Skip Navigation

Carleton to Host Exclusive Performance of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Extraordinary Song Cycle, “Penelope”

February 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Carleton College will host an exclusive performance of composer Sarah Kirkland Snider’s beautiful and haunting song cycle, “Penelope,” featuring renowned classical/indie rock vocalist Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) and NYC’s most in-demand new music ensemble, yMusic. This rare public performance takes place Thursday, Feb. 28 at 8 p.m. in the Skinner Memorial Chapel on the Carleton College campus. Worden will also perform selected music from My Brightest Diamond and Sarah Kirkland Snider will also be in attendance. Following the performance will be a Q & A session with an opportunity for audience members to meet the musicians.

Inspired by Homer’s epic poem, the “Odyssey,” “Penelope” is an eloquent meditation on death, memory, identity, being lost, and what it means to come home. Playwright and poet Ellen McLaughlin’s lyrics tell the tale of a woman, whose 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 him 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. 

Originally conceived as a music-theatre piece by Snider and McLaughlin, “Penelope” was then re-imagined as a sixty-minute work for voice, chamber orchestra (or ensemble), and electronics.  Snider’s stunning score is perfectly matched with the vocal stylings of smokey-voiced contralto Worden. The popular indie music blog Pitchfork reports, “’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.”

Combining elements of art song, indie rock, and chamber folk, the music of “Penelope” moves from moments of elegiac strings-and-harp reflection to dusky post-rock textures with drums, guitars and electronics, held together by a strong sense of melody and a craftsman’s approach to songwriting. “Penelope” has garnered critical acclaim from NPR, the New York Times, Pitchfork, the Los Angeles Times, Time Out New York, New York Magazine, New Music Box and many others. Upon the album’s release (New Amsterdam Records) in 2010, Time Out New York called it “a potent melding of classical poise and alt-pop punch….he year’s most affecting creation,” textura Magazine declared it “head and shoulders above much else that was released in 2010,” and the Indie Handbook proclaimed it “the landmark achievement of 2010.”

“Penelope” received dozens of year-end accolades internationally, with NPR naming it one of “The Five Best Genre-Defying Albums of 2010,” Time Out New York placing it at the top of their list of “Ten Best Classical Albums of 2010,” and The Huffington Post naming the track “The Lotus Eaters” one of the “Top 10 Alternative Art Songs of The Decade.”

The product of an accomplished accordionist father and classical organist mother, Shara Worden pursued a degree in opera and studied composition with Padma Newsome (Clogs, The National). Worden’s mystical voice and arresting live performances have astounded audiences worldwide. For the last seven years she has performed under the experimental-pop moniker “My Brightest Diamond.” Pitchfork calls Worden “… a creative chameleon with endless wells of technical skill…one of the most astounding voices in all of indie rock.” More information at

Hailed by NPR’s Fred Child as “one of the groups that has really helped to shape the future of classical music,” the diversely talented sextet yMusic is actively engaged and equally comfortable in the overlapping classical and pop music worlds. Founded in 2008, its unique instrumentation includes a traditional string trio as well as the distinctive combination of flute, clarinet and trumpet. This exciting composite of sounds has sparked a burgeoning repertoire of commissions from some of today’s most important artists. yMusic has toured and recorded with top artists across genre lines such as Arcade Fire, Bjork, Peter Gabriel, Bon Iver, Antony and the Johnsons, Ryuichi Sakamoto, The National, Rufus Wainwright, Grizzly Bear, Meredith Monk, Yo-Yo Ma, The New York Philharmonic, David Byrne and Sufjan Stevens. Learn more at

Called “a composer with an enviable knack for crafting moody, strikingly beautiful works” (Time Out New York), Sarah Kirkland Snider’s compositions have been performed internationally by artists and ensembles from around the world including ACME, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Colin Currie, Dinosaur Annex, Firebird Ensemble, Hebrides Ensemble, the Knights, Newspeak, Ouatuor Bozzini, Signal,  Shara Worden, yMusic, and many others. In addition to her work as a composer, she is a passionate advocate for new music in New York and beyond. Since 2007 she has served as co-director of New Amsterdam Records, an independent record label and artists’ service organization. Snider has an M.M. and Artist Diploma from the Yale School of Music and a B.A. from Wesleyan University. In 2006 she was a Schumann Fellow at the Aspen Music Festival. The recipient of numerous honors and distinctions for her music, she has studied with Martin Bresnick, Marc-Andre Dalbavie, Justin Dello Joio, Aaron Jay Kernis, Ezra Laderman, David Lang, and Christopher Rouse.  More online at

This event is sponsored by the Carleton College Department of Music and made possible with support from the Laudie D. Porter Memorial Fund. For more information, including disability accommodations, call (507) 222-4347. The Skinner Memorial Chapel is located on First Street, between College and Winona Streets, in Northfield.