Flower woodcut Penelope. ~A Song Cycle~ by Sarah Kirkland Snider

About the Piece

Cover of 'Penelope' by Sarah Kirkland Snider

Album Cover Design by D.M. Stith

Sarah Kirkland Snider and Shara Worden

photo credit: Murat Eyuboglu

~ “rapturous” — The New York Times ~
~ “the year’s most affecting creation” — Time Out New York ~
~ “no matter what perspective you bring to this album, it bears profound rewards” — Pitchfork ~

PENELOPE is a song cycle by composer Sarah Kirkland Snider, with lyrics by playwright Ellen McLaughlin, featuring vocalist Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond. Inspired by Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey, Penelope is a meditation on memory, identity, and what it means to come home. Penelope, the album, also features the chamber orchestra Signal, conducted by Brad Lubman. Penelope was released October 26, 2010 on New Amsterdam Records, and can be purchased through New Amsterdam, Amazon, iTunes, eMusic,Bandcamp, and many other places.

Suspended somewhere between art song, indie rock, and chamber folk, the music of Penelope moves organically from moments of elegiac strings-and-harp reflection to dusky post-rock textures with drums, guitars and electronics, all directed by a strong sense of melody and a craftsman’s approach to songwriting.Penelope has garnered critical acclaim from NPRThe New York Times, PitchforkThe Los Angeles TimesTime Out New YorkNew York Magazine, The Huffington PostNew Music Box, The Utne ReadereMusictextura MagazineDeath and Taxes MagazinePopshifter, Venus, and many others, withTime Out New York calling the album “the year’s most affecting creation,” textura Magazine declaring it “head and shoulders above much else that was released in 2010,” and the Indie Handbook pronouncing 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 the “Ten Best Classical Albums of 2010,” textura rating it No. 3 on its list of “The Top Ten 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 influential webzine Pitchfork called the work “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.”

Penelope originated as a music-theater monodrama commissioned by the J. Paul Getty Center, written by Ellen McLaughlin with Snider in 2007-2008.  In the work, originally scored for alto/actor and string quartet, 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 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.

In 2009 Snider re-conceived Penelope as a song cycle, expanding and tailoring it to the unique talents of vocalist Shara Worden and the chamber orchestra Signal, while also collaborating with programmer Michael Hammond on sound design. Worden and Signal, under the direction of acclaimed conductor Brad Lubman, recorded this version of Penelope with producer Lawson White November 3-6, 2009, at Clinton Studios in New York, NY.


The live presentation of Penelope exists in two versions: chamber orchestra (can include a full string section) with live electronics, and 9-person mixed chamber ensemble with live electronics. The 9-person version may also be provided by the chamber sextet yMusic (two performers double on instruments.)  All performances are given by Shara Worden.

The 2012-2013 season will feature eight significant performances of Penelope.  In October 2012, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra of Ontario, under the direction of Edwin Outwater, will present two performances of the work.  February 2013 will see two performances with Portland, Oregon’s chamber ensemble Fear No Music; two performances with yMusic as presented by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota; and a performance with yMusic at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. In March 2013, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra will present the work.

Since its debut, Penelope has enjoyed performances at both venerated concert halls and rock venues alike, including the Ecstatic Festival at Merkin Hall in New York City, The Bell House (Brooklyn), the Carlsbad Music Festival (Carlsbad, CA), 21c Liederabend Festival with ACME, (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York City with yMusic, and New Music Raleigh at King’s Barcade (Raleigh, NC.)

For information on booking Penelope, please contact New Amsterdam Booking Manager Curtis LeClair at curt.a.leclair@gmail.com.

Shara Worden and Sarah Kirkland Snider

photo by Murat Eyuboglu


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