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Lera Auerbach
Hermitdom (fluctuating between loneliness and solitude)
Lost in the labyrinth of words and sounds.
Interests: poetry, prose, poetry., music composition, piano performances
Recent Activity
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Arctic Dreams - Photo Credit: Lera Auerbach (1) I learned that a friend of mine was going through a tough time. His mother died, and he had debilitating neck pain. He needed to write the obituary and arrange for the funeral. His mother had dementia. Was he able to say goodbye? I did not ask. I don't know which scale would measure grief. Such a scale doesn't exist. Physical pain is easier to manage. If it is yours. Because at some point, the pain stops defining you. Grief buried deeper, so deep it can't be torn away, it becomes you. In the Arctic, old babushkas, when they become unable to take care of themselves, hope to be killed by a polar bear. When they become too ill and weak, they look for the bear to eat them. I asked why. Being devoured by a wild animal didn't seem to me like an attractive way to finish life. "The bear will be nourished by eating me," explained an old Inuit woman. "The bear will become strong and fat. Then one day, my son will kill that bear. My son and his family will eat the bear's meat, make healing mixes from its fat, and make trousers from its fur. Thus, through the polar bear, I will nourish my son and keep him warm, even past my life, even past my death." Post mortem motherly care. (2) A few years ago, I travelled to Greenland and stayed in Nuuk in the apartment of a polar bear hunter. A polar bear hunter's home looked like an IKEA house made by children constructors of adult sizing. Everything was modern, functional and perfectly unremarkable. A photograph on the wall showed a polar bear (or rather its fur) covered in blood, soaking in a bathtub. I realized it was the same bathtub in which I had showered that morning. It had rubber ducklings as lucky ornaments. Perfectly, chillingly, unremarkable bathtub. (3) "I wish I could make a blanket of protective words to shield you," I wrote to my friend, whose mother died after suffering dementia for several years. “A protective blanket of words” could be a definition of poetry. “Could be” because, like everything else, it rejects any definitions. Poetry is no different than spell-making or alchemy. As if words could make a difference. As if anything could still make any difference. In the world gone mad with apocalyptic craziness and fear, can words remain protective talismans? (4) Bears in the Arctic are suffering from global warming. They're skinny and weak; they couldn't kill even old babushkas on their suicide mission. If I could stitch a protective blanket of words, I would make one for the polar bears, another one for the suicidal babushkas on their mission to feed the polar bears, and the third one for the polar bear hunters. I would then make a gigantic frozen quilt for the Arctic to protect it from climate change and even a bigger blanket for the entire... Continue reading
Posted Jan 10, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Untitled - Ink on Handmade Paper by Lera Auerbach 1. When I think of my Great Aunt Rosa, I hear her laughter – deep chuckles rising from the belly of the Earth and exploding like an uncontrollable volcano. My earliest recollection of Great Aunt Rosa goes back to the time in my life when crawling seemed easier than walking, and every situation had a fantastic array of discoveries. Aunt Rosa was a gigantic mountain that captivated my mom's attention entirely. I was free to crawl around on my own to my total satisfaction. I had a small, plastic red fox. From time to time, I heard volcanic explosions of Aunt Rosa's laughter and thought that a tiny fox may not fully comprehend these sounds and feel scared. Remembering from one of the fairytales that foxes liked hiding in dark spaces (or in pretty wooden huts they would steal from the less intelligent animals), I looked around for a hiding place for my fox. I found it in Aunt Rosa's shoe, which was perfectly designed to be a home for a small plastic fox, combining the best qualities of a foxhole and fox-hut. I must have fallen asleep somewhere next to the shoe rack. My parents carried me to the apartment of my mother's sister, Natasha, where we stayed during our Moscow visits. The little red fox spent that long night alone in Great Aunt Rosa's shoe, probably wondering if she would ever see the daylight again or if I had abandoned her forever. 2. Nothing lasts forever. Perhaps, only the Great Nothing lasts forever until Something appears. Of course, it could not have been "forever," but perhaps it was – if Time (as we understand it) did not exist then. No space, no Time – nothing. Or, rather, everything so condensed and indivisible that it all had to fit into Nowhere. Then – Big Bang – everything explodes, divides, and we hear singing – the Word – God's name. Or His laughter. Or Her laughter. Or Great Aunt Rosa's laughter, which explodes and spills over as I wake up. My mom, who is holding the telephone receiver away from her ear (so as not to be deafened by thunder), is also laughing. I can't help it and start laughing too, even though I have no idea why we are all laughing. And Natasha, my mom's sister, walks into the room and starts laughing too. And from the receiver booms Great Aunt Rosa's laugh, filling the room, spilling through the windows into the sky and breaking into snowflakes, dancing in the wind. 3. My tiny red plastic fox had bitten my Great Aunt Rosa when she (Aunt Rosa) tried to put on her shoe. It did not surprise me. After the long night, the fox must have assumed that this shoe was her home. I wondered if small plastic animals have the same concept of time as we do. I decided that no, a night spent in a shoe could seem... Continue reading
Posted Dec 29, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Personal Mythology - Acrylic on Wood Board - by Lera Auerbach I love old rugs. Rugs with animals, flowers, and small people. Prayer rugs and large entrance rugs. Rugs with dragons and monkeys. Tiger-rugs. Yes, especially tiger-rugs. One day I will buy a house and fill it with old rugs. I'll put rugs everywhere on the floors. And on the walls too. And, perhaps, even on the ceiling. I will lie down on a rug and listen. The silence of a room covered in rugs is very different from the silence of a room with naked floors. I will listen to the rugged silence for such a long time that I too become part of it. I will shrink and disappear into the rug, becoming one of its tiny people. I will jump from rug to rug, meeting its wondrous animals, befriending a dragon, fighting with a tiger. One day, one of the flowers in the rug will swallow me whole, and something would change in the silence, it would gain an extra stitch. (The silence, not the rug.) Continue reading
Posted Dec 25, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Hidden Room • Ink on Paper by Lera Auerbach When you struggle to survive, there is simplicity in perspective: You take one breath. Then another. You take one step. Then another. You learn how to respect your body's new limitations. You learn how to challenge it. You try to hold on to who you are. You try to reassure others. You give yourself permission to rest, to stay quiet. You grow impatient and irritable. In anger, you call yourself a failure, then remember – you have given yourself permission to fail. Sometimes you feel alone. Sometimes you feel loved. Continue reading
Posted Dec 23, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Ivan Shishkin's Morning in a Pine Forest & Russian Chocolates On the grand scale of things, it's not always clear what keeps the balance. But things are not scalable. Memories hide in the smallest details and surfaces like a shy relative of long-forgotten relations: in the color of the window-curtains from childhood, in the taste of sgushchyonka (sweet condensed milk of my childhood), in the sound of unwrapping a chocolate candy – the favorite one with three brown bears-cubs and their mother-bear on the cover. The picture of four bears was from a well-known painting by Shishkin, a famous Russian painter. Come to think of it; I'm not sure why Shishkin was so famous if the work he was mostly known for was this painting of four bears playing in the forest. Later it was discovered that Shishkin did not paint this painting, or rather he painted the forest but not the bears, because painting animals was not his forte, and he asked a friend to do it. 'Shishka' in Russian means a pinecone, but it also means a bump, as when you hit your head. It also can mean, in a slangy way, a big shot – a person in a position of power. The painter Shishkin clearly loved Russian nature with its pinecones, but he also hit his head hard with the bears' fake authorship. He did manage to remain a big shot in the annals of Russian art. I stopped liking these chocolates at the age of five when I discovered wriggling white worms in one. It was 'war chocolate' from the boxes of food my nanny kept in case of a new war. She had some of these boxes since WWII, some 40 years earlier. Time was eaten by worms, leaving only crumbs behind; crumbs dressed in the picture of the cute bears painted by a man who didn't get proper credit for painting them and whose name escapes my memory right now, unlike Shishkin. Continue reading
Posted Dec 20, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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No Longer My Own - Ink on Paper by Lera Auerbach Some books matter only for the future-books hiding in them. Books with strong plots offer safe captivity, allowing us to hide. Books without plots may dangerously spiral, exposing us to memories of unburnt desires. When you are writing a book, in reality, you are writing two books: one is the book you are writing; the other is the book about writing the book you're writing. I face myself in the mirror, but I'm no longer my own. Continue reading
Posted Dec 16, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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На птичьих правах - Ink on Paper by Lera Auerbach There is a phrase in Russian, ‘na ptich'ikh pravakh’, having birds' rights. To live ‘na ptich'ikh pravakh’ means not having proper rights to occupy space (i.e., no correct documents or inability to pay rent) but being temporarily tolerated and allowed to remain. What rights do birds have? And why birds? Why not say opossums' rights? The flattery of wings? Geography? Lack of stability? Can the lack of stability be something stable, constant? If you're constantly absent, does this make you reliably absent? The bird can sing and leave. I do the same, but behind me snakes a trail of debt and obligations, a chain to keep me within its reach, stones available for throwers. Personalized gravitational pull. * * * In the world of confusion, only a dog knows the truth. But we rarely listen to dogs. We forgot how to listen. A dog knows what would make us happy. Because it's precisely that which would make a dog happy: a walk in the woods, smelling the fresh air, that sense of well-being which only comes when you can commune with nature and feel fully present. A dog is not interested in words. Words are the mythological woods in which humans get lost instead of visiting the real woods and taking long walks with their dogs. A dog knows the danger of words. That's why it can understand all human languages. It knows to smell beyond words. Because words are only shells. What's essential lies within, beyond the shell. And the shell may be misleading, a disfiguring perception of the shape it contains within. A cat also knows it all but doesn't have the patience to deal with human stupidity and stubbornness. A cat knows – it is futile to change us. Dogs are more hopeful. * * * Living life in dogs' years. How many dogs will still adopt me? My childhood's big Sheila, then Toto and Daisy (all three were still alive when I left Russia for New York at the age of 17.) Then came school years without a dog, living on ptich'ikh pravakh here and there. For a while, I managed to keep a lizard at the Juilliard dorms, but it was difficult to shop for live worms and keep them all hidden. The moment when I rented my first apartment – little Sheila joined my life. I named little Sheila after big Sheila who died peacefully in my father's arms in Russia after I left for New York. Little Sheila also died in my father's arms, but in Boston, many years later. She was aging, she was ill, and I knew my father would take better care of her than I, in my birdy ways, fluttering from one city to the next. And for the last two years of Sheila's life, there was Finek, whom Sheila hated as only an old cranky dog may hate a young puppy, who stole her human's attention and love.... Continue reading
Posted Dec 13, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Ink on Paper by Lera Auerbach A tree is never just a tree. Social distancing one could measure. But how distant should one be from oneself? Too distant, and you risk losing yourself and becoming numb, incapable of true empathy and love. Too close, and you fall apart, unable to hold on to the imaginary thread that keeps different parts of you together. A book is like a tree: it needs a chance to grow, to take hold, to find enough nourishment in the soil, enough water. In its early stages, it's too fragile, while the hurricane season is just around the corner, and strong winds could uproot and demolish it. Where do all the unwritten books go? Half-written? Completed manuscripts waiting for editors? Forgotten manuscripts waiting for readers? Forgotten lives? Like a child, a book requires sacrifice. It hurts you, its birth can be bloody painful. It can also give you the greatest joy. Ultimately, it is never yours. It is born through you but doesn't belong to you; you are simply its tool and a highly imperfect one at that. To read a book the way one asks for forgiveness, as an act of searching for solace. But a book is just a book – a collection of words, resonating at random only when struck. Continue reading
Posted Dec 11, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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The truth is that I do not know how I feel about Beethoven. There seem to be two separate things – one is Beethoven, the other one is our admiration for Beethoven. The second is so thick that it's impossible to find the real Beethoven. Just try to move the world's admiration for Beethoven aside: what will you see in its place? The admiration seems to be made of bronze: it can take any patina or color, yet it is so heavy it cannot be lifted or moved; it seems to replace Beethoven forever. Beethoven became insignificant compared to what he symbolizes: the greatness, the spirit, the best of the best of humanity. Was the real Beethoven a great genius, a spiritual leader of free men, an example of the best of humanity? Nobody knows; the bronze veil of admiration is just too great to move aside. I suspect there is something awkward about Beethoven. We admire him because he can rise above his squareness, grumpiness, and inability to fly easily. He triumphs over his limitations, and that is why he's closer to the masses than Mozart with his Mozartian divine ease. Beethoven is a lion who tears music with his teeth, claws, and sforzandi. Through the efforts of his stubborn will, he can roar at the end triumphantly. We celebrate his brows; we celebrate his sweat; we forgive his foul smell, nasty hygiene habits, and bad manners, his lies. None of it matters. We forgive him for a choir that has to wait for an hour before singing for a few minutes at the end of the ninth symphony. We happily forget that Beethoven didn't write his most famous tune: it is a drinking song. None of it matters. When a man becomes a god, he sheds all his humanity alongside his life. Godliness, like anything else, requires sacrifice. Was that Beethoven's choice? Beethoven's Death Mask Continue reading
Posted Dec 10, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
During the time of the pandemic, I am thinking of people that have inspired me and my work. On March 16 Sergey Yursky would have celebrated his 85th birthday. He died last year. While his name needs no introduction in Russian-speaking countries - he is truly legendary, many of my friends who do not speak Russian probably have never heard of him. Yursky was a legendary actor, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that he was, perhaps, the most celebrated Russian actor of the 20th century, but his contribution was far greater than acting. He was a writer himself with several books published, and his greatest love was poetry. He was one of the very first artists (if not the first one) who would publicly recite poems by poets who were oppressed at the time when it was still rather dangerous to do. He would tour with his "poetry concerts" reciting poems by Tsvetaeva, Mandelshtam, Hiippius, Brodsky, all his concerts were always full, he was one of my childhood heroes. I met Yursky for the first time in New York when I came to one of his poetry concerts in Brooklyn. I was 19 years old, shy, and quiet. By that time, my poems have appeared in many Russian magazines and newspapers, and three small books of my poems were published. My parents were living in Chelyabinsk while I was in New York alone since I was 17. I came backstage and gave Yursky one of my small books of poems. I thought he would never open it and that most likely, I will never hear from him again. A few years passed. One day my parents called me. At that time, it was still complicated to call from Russia, not to mention very expensive, so we rarely talked, mostly exchanging long letters that would sometimes take a few months to arrive. My mother’s voice was excited: “Lera, you would not believe this! Last night we went to hear Sergey Yursky’s concert, he is on tour in Chelyabinsk. The program was called “Russian Poets Abroad.” It included poems by Tsvetaeva, Tyutchev, Brodsky and … you!! We are coming again tonight - he is repeating the program." Needless to say, I was shocked. I asked my parents if they could ask Yursky if he would consider recording a CD of my poetry. They did. He immediately agreed and spent that night in the radio station recording each poem in different interpretations, sometimes five different takes of the same poem, so I could choose the interpretation I liked. He continued to champion my poetry and even written a preface to one of my books. We met from time to time. Most memorable was a walk through Soho galleries with him and Ilya Kabakov - another legendary Russian artist, but in the visual art world. Sergey Yursky had a larger than life personality. He was a giant, not only in his stage presence but in his views, his perspective,... Continue reading
Posted Apr 7, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Final notes of Beethoven's Heiliger Dankgesang On Beethoven, my new string quartet, and the eternal Song of Thanks Beethoven wrote his Heiliger Dankgesang as an expression of gratitude for surviving a near-fatal illness. The tradition of ex-votos (“from a vow”) artworks created in gratitude and to give tribute to divine intervention of deities in personal calamities has a long history. Ex-votos can take a wide variety of forms. They are not only intended for the helping figure, but also as a testimony of the received help.[1] They can be found in many cultures from those in Abydos in Ancient Egypt to Mexican folk art.[2] Just as in ex-voto retablos, the religious aspect is present as slow sections of the Heiliger Dankgesang which are based on a choral, with its timeless hymn-like meditative nature while the faster sections in Beethoven celebrate the dance of life, renewed strength, the joys of recovery. Beethoven lived in a time when humanity still believed in heroes and antiheroes; children's stories and fairytales represented a clear division of good and evil, and words still kept some capacity not to betray their meaning at the very moment of their utterance. I live in a different time. After the extremes of romanticism, distortions and distractions of the 20th century, and the confusion of the 21st century, my initial reaction is to question and doubt everything. Perhaps, when one is or considers himself (as Beethoven did) mortally ill, the gratitude addressed is not towards the future which might be too brief, but towards the past with its memories of the life lived? Perhaps such thankfulness carries the sweet sadness of acceptance? Maybe the song of gratitude is the act of letting go, of embracing the inevitable - like a return to true home, to that interconnected place of true peace, to the origins from which we are expelled for the duration of our lives? Perhaps the sense of real recovery is possible only through the full embrace of the finite aspect of our human existence? Maybe we are only able to appreciate how precious every moment is when we are fully aware of its finite nature? Artists tend to be superstitious; they love finding inner rhymes in life and deciphering their hidden meanings, finding still resonating overtones through the centuries. I am no exception. It was the Artemis Quartet’s wish for my new quartet (String Quartet No. 9) to connect in some form to Beethoven for his 2020 anniversary. How and in which form this connection would take place, they left up to me. I admit that although I was pleased to collaborate once again with Artemis, initially I dreaded the thought of needing to connect the commissioned work to Beethoven. For a while, I was at a loss of how and where to begin. I knew that such a relationship or homage to Beethoven needed to feel genuine, organic, unforced, inevitable. The concept of structuring my quartet upon Heiliger Dankgesang came during a prolonged illness; perhaps this was... Continue reading
Posted Mar 3, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Labyrinth for Solo Piano Inspired by The Book of Imaginary Beings and other writings by J. L. Borges Tomorrow evening, March 27, 2018, I will premiere Labyrinth, a large work for solo piano commissioned by San Francisco Performances. I have been fascinated with labyrinths - real or imaginary - all my life. So, it is not surprising that J.L. Borges has been one of my favorite writers for a very long time. Labyrinth is an exploration of Time and its different prisms, mirrors, faces, games. The passages of the labyrinth are the passages of Time. Or, perhaps, Time itself takes the form of a labyrinth in which the inner and outer sides are the same, infinitely expanding and infinitely contracting. Inspired by the hidden set of variations in Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (the series of Promenades portraying a man walking through the gallery) in Labyrinth appeared the "Traumwanderer" (Dream wanderer). I do not know where the Traumwanderer came from. I asked him, but his answers are cryptic. Perhaps, the Traumwanderer is my double. More likely, he is a shape-shifter and becomes the double of each listener who comes to a concert hall and unexpectedly finds himself in the bestiary of a labyrinth. Together with the Traumwanderer, we discover different passages, become lost and sometimes recognize reflections of our memories, fears, and dreams in the strange and at times disturbing shapes of the imaginary beings that the Traumwanderer meets. These beings have encounters and relationships not only with the Traumwanderer but also among themselves. There are connections and hidden clues that allow the Traumwanderer to recognize his features, even the most grotesque and foreign elements. Is the Traumwanderer inside of the labyrinth, or is the labyrinth within the Traumwanderer? Is Time standing still while we are searching for our way, or is the labyrinth made of the same material as Time itself? Is the Wanderer's progress through the passages of the labyrinth illusory? What is passing — us or our Time? Together with the Traumwanderer, we meet the invisible A Bao A Qu, who has lived since the beginning of Time on the spiral staircase of the Tower of Chitor. This tower is known to have the most perfect view in the world, which — as with any perfection — can never be reached. We meet the Kilkenny Cats, who get into raging quarrels and devour each other in anger, leaving behind only their tails. We meet the poor Squonk, who cries himself into nothingness. We encounter the magical binding of the gigantic wolf Fenrir, who is kept on the strongest, yet lightest chain ever made — a cord woven of six imaginary things. (Of course, Fenrir eventually breaks loose.) We experience the terror of the Traumwanderer as he becomes increasingly lost within the mirrors, dead-ends, and detours of the maze. We hear the calling of the mystical Simurgh, the immortal bird that nests in the Tree of Knowledge. The other birds (after a long and difficult pilgrimage to reach... Continue reading
Posted Mar 26, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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As I prepare a recital program for my concert at San Francisco Performances next month, I return to a work that has accompanied me for most of my life. Modest Mussorgsky's masterpiece, Pictures at an Exhibition, is a unique bridge between the 19th and 20th centuries. Debussy and Stravinsky, two giants of the 20th century, were influenced by this work. Pictures have inspired an epidemic of orchestrations – from Maurice Ravel's famous symphonic transcription to the imaginative electronic adaptation by Isao Tomita, more than seventy versions exist to date. What is the unique magnetism which attracts musicians and composers to this piece? Is it a secret fascination evoked by the childlike, fairytale images hidden in the work?I think that Mussorgsky was inspired not directly by Hartman's artworks, but by the idea of creating a musical exhibition in itself. The connection between Mussorgsky’s music and Hartman's images is tenuous at best. Mussorgsky's music cannot be regarded as representational of Hartman's subjects any more than Hartman's images can be interpreted as illustrative of Mussorgsky's music. Mussorgsky chose the form of a suite as the most natural for his musical exhibition. The suite starts with the Promenade. It is a musical self-portrait of the composer walking through the halls of the museum. The Promenade recurs seven times in the work, (only five times under its own title), each time sounding different, thus creating a subset of variations. I believe that these promenading variations reflect the alterations in the mood of a person passing a series of paintings in a museum gallery. Thus, Mussorgsky gives us both: a series of brilliant musical sketches, and their reflections in his own soul; he is an author who creates his work and finds himself changed by it. Unexpectedly, I found yet another hidden form of variation in this work. It is a partita-like structure, which occurs within the musical architecture of the piece. Bach designed his partitas to include several common elements, which unify the widely contrasting dance movements. These elements are usually a recurring interval relationship or a melodic and/or harmonic device. This is true of Pictures at an Exhibition. The entire work is based upon two primary intervals: a descending second and an ascending fourth. These two intervals appear within the opening three notes: G, F, B-flat. These three notes become the foundation upon which the entire work rests. Each movement is based on these intervals or their inversions. In Gnomus, the weeping of the dwarf is built entirely on the descending second (mm. 19, et seq.). The ascending fourth in the opening of The Old Castle resembles calling of a distant horn, or, perhaps, the nostalgic song of a Minnesinger recalling the days of old. By looking at the final six measures of this movement we realize that the entire movement is built on the 'calling' fourth and the 'sighing' second. In Tuilleries: The Children's Quarrel, the concealed descending second which is heard throughout the piece sounds like capricious children. It reminds one of... Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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GUACAMOLE TREATMENT [From The Infant Minstrel and his Peculiar Menagerie] There was once a man With such a long nose That his wife had mistaken it For a garden hose. When she started watering plants His nose turned red and tense. Then he sneezed, as he was allergic to pollen, With tears in his eyes and his throat swollen. “Oh, my darling, I am so very sorry! I am going to catch the best guacamole To make for you a cold green compress – The best-known treatment for a nose in distress!” Cried his wife and cut for him her best rose. “Pretty rose for your suffering nose! – Ooops! I did it again: I forgot – You’re allergic to all pretty things, poor lad!” The man sat sadly In a defeated pose While his wife applied Guacamole to his nose. Continue reading
Posted May 31, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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On November 24, 2015, I will premiere my new concerto for piano and orchestra with the Stuttgart Philharmonic and Dan Ettinger conducting. Each work is a being with its own life, surprises, mysteries and destiny. This piano concerto has one of the most unusual histories of my catalog. It has haunted me for over twenty years – half of my life. The opening of the concerto, as well as its entire second movement, is based on a dream I had when I was fourteen years old while living in the city of Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains of Russia. One night I dreamt a strange hypnotic music, unlike anything I had ever heard. It was also very different from my own compositional efforts of that time. I was so shaken and moved by that musical dream that I forced myself to wake up and write down its main material. This experience was profoundly powerful and in some ways it defined my life. I have been composing music since the age of four and it was the most natural way for me to express myself. But it was this strange dream in which I felt that this music had chosen me rather than the other way around, which predetermined much of what developed later in my life. For a long time I tried to find the proper vessel for this dream-music. First, I set it in the form of a Flute sonata (I studied and played flute through conservatory,) but the result did not satisfy me. A few years later, at the age of seventeen, I traveled from the Soviet Union to the United States for a concert tour and spontaneously decided to remain in New York. I entered the Juilliard School for composition and piano studies. Several times throughout my student years I returned to the musical idea that had haunted me since that memorable night. That material became the second movement of my Symphonie-Konzert. It was one of my very first large orchestral compositions. I struggled with its form and content. Its title kept on changing from "Symphony" to "Piano Concerto" to "Symphonie-Konzert" to the youthfully pretentious "Requiem for the Millennium." Its form varied from one movement to three, encompassing anywhere from 12 to 45 minutes in length. I performed it with different orchestras in the US, Russia and Germany. The last performance was my Konzertexam at the Hannover Musikhochschule where this was the very first time in the history of this university that a performer was allowed to graduate performing his original concerto. In spite of its relative success, in spite of making endless revisions between these performances – I remained unsatisfied. I felt that I was not able to give full justice to this musical material. Perhaps I lacked experience of writing for the orchestra; perhaps I lacked experience in life. The abstract idea of this piece kept on shimmering in the distance, unattainable. I decided then that I needed to put this work aside and wait... Continue reading
Posted Nov 19, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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CUT © Lera Auerbach 2015 Music: dreaming aloud. Music notation: captured magic. Music commissioner: investor in an intangible slice of immortality with his name on a score. Chamber music: telepathy. Composer: architect of silences. Composer’s work: lonely labor, indistinguishable from alchemy. Compositional process: distilling passion into sounds. Composer-in-residence: a living ghost. Sounds: material of creation. Premiere: critic’s alert to sharpen preconceptions. Program notes: gravely misleading listening maps. Microtonal notation: signal to play out of tune. Phrasing: the search for gravity. Intonation: tracing the holy ghost. How to practice intonation? Mentally outline the ideal future and then make it reality. Practicing: doesn’t make anything perfect, but can create favorable conditions for accidental perfection. Inspiration: The Muse doesn’t forgive those who doubt her. Technique: that which requires constant work to be unnoticeable. Virtuosity: If you are complimented for it, you don’t have it. Tempo: (mostly) controlled flow of energy. Meter: wagons in the train of Time. Form: a map. Unison: All is one. Overtone series: proof of divine origins. Fundamental tone: origins of the universe. Accents: poking. Expressions: desperate attempts of composer to communicate from beyond the grave, usually dismissed by performers. Articulations: musicians’ blind spots. Pedal: misty and mysterious soul of the piano – routinely sterilized and castrated by pianists. Repeat: that which never happens. Repeat sign: déjà vu. Last tremolo: preparation for standing ovation. Rests: never restful. Harmonic: sound’s afterlife. Fermata: the eye of time. Vibrato: can cause nervous laughter. Dolce: Tuck me in gently. Espressivo: caffeinated emotions. Molto espressivo: Make it double espresso. Morendo: Did you hear anything? Pianissimo: solo for the unwrapping of a candy. Pianississimo: time for a hearing-aid’s buzz. Caesura: Breathe while you can. Glissando: stretching space. Flautando: memory of a sound. Sul ponticello: the beast within, which you have repressed all your life. Con sordino: taking the diva out of the violinist. Frullato: growling in public. Staccato: touching burning music with fingertips. Legato: spilled slurs. Sforzando: a musical ouch. Pizzicato: pecking the grains of notes. Subito: wife poking her husband when he starts to snore during a concert. Diminuendo: magic mushroom in wonderland. You become smaller and smaller – as long as you are nibbling on it. Unfortunately, you never get small enough. Adagio: Think of your mortality. Adagio molto: Think of your immortality. Adagio religioso: Pray for salvation. Allegro: the original definition (‘happily’) no longer applies. Think general level of anxiety. Allegro molto: think increased level of anxiety. Allegro con brio: playing with fire. Andante: The original definition (‘leisurely walking’) is extinct. Think depression. Moderato: Comme ci, comme ça. Lento: works better than Ambien for male audience members above the age of 50. Presto: No thinking allowed. Vivace: Act first. Regret later. Vivacissimo: Jump off a cliff. You may or may not have time to open your wings. Stretto: condensing time. Con moto: You’re running out of time. Accelerando: seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Ritenuto: realizing what that light is. Ritardando: Make every note count; you have very few of... Continue reading
Posted Oct 23, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
September 11th Can you breathe this air, this thickening air? The ashes of people are in our nostrils. Can you hear this silence? this screaming silence? The ashes of people are in our throats. Can you see this city, through the cloud of dust: primordial particles, hieroglyphs of destruction? The ashes of people are in our eyes. No bodies were found. The hospitals remained empty with doctors and nurses waiting for patients. No bodies. The ashes of people are in our blood. This silent cry has no answer. The ashes of people are in our guts. We will never be the same. The dead grow their roots in our hearts. - by Lera Auerbach Continue reading
Posted Sep 11, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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There are only two types of composers: composing composers and decomposing composers. Continue reading
Posted Aug 6, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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I started playing piano before I learned which was my right hand and which the left. To remember my hands correctly, I would associate the right hand with the high notes of the keyboard and the left hand with the bass notes. Even now, the words “right” and “left” remain subconsciously orchestrated. When I hear “extreme right,” I can’t help but imagine all these politicians speaking with high-tweeting Chip-and-Dale voices while the leftists are the slow-slurring basses, regardless of their gender or physical constitution. As a result, I can’t take either side seriously. Continue reading
Posted Jul 18, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Don’t take me so seriously – I never joke. . . . . . . I wish I could remain on this side of the calendar. . . . . . . You don’t know what you are missing. You don’t even know what you have. You only know what you have lost. . . . . . . This moment in time is razor-sharp: will leave you bleeding through memories. . . . . . . Unanswered question or unquestioned answer? – I am lost either way. Continue reading
Posted Jul 7, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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So, you finished your book? Congratulations! Now the fun begins. I can help you to turn it into a masterpiece. First you cut 20% of the text. It is very important. Any finished work has 20% of easily dismissible material. That’s the secret of building a sustainable form: 20% has to go. Period. Don’t feel sorry, you’re doing yourself a favor. Well done! Wipe off your tears and take a magnifying glass. Search for all adjectives and replace them with nouns. If you can’t replace them – simply delete. Did you know adjectives are the parasites of good prose? They are the weeds in the flowerbeds of your literary garden. Good style deserves this small sacrifice. Now, delete every sentence that starts with “I.” Nothing personal, but you don’t want to appear selfish. Remember, this is not about you. Even if it is. With this “I” business out of the way, you are ready to send your book to the editor. When you get it back, full of red-color marking (some pages may look as if they are bleeding), try to save what is salvageable, but remember, most of the time to cut is better than to fix. Be ruthless. Brevity is a virtue and the only true consideration a writer can offer to his reader. You may resolve that your epic novel isn’t as epic as it seemed at first. Short story perhaps? With this understanding, you may want to revisit its basic premise. Maybe you might consider a prose poem – these are quite popular and can be rather successful in poetry readings. You are not planning a reading? Too bad, but now you are left with a bunch of crossed out pages. You know it’s all for the best, really. You should feel grateful. You were spared the embarrassment. With this learning experience behind, you are ready for your next yet-to-be masterpiece. Don’t forget to thank your advisors in the preface. Don’t feel like writing? Perhaps then you can become a critic so you can help others and return the favor. Every writer needs a friendly supportive hand. I’ve lent you mine. Now it’s your turn. Continue reading
Posted Dec 16, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
While a student at Juilliard I read the poem "The Dead" by Mark Strand, which instantly inspired me to write my very first song setting of English language poetry. In memory of a poet - Mark Strand (Apr. 11, 1934 - Nov. 29, 2014) Lina Tetriani, soprano; Lera Auerbach, piano . Continue reading
Posted Nov 29, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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I am not sure how this happened - but I am writing a book of aphorisms. To make matters worse - this book will be published soon! And if that was not bad enough - this will be my very first published book in English!!! Originally it was not supposed to be a book of aphorisms, but rather a book of essays. But once I started to edit my essays, I kept on cutting them down until nothing was left but a couple of phrases. At the very least, I did not want to waste too much of the reader’s time. That is how these aphorisms started and once they started I could not stop writing them… And now I am amazed and terrified because not only this is my debut book in English (my second language), but also a debut in a rather rare genre in which I have never worked before. The book will have different sections (on music, on art, on life, on love, on religion etc.) Today I post a second teaser, this time from the section on love and sex. 1. My desires are undesirable. 2. He was so much in love – he never noticed the object of his infatuation. 3. Generally speaking, gay men are better than straight men. They are more sensitive, more fun, more stylish, more creative, better friends, better listeners... Too bad they are gay. 4. Texting is dangerous not only when driving. 5. How to win an erection. 6. Sex: desirable frictions inevitably leading to undesirable frictions. 7. No, this is not lust – I’m just testing if we are still alive. 8. Accessories make access complicated. 9. We notice very little how little we notice. Continue reading
Posted Aug 5, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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A few aphorisms from my upcoming book: 1. When words are few, each finds its place. It’s easy to get lost in a crowd. 2. Hearing voices is not insanity, writing them down – is. 3. Do not argue with idiots, they will outsmart you. 4. Most memories are forgotten more than once. 5. It's not fully yours until you have shortened it. 6. If you are a big ship, stay away from shallow waters. 7. Some weeds are worth cultivating. © 2014 Lera Auerbach [Fall of a Hero] Continue reading
Posted Jul 26, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Insomnia © Lera Auerbach 2013 It is undeniable that creativity is one of the most important aspects of any profession. For an artist being creative is a matter of life or death. If you are not creative, you can't be an artist. Music emerges from silence, poetry from a white page, painting from a blank canvas. The artist brings to life ideas, sounds, images, giving form to that which was formless before. Yet that silence, that blank page or canvas - it is not empty, it is full of infinite possibilities. I remember the first time I performed a piano concerto with an orchestra. I was 8 years old and very excited. Standing backstage, I was waiting for the orchestra to finish tuning. The chaotic, wild roar of the symphony orchestra tuning felt miraculous to me; it was my blank canvas as it contained limitless possibilities of music-making. But the world of infinite possibilities can be also frightening, confusing and intimidating. The blank page can glare at you and leave you incapacitated, immobile, shrinking with each passing minute. How can one deal then with limitless freedom when everything appears possible, yet full of invisible walls that stifle your imagination? The craft of an artist (and here I mean any artistic expression, be it a musical composition, literature or visual arts), requires building forms, structures within which a work of art can operate, the frames of space and time which it can inhabit. It involves creating certain restrictions within which the work can be free to emerge, and against which it can rebel, in other words, creating frames which can be altered, but nevertheless allow for creative thought to flourish and realize itself. So, how does one sustain creativity in art when the Muses themselves are known for their disloyalty and fickleness? In my case this involved acting against the advice of my teachers, and following my calling against all odds. I began playing piano and writing music when I was 4 years old. Soon my teachers presented me with a Solomonic dilemma: "Do you want to be a composer or a concert pianist?" I was told that in our age of specialization one cannot be both a virtuoso performer and a serious composer so I had better choose soon and focus." When I was 12, I wrote my first opera, which was staged and toured in Russia. When I mentioned this opera to my piano professor, who was a wonderful teacher by the way, he said rather sternly: "I don't want to hear anything about it. I don't care what you do in your spare time as long as long as it doesn't take away from piano practice." Perhaps as a reaction to this, I started writing poetry and prose. Soon enough, my publishers informed me that I can't be publishing both poetry and fiction, that doing so would only confuse the readers and I would not be taken seriously. At the Juilliard School in New York, the pressures to... Continue reading
Posted Feb 28, 2014 at The Best American Poetry