Penelope (mezzo + 10-person mixed ensemble + live electronics)

2010

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Inspired by Homer's epic poem, the Odyssey, Penelope is a meditation on memory, identity, and what it means to come home. The song cycle, written in 2009 for Shara Worden and Ensemble Signal, is based on a music-theater monodrama written by Snider and playwright Ellen McLaughlin for the J. Paul Getty Center in 2008. In the work, a woman's husband appears at her door after an absence of twenty years, suffering from brain damage. A veteran of an unnamed war, he doesn't know who he is and she doesn't know who he's become. While they wait together for his return to himself, she reads to him from the Odyssey, and in the journey of that book, she finds a way into her former husband's memory and the terror and trauma of war.

To listen to a live performance (Merkin Hall, Ecstatic Music Festival) of excerpts from this arrangement, go here.
To stream the album Penelope, go here.

  1. The Stranger with the Face of a Man I Loved (5:44)
  2. This Is What You’re Like (5:07)
  3. The Honeyed Fruit (string quartet and electronics) (:54)
  4. The Lotus Eaters (6′)
  5. Nausicaa (3′)
  6. Circe and the Hanged Man (4:16)
  7. I Died of Waiting (string quartet and electronics) (1:10)
  8. Home (6:23)
  9. Dead Friend (2:48)
  10. Calypso (4:46)
  11. And Then You Shall Be Lost Indeed (string quartet and electronics) (1:09)
  12. Open Hands (1:06)
  13. Baby Teeth, Bones, and Bullets (6:10)
  14. As He Looks Out to Sea (5:51)
July 30, 2018

National Public Radio

"The gorgeous, haunting song cycle updates Homer's Odyssey from the perspective of its female characters. Snider has been taken to task for writing music that is too vulnerable and too expressive. In "The Lotus Eaters," she answers her critics powerfully with restless music that overflows from an intoxicating desire to forget." (from "The 200 Greatest Songs By 21st Century Women")

Lara Pelligrinelli
December 9, 2015

The Boston Musical Intelligencer

"Snider wields voice and instruments like a flexible set of industrial tools, each fulfilling a single function in the depiction of an abstract, tormented conversation. Trios and quartets felt at once micro-orchestrated and passionately spontaneous..."

Laura Stanfield Prichard
November 26, 2015

The Boston Globe

“groundbreaking...one of the most acclaimed song cycles of the last decade…What makes “Penelope” so gently devastating is the way Snider precisely captures the mood of McLaughlin’s text: alternately desolate, agitated, or coldly detached. Musical syntax matters less than the complex web of loss, recrimination, and self-understanding evoked.”

David Weininger
February 27, 2015

Opera News

"Snider and [Nova, née Worden] are an artistic team to watch for."

Tristan Kraft
February 11, 2013

The New York Times

“…A ravishingly melancholy 2010 song cycle.”

Steve Smith
February 3, 2013

The Oregonian

“Snider’s music was at once plainly expressive and rich in nuance, with alluring harmonies, arresting chromatic twists and an abundance of instrumental color. Call “Penelope” what you will (indie post-classical chamber pop drama?), it’s an amazing, beguiling work.”

James McQuillen
July 15, 2011

The Believer

“[Penelope] embraces the sort of slow, aching beauty that pours out of Iceland these days: Sigur Rós, Múm, the composers on Valgeir Sigurðsson’s label Bedroom Community. Snider’s songwriting floats though its melody, cycling notes, leading the ear forward without adhering to the relentless A-B-A forms that can clobber similarly gorgeous pop songs.”

April 20, 2011

Flavorwire

"Sarah Kirkland Snider has been on the classical circuit for years, but her breakthrough came with last year’s arresting Penelope...haunting and epic." (from "Ten Young Female Composers You Should Know.")

Judy Berman
March 10, 2011

The New York Times

“[Penelope is] a rapturous song cycle...”

January 5, 2011

Pitchfork

"Snider’s music lives in…an increasingly populous inter-genre space that, as of yet, has produced only a few clear, confident voices. Snider is perhaps the most sophisticated of them all."

Jayson Greene
January 5, 2011

Pitchfork

“Penelope is a gorgeous piece of music, but it is more — it is also a hauntingly vivid psychological portrait, one that explores a dark scenario with a light, almost quizzical touch, finding poetic resonances everywhere… No matter what perspective you bring to this album, it bears profound rewards.”

Jayson Greene
December 29, 2010

The Huffington Post

"With the absurd distinction between serious and non-serious musics largely eradicated, it’s time to take stock of some of the best alternative art songs of 2001-2010 [including "The Lotus Eaters"] (The Top Ten Alternative Art Songs of 2001-2010)

Daniel J. Kushner
December 17, 2010

Time Out New York

“A potent melding of classical poise and alt-pop punch, this dreamy song cycle [Penelope] was the year’s most affecting creation.” (Best of 2010 Classical Albums)

Steve Smith
December 14, 2010

The New Haven Advocate

“Penelope is not just essential listening; it is a soul-restoring musical balm.”

Daniel Stephen Johnson
December 12, 2010

The Denver Post

“In the last decade or so, a new breed of conservatory-trained musicians has reinvented crossover in unprecedented ways, fusing classical tradition with hip-hop, indie rock and world music and providing new, exciting audience bridges among these forms at the same time. A good example is New York composer Sarah Kirkland Snider’s song cycle “Penelope”, with a score that combines strings and harp with drums, guitars and electronics.”

Kyle MacMillan
December 9, 2010

National Public Radio

Snider has taken a fascinating idea from playwright Ellen McLaughlin and turned it into a song cycle that works on several levels...Penelope deals with big ideas -- memory, identity, "home" -- but it's also an intimate portrait of a woman who, like Homer's Penelope, is confronted with finally getting what she's wished for. (from "The Best Five Genre-Defying Albums of 2010")

John Schaefer
November 8, 2010

The Avantgardist

“[A] weary bewilderment threads through [Penelope]… there are many secrets that can’t be unraveled on a first listen… The catchiness of the music, though, draws us to seek out meaning, and repeated listenings don’t disappoint.”

Chris Kompanek
November 5, 2010

eMusic

“...alternately melancholic, agitated and poignant… the musical offspring of Britten’s Sea Interludes and Eno’s Music for Airports…[serving] to confirm Snider’s deft command of many different musical languages.”

John Schaefer
November 3, 2010

A Fool in the Forest

“Snider’s score is the very model of smart, contemporary “music savant”—”knowing music” engaged with the “classical” tradition but unafraid to trot out the tools of “popular” music to suit its purposes… Penelope is, for me, the finest, most indispensable and potentially lasting new work I have heard or am likely to hear this year.”

George Wallace
November 3, 2010

My Old Kentucky Blog

“Sarah Kirkland Snider has generated a minor critical tsunami this year with Penelope… [we’re] abnormally proud to premiere the absolutely stunning video for “The Lotus Eaters”, one of several haunting numbers from Penelope that taunts me for merely saying that it defies description.”

October 28, 2010

The Indie Handbook

“…The journey through Penelope—achingly stark, sparse, swaying, and soaring—begs repeated listening with an attentive ear. The way hints of Radiohead and David Lang materialize and mingle with St. Vincent and Chopin only to be reabsorbed into an aural landscape that is uniquely—ineffably—the voice of Sarah Kirkland Snider, results in what is easily the most beautiful album of the year.”

October 27, 2010

textura

“Penelope is such an accomplished and remarkable work, it’s hard to believe that it could possibly be [Snider’s] debut album… This year or any year for that matter, one would be hard pressed to hear melodies that are more gorgeous and soul-stirring… Material so powerful places Penelope head and shoulders above much else that was released in 2010.”

October 26, 2010

popshifter

“This must be what going mad feels like.”

Chelsea Spear
October 25, 2010

Death and Taxes Magazine

“[Snider] courageously tackles a dramatic story arc in the vein of a Puccini opera while never losing track of her audience. Dramatic music may still be popular in many different genres but is rarely done with such care and precision.”

October 21, 2010

Lucid Culture

“[Penelope was] subtly explosive…the roar of applause at the end seemed as cathartic as it was genuine.”

October 21, 2010
October 19, 2010

New Music Box

"[Penelope] features a genre-blending style compelling enough to throw categorizations to the wind and revel in its unique dialect.”

Alexandra Gardner
October 18, 2010

WNYC

“A dreamy song cycle for the indie rock generation.”

Marlon Bishop
October 13, 2010

Time Out New York

“Mesmerizing…lush, evocative, and deeply moving.”

October 13, 2010
October 7, 2010

National Public Radio

“[Penelope] deftly weaves pop…and classical. Snider’s dark-hued score is inventive and subtle, with a mix of watery, undulating strings, guitars, percussion and electronics that submerges you completely within the story.”

Thomas Huizenga
October 7, 2010

NPR

“[Penelope] deftly weaves pop…and classical. Snider’s dark-hued score is inventive and subtle, with a mix of watery, undulating strings, guitars, percussion and electronics that submerges you completely within the story.”

Tom Huizenga
October 1, 2010

The Big City

“The overwhelmingly moving concept [of Penelope] is balanced by clear, concentrated and undemonstrative writing.”

George Grella
September 20, 2010

Classical TV

“The phrases and the underlying harmonies would sound completely at home on a Radiohead record...It’s long, narrative arc is dramatic in the manner of Schumann and Schubert, but the understated, ambiguous resolution captures the questioning stance of so much of Radiohead’s material…”

George Grella
September 9, 2010

WNYC

“Remarkable… a beautiful cycle of songs… limns the boundaries between art song, chamber folk and post-rock.”

John Schaefer
August 24, 2010

Fingertips Music

“‘This Is What You’re Like’ is an adroitly constructed composition… however, this is a song that does not forget that it is in fact a song—an impressive accomplishment for a classically trained composer… Snider anchors the intermittently dense proceedings with a recurring, bittersweet melodic refrain that I’d call a chorus except that she plays with it each time so it’s never quite the same twice. It’s a lovely and affecting melody… ”

Jeremy Schlosberg
August 22, 2010

The Los Angeles Times

“[Penelope] is a cycle of haunting art songs…[echoing] the piercing melancholy of a Chopin nocturne and spacious rhythms of minimalism. Snaking out of the pastoral backdrop are instantly hummable pop melodies.”

Kevin Berger
August 22, 2010

The Los Angeles Times

“Uniting pop and classical music, though, doesn’t have to result in a shadow of both worlds… Sarah Kirkland Snider [is] conjoining genres to produce culturally electric new music.”

Kevin Berger
April 19, 2010

New York Magazine

“Brilliant/highbrow.”

March 11, 2010

Knox Road

“…But as a music critic who might “Bah!” and “Arrgh!” at some new [style] of work I can with confidence say that “This Is What You’re Like” is awesome. It’s such a well-crafted song with intense emotion and wonderful instrumentation. The vocals are classic My Brightest Diamond and hearing Worden in a slightly different and unique setting is just thrilling.”

May 24, 2009

The New York Times

“[Penelope] had an elegiac quality that deftly evoked sensations of abandonment, agitation, grief and reconciliation…ably [demonstrating] the poised elegance of Ms. Snider’s writing.”

Steve Smith
May 24, 2009

The New York Times

"[Penelope] had an elegiac quality that deftly evoked sensations of abandonment, agitation, grief and reconciliation…ably [demonstrating] the poised elegance of Ms. Snider’s writing."

Steve Smith