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String quartet to perform Sirota’s ‘American Pilgrimage’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After penning “Triptych,” his moving tribute to the tragedy of 9/11, composer Robert Sirota was ready for an upswing.

The result was “American Pilgrimage,” a celebration of Sirota’s favorite places, including a movement inspired by Santa Fe. The American String Quartet will perform the work at Albuquerque Academy today.

The piece opens with “Morning: Waldo County, Maine.”

“Waldo County is where I have a home,” Sirota said in a telephone interview from his Yonkers, N.Y., studio. “It’s sort of our little paradise.”

“Mid-day: Mother Emanuel Church, Charleston, South Carolina” evokes both pathos and beauty in its tribute to the victims of a 2015 hate crime.

“That is in one way a return to ‘Triptych,’ because it is another terrible tragedy,” Sirota said. “Mother Emanuel is where nine people were murdered. It uses gospel music as a kind of backdrop.”

New Mexico surfaces in the third movement.

“I found an old recording, a morning song sung by Native Americans at Taos Pueblo,” Sirota continued. “I used that as the basis for the piece. It’s the sunset over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.”

Sirota closed his quartet with an ode to Manhattan, his “touchstone place,” where he was born and lived for most of his adult life. The score alternates between an homage to Gershwin and 1930s jazz recordings and vibrant Latin music, he said.

The entire quartet is a hybrid of Protestant hymns, gospel, Native American songs and jazz.

“People are often hesitant to go hear a new thing,” Sirota acknowledged. “But I’ve imbued a bunch of recognizable music in it.”

Sirota was the director of the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University, then chairman of the department of music and performing arts at New York University and Boston University’s School of Music. From 2005 to 2012, he was president of the Manhattan School of Music.

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