Composers Datebook®

Sierra's 'La Salsa'

Composer's Datebook - September 17, 2023


The Milwaukee Symphony was one of the first American orchestras to offer recordings of their live performances as digital downloads – and along with Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner, occasionally offered more contemporary fare, as well.

For example, on today’s date in 2005, Andreas Delfs led the Milwaukee Symphony in the world premiere performance of an orchestral work they had commissioned from Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra, and they offered it as a download. 

Sierra’s Sinfonia No. 3, subtitled La Salsa, turned to the dance music of Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Sierra’s native Puerto Rico for its basic materials, referencing riffs and rhythmic patterns familiar to salsa dancers for the work’s outer movements, with a slow second movement in habañera form.

“Puerto Rican music,” says Sierra, “especially salsa and folkloric music, has been in my compositional DNA. The vitality of the rhythms and the unique way in which melodic structure merge with the rhythms has inspired me to the present day. I always remember with nostalgia my childhood experiences in the Puerto Rican countryside, and these feelings of longing are also present in my work.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Roberto Sierra (b. 1953) – Sinfonia No. 3 (La Salsa) (Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; Andreas Delfs, cond.) MSO Classics MSO11 (digital download)

On This Day


  • 1795 - Baptismal date of Italian opera composer Saverio Mercadante, in Altamura, near Bari;

  • 1884 - American composer Charles Tomlinson Griffes, in Elmira, New York;

  • 1917 - Korean-born German composer Isang Yun, in Tong Young (now Chung Mu);


  • 1179 - German mystic, writer and composer Hildegard von Bingen, age c. 81, in Rupertsburg (near Bingen);

  • 1762 - Italian violinist and composer Francesco Geminiani, age 74, in Dublin;

  • 1803 - Austrian composer Franz Xaver Sussmayr, who studied with Salieri and Mozart; Sussmayr completed Mozart's unfinished "Requiem";


  • 1872 - American premiere of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" at a Central Park concert given by the Theodore Thomas orchestra;

  • 1931 - Delius: "A Song of Summer," in London;

  • 1957 - Cowell: "Persian Set," at the Gulestan Palace in Tehran, Iran, by the Minneapolis Symphony, Antal Dorati conducting;

  • 1982 - Steve Reich: "Tehillim" (orchestral version), by New York Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta;


  • 1966 - German tenor Fritz Wunderlich dies, age 35, from a fall in his home in Heidelberg.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®