Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider grew up in New Jersey but has fond memories of North Carolina from years of visiting her paternal grandparents in Salisbury.
This week, Snider brings those memories back to the state in her 25-minute orchestral composition, “Hiraeth,” being premiered by the N.C. Symphony in Chapel Hill on Thursday and in Raleigh on Friday and Saturday.
The composition’s title is a Welsh word that roughly means “longing for a homeland that is now lost or changed,” which Snider chose because she could not find an English equivalent. That should suit Welshman Grant Llewellyn, who conducts the piece, along with works by Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber and George Gershwin.
The concerts reunite Snider with the orchestra following its April concerts that offered well-received selections from her work “Unremembered.” Snider’s compositions are often described as “indie-classical” because they blend pop and classical idioms.
Following the Triangle performances, the N.C. Symphony plays “Hiraeth” this season in New Bern and Salisbury and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in 2017. The Princeton (N.J.) Symphony Orchestra, which became a co-commissioner, performs it next spring.
Earlier this month, Snider spoke by phone from New Jersey about her fondness for North Carolina, the influences on her work and the challenges of being a composer today. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Q: How did this commission come about?
A: Martin Sher (vice president and general manager of the N.C. Symphony) called me one day to say that the orchestra was commissioning a piece about North Carolina and asked if I knew any composers with ties to the state. I happily told him of my connections and applied.
Q: What memories influenced “Hiraeth”?
A: I’ve always associated Salisbury with joyful feelings of family, friends and holidays. I love the light there and the trees. It’s always been a deeply spiritual second home. I’ve been told our family goes back 13 generations there, so I think of it as homeland.
Q: How have you incorporated those memories into the music?
A: Shortly after receiving the commission, my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died three months later. That colored my work because I was grieving while writing. The love I feel for the state was mixing with an aching, wistful longing for a past that included my dad. It took the piece a little darker, but it also has a lot of warmth.
Q: How does that translate into the music itself?
A: I wanted an organic feeling of time passing and the way memory transforms over time. I’ve let the sonorities unfold in a more gradual way, allowing one idea to morph into another without the listener realizing it. I wanted to explore longer passages moving through different emotions.
Q: How did you decide to add a video element to the piece?
A: I have many memories of North Carolina involving all kinds of light, especially outdoors. I thought a film could capture that and also represent recollections of childhood and innocence. My friend Mark DeChiazza knows how to create a film that brings out a different dimension of the music but doesn’t compete with it. His film for “Hiraeth” is just gorgeous.
Q: What are the challenges of being a composer today?
A: Social media and the Internet can be a blessing and a curse. It’s great that our music can reach more ears so easily, but the free sharing of music online is bad. All music is being devalued in our culture right now. There needs to be a new way to compensate artists or we won’t be able to afford making music anymore.
If you go
What: N.C. Symphony premiere of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s “Hiraeth”
Where and when:
7:30 p.m. Sept. 24, Memorial Hall, 114 East Cameron St., Chapel Hill
8 p.m. Sept. 25-26, Meymandi Concert Hall, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
Tickets: $10-$75 Thursday; $18-$75
Info: 919-733-2750 or ncsymphony.org