Lera Auerbach   Photo: F. Reinhold 

In her young life, Auerbach has gotten used to making hard decisions on her own. When she was only seventeen years old she had to make the choice of whether to stay on alone in the United States – following her Russian concert tour to America, an incredible opportunity for the young Russian pianist – or to return home to her family, but maybe miss the opportunity of a lifetime.

During the decisive telephone call home, her mother, who, in Russia would have protected her every step, encouraged her to decide for herself despite the unknown outcome of any results. It was the time of the Soviet regime’s restricted travel permissions, and this decision involved the selflessness of essentially giving up the hope of spending any time together any time soon, a hard task for the typically Jewish-Russian parents from a provincial region, who had especially guarded their child’s course of life every step of the way. Until her sudden arrival in New York, the sheltered Auerbach had never travelled without being picked up by her parents from the train station.

Growing up in the rather isolated Russian Chelyabinsk, near the Siberian border, Auerbach was strongly connected with her parent’s world of books and music. Her mother, a piano teacher at the local music school, remains her strongest inspiration. It took Auerbach five years, after receiving an artist visa, before she was able to travel back home with a guaranteed return to continue her studies abroad. Only upon the decline of Soviet communism, were her parents finally able to join her in New York, having essentially missed the ten most important years in the young artist’s development. Auerbach was especially happy that her mom was able to attend her Carnegie Hall debut recital in 2002, the only dream she had shared with many of her Western pianist peers. In fact, it was a double debut for her – she performed as a pianist and was the composer of her Suite Concertante for Piano and Violin performed by her with renowned violinist Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica.

The double sided activities of composer/musician are what create the biggest challenges in the logistics of planning out her life. “As much as it’s always important for me to have a piano close to me – and I compose partly at the piano, partly without it – I had to cut down concertizing significantly within the last three years. I have to have longer stretches in between concertizing, to concentrate on composing. The biggest conflict comes, when I am on tour and have deadlines of new works to meet.”

Lera Auerbach at Verbier , Photo: Aline Paley

How does her composing influence her piano performance? “I do perform standard repertoire, but I do hear it in a different way and I play only pieces, where I feel I have something new to say. For example I have a very personal way of playing Pictures of an Exhibition by Mussorgsky; I like to take a lot of liberties, typically like the performer- composers of previous generations. There is no such thing as a good piano sound. There is only the magic of making the piano sing in another voice, taking on the characteristics of other instruments. In the hand of a great performer it becomes a psychological means to hypnotize an audience into accessing their imagination in the best possible way.”

Auerbach does not experience her being a woman as a decisive factor in her career. “It is a question of perception. I for myself see no difference, and you choose to be above those limitations, “says Auerbach, acknowledging that double standards still do exist to a certain extent. But she feels as though “she doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody,” and the young, married artist, who does not see children in her life, simply replies: “My opuses!” to that question.

Besides her studies at the Manhattan School of Music and at Juilliard, where she studied piano with Joseph Kalichstein and composition with Milton Babbitt and Robert Beaser, she also spend time with Beethoven specialist, the Norwegian Einar Steen-Nokleberg in Hannover, reporting it to be a very worthwhile experience. Essentially she views a truly engaged self examination, the willingness and curiosity of wanting to continually grow, as the conditions for any successful outcome in the learning process. “When the student is ready, the right teacher will appear” she smiles knowingly.

Named “Young Global leader” by the World Economic Forum in 2007, Auerbach’s Renaissance-style Omni creative presence is fully recognized by her contemporary artistic environment internationally. In Germany she was awarded the prestigious Hindemith Prize and, at the Pacific Music Festival, the Tokyo String Quartet and Sapporo Symphony joined forces to perform her Fragile Solitudes. New York’s Chamber Music Wu Han and David Finckel brought Auerbach’s work to Lincoln Center. Auerbach relies on long time colleagues to keep her works alive, beyond the works’ premieres, such as the Borromeo String Quartet who have performed her entire selection of string quartets and recorded them on an archival recording. She also recognizes the efficiency of the Music Accord Organization, which was formed by different concert organizers, who work together to extend the life of a Lincoln Center premiered work, by taking work on to tour different concert venues.

In the near future, the composer plans to concertize with an artist she admires and has performed with at the Verbier Music Festival recently, Boston based violist Kim Kashkashian, for who she wrote a transcription of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes for Cello and Piano, arranged for Viola.

 

On November 15th, violinist Leonidas Kavakos will bring a selection of Lera Auerbach’s Preludes for Violin and Piano, Op. 46a, to Carnegie Hall.

Audio and Video: http://leraauerbach.com/content/audio_video.php

Her website: http://www.leraauerbach.com/

Her blog: http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/lera-Auerbach-the-trouble-clef/

By Ilona Oltuski

Ilona Oltuski was born in Berlin (Germany), the city her family returned to after her grandmother’s escape to Palestine. Through her parents – the father from Krakow in Poland, the mother from Berlin – Ilona experienced cultural diversity early on in life. Growing up Jewish in post-war Berlin and Frankfurt would add to this. Although deeply connected to German culture, Ilona was always acutely aware of the differences between herself and her environment. Perhaps it was the search for her very own identity, which led her to study art history and complete her doctorate on the Bezalel Art Movement, a part of her investigation into the existence of an explicitly Jewish art. Besides art history, Ilona studied piano at the Hoch’sche Conservatory - the Frankfurt music school founded by Clara Schumann. After moving to New York with her husband, she continued to study her favorite instrument and met and befriended many pianists - from amateurs to professional performers. A passionate amateur herself, Ilona decided to combine her love for the piano and the world of music with her interest in writing and the sharing of ideas, resulting in her first articles on http://blogcritics.org. Next was her German blog, ‘Wohltemperiert aus New York’, which she continues to write for Naxos Deutschland (http://blog.naxos.de); see the ‘Naxos America’ link for Ilona’s English blogs). Her English-language blog, http://getclassical.blogspot.com, can be found on Facebook’s blog network; it recently migrated into the collection of blogs on her own website, http://getclassical.org/ She also still maintains her ‘Piano Salon’ group on Facebook, connecting pianists and their friends. Forever interested in an exchange of information and ideas, Ilona hopes that her very own website will provide a wide platform for a conversation among readers, performers and music lovers. “Reinventing my creative side by writing about my diverse encounters in the world of music, about inspiration and artistic expression, and the very human side of these endeavors, reaching right under my skin - that’s my shtick”, she says. Ilona lives in New York City with her family.