Orienting Response, Sarah Hennies, Cristián Alvear Montecino (mappa, 2016)



Sarah Hennies, Cristián Alvear Montecino – Orienting Response (mappa, 2016)

Mappa seeks out work which ‘presents a neverending cassette loop, a radical approach to reductive repetition, created out of minimal material with maximal precision, modesty, and canniness’. The score Orienting Response (2015-16), written by American composer and percussionist Sarah Hennies specifically for Chilean guitarist Cristian Alvear, meets these requirements in full. I’ve never seen the words ‘canny’, or even ‘modesty’ used to describe a style or type of music, but they’re both correct. A measure of restraint, a humility in the offering and yet a confidence in the impact that such approaches can sustain.

Having played classical guitar myself since early childhood, absorbed the historical and contemporary repertoire and thought long and hard over the future of the instrument, I would have to say that this kind of composition* – sparse, instructional, open-ended if I might say so – indeed makes a valuable contribution, within its own niche, to a sustainable future for the instrument, specifically the nylon-strung acoustic guitar played with the fingers. A new virtuosity founded on the disciplines of severe concentration, sensitivity to the instrument as a generator of sound, to the strengths and limitations its articulatory potential, especially its function as an instrument of percussion, a turning away from finger memory and ingrained habits. The focus is on deeper listening, on form arising from contrasts between extended passages of repeating figures. One often feels in the background an awareness of the structural use of silence.

As the composer herself says, “Orienting Response was written specifically for Cristian Alvear at his request. In writing the piece I wanted to see if I could create the same kind of focus and intensity I have created with percussion instruments using an instrument (the nylon stringed guitar) that is naturally not well-equipped to produce the type of timbres or high dynamic levels that I have worked with up to this point.”

You can buy or stream the two pieces of this album on Mappa’s bandcamp page:-


*The score is composed of six parts with short instructions describing some unusual techniques, such as:

Play as accurately and consistently as possible but with the assumption that “mistakes” are inevitable.

Allow “mistakes” to occur, do not attempt to correct them.

All sounds should ring freely (as long as is possible) unless otherwise indicated.

All timings and tempi are approximate and flexible.


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