Peabody Institute, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and New World School of the Arts at Miami Dade College. He also created and curated Bridging the Gap, a series of concerts at National Sawdust that explore the student/teacher and mentor/mentee relationships between generations of composers.
Sirota is recorded on the Capstone, Albany, New Voice and Gasparo labels and his discography grows and diversifies with his composition Family Portraits for cello and piano, on the Fischer Duo’s album 2020 Visions (Navona Records, 2022); his arrangement of Paul Simon’s “René and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War" for Paul Simon with yMusic on In The Blue Light (Legacy Recordings, 2018) and Simon’s “Your Forgiveness” on Seven Psalms (Owl Records, 2023); Elegy for a Lost World on violist Jonah Sirota’s debut solo album, Strong Sad (National Sawdust Tracks, 2018); Sirota’s second string quartet, American Pilgrimage, on American String Quartet’s American Romantics (independently released, 2018); and Diners, on the New Hudson Saxophone Quartet’s New York Rising (ClasSax, 2019).
Recipient of grants from the Guggenheim and Watson Foundations, the United States Information Agency, National Endowment for the Arts, Meet The Composer, and the American Music Center, Sirota’s music is published by Muzzy Ridge Music, Schott, Music Associates of New York, MorningStar, Theodore Presser, and To the Fore.
A native New Yorker, Sirota’s earliest compositional training began at the Juilliard School; he received his bachelor’s degree in piano and composition from the Oberlin Conservatory, where he studied with Joseph Wood and Richard Hoffman. A Thomas J. Watson Fellowship allowed him to study and concertize in Paris, where his principal teacher was Nadia Boulanger. Returning to America, Sirota earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University, studying with Earl Kim and Leon Kirchner.
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.
Sirota divides his time between New York and his home in Searsmont, Maine, with his wife, Episcopal priest and organist Victoria Sirota. For the Sirotas, music is a family affair. They frequently collaborate on new works, with Victoria as librettist and performer, at times also working with their two children, Jonah and Nadia, both world-class violists. In his spare time, Sirota is an amateur painter and often depicts the landscape around Muzzy Ridge and Levenseller Mountain near his home in Maine.