Composers Datebook®

Arlene Sierra's beehive

Arlene Sierra (b. 1970) Colmena International Comtemporary Ensemble; Jayce Ogren, cond. Bridge 9343

Composers Datebook for March 13, 2018


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.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Arlene Sierra (b. 1970) Colmena International Comtemporary Ensemble; Jayce Ogren, cond. Bridge 9343

On This Day


  • 1700 - French composer and flutist Michel Blavet, in Besançon;

  • 1860 - Austrian composer and music critic Hugo Wolf, in Windisch-Graz;


  • 1842 - Italian-born composer Luigi Cherubini, age 81, in Paris;


  • 1744 - Handel: oratorio "Joseph and his Brethren" (Julian dater: March 2);

  • 1797 - Cherubini: opera "Médée" (Medea), in Paris;

  • 1845 - Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in e, Op. 64, by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Niels Gade, with Ferdinand David the soloist;

  • 1861 - Wagner: opera "Tannhäuser" (Paris version), at the Théâtre Imperial de l'Opéra;

  • 1947 - Messiaen: "Hymne" for orchestra, by the New York Philharmonic, Leopold Stokowski conducted;

  • 1954 - Schoenberg: (unfinished) opera "Moses and Aaron," in a concert performance by the Hamburg Radio; The first staged performance took place in Zürich, Switzerland, on June 6, 1957);

  • 1964 - Ernst Toch: Symphony No. 5 ("Jeptha - Rhapsodic Poem"), in Boston;

  • 1976 - Babbitt: Concerti for Violin, Small Orchestra and Tape, in New York City;

  • 1986 - George Rochberg: Symphony No. 5 (Commissioned for the sesquicentennial celebration of the city of Chicago), by the Chicago Symphony, with Sir Georg Solti conducting;

  • 1992 - Peter Maxwell Davies: "Strathclyde Concerto" No. 5 for violin, viola and strings, at Glasgow's City Hall, by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by the composer, with soloists James Clarke and Catherine Marwood;

  • 1998 - Mark Adamo: opera "Little Women" at Houston Opera Studio, with Christopher Larkin conducting;


  • 1970 - George Crumb completes his "Black Angels" for electric string quartet, percussion and water-tuned musical glasses; The score is inscribed: "finished on Friday the Thirteenth, March 1970 in tempore belli" (in time of war).