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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
There are only two types of composers: composing composers and decomposing composers. Continue reading
Posted Aug 6, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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
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
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
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
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
In memory of Maxine Kumin, here is a short song I wrote on her poem "The Revisionist Dream". This is a performance by Angela Denoke and Roger Vignoles at the Kölner Philharmonie. The Revisionist Dream by Maxine Kumin - Poetry Archive. Continue reading
Posted Feb 7, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
In my studio, I used to have portraits of my favorite poets hanging on the wall next to my desk. One day, I realized that most of them either committed suicide or subjected themselves to suicide-like circumstances (like Pushkin who was repeatedly trying to subject himself to a duel). How could it be that the most sensitive people who bring so much joy to others through their writings, would give up on life? Suicide is still a taboo theme in our society. Yet, it daily kills more people than disease or war. Looking for answers, I came across the diaries of Sylvia Plath, who killed herself at the age of thirty at the height of her powers as a poet. My String Quartet No. 8 ‘Sylvia’s Diary’ is written in honor of Sylvia Plath. World Premiere Info: 17 November 2013 Rochester (USA) University, Kilbourn Hall, 3 PM World premiere: Lera Auerbach - String Quartet No. 8 “Sylvia’s Diary“ Ying Quartet Continue reading
Posted Nov 13, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Another Fall is falling on me. How many are still ahead? God knows... Does it matter? Would I feel any different about this one if I knew it were my last? Would I still practice piano, keep correspondence and answer the rare telephone calls? Would I book a vacation? Spend all days reading? Try to make sense of the pile of unfinished works? Would I, perhaps, attempt to create something new, something important and lasting, placing a bet on its survival’s strength? Would I try to live healthy? Read self-help books? Take herbal remedies? Change climate and diet, keep a daily regiment of pills, sleep and exercise? Spend more time with family and with those who care, and avoid at all cost those who don’t? Would I, perhaps, withdraw all money, raise credit cards’ limits and spend it all on some luxury cruise? And jump off the boat at the end of it, hiding in the night, in the ocean, as if returning to the depth of earth’s womb? Would I cheat death with suicide if I knew the day of departure? As if arriving ahead of schedule to some fancy party? Would I be welcomed or would it upset the plans of the Host? Would I, perhaps, simply go on living with the usual concerns, as if nothing has changed, and this knowledge has no significance or power over my life? After all, we are dying. We are all in the cage of Time: 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year, an average 70+ years of life. This means we have a total of 36,800,000 minutes (that’s all!) to live, to love, to lose, to remember, to create, to search for meanings, to shop, to say niceties, to worry about something soon to be forgotten. 36,800,000 minutes to make a living, to make love, to make something of your life, to read, to re-read, to take action, to contemplate, to stipulate, to populate, to wage wars, to buy peace, to pay taxes, argue over politics... And also to dream, to dream, to forget dreams, to lose dreams, to meet dreams, to play dreams, to dream again and again and again... In the age of global warming life is melting away faster, since you are constantly running and can’t stand still, splitting yourself into a million pieces, broken, yet somehow still whole, with a constant noise all around – not hearing your own voice. By the end of this page – you have 3 minutes less in the bank of your life. Each minute softly melts, singing to you its quick farewell. Living is the art of dying. If you’d know exactly your balance: how many minutes you have – (living is the art of dying, each minute melts away) does it mean you would live them better? Does it mean you could spend them wiser? It’s another September. Wet strands of grass under my dog’s delicate paws make squashing sounds. I... Continue reading
Posted Oct 3, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Some works have a destiny of their own, independent of the intentions of their authors. They arrive, unannounced, slam the door in your face, take residency in your house, and boss you around. In the summer of 1994 I was a student at the Aspen Music School, taking piano lessons with Joseph Kalichstein and spending every moment I could reading books, which my parents were sending to me all the way from Siberia. Slowly, one parcel at a time, our large library was following me to the U.S. I still remember the smell of the thick, blue volume of Maeterlinck’s plays, that peculiar blend of old paper and print smell, which is forever associated in my memories with my childhood and our home in Russia. The moment I opened The Blind, I had a jolt of recognition. “This is a perfect anti-opera, or perhaps an a cappella opera,” was my first thought. “This is insane. There is no such thing as an a cappella opera, this is just not possible!” was my second thought. And before I knew it, I started sketching the libretto and the thematic material. A few weeks later, by the end of the Aspen Music Festival, I had a complete manuscript. To this day it remains one of the strangest creations in my catalog. It was not commissioned; nobody seemed to want it. So, it went into my desk, where it remained for many years—until 2011, when the Berliner Kammeroper found out about its existence and asked to see the score. Shortly after the Berlin premiere, Moscow’s Stanislavsky Theater presented its own production of The Blind. For the overture I selected an electronic piece, “After the End of Time,” which I composed in 1993. Its post-apocalyptic soundscape set the desired emotional frame for the opera. The overture was omitted in Berlin and shortened for the Moscow production. Lincoln Center Festival will be the first one to present it in its entirety. When John La Bouchadiére approached me about producing this opera in the dark, I welcomed the idea. Previously, I had the unique experience of attending Dialogues in the Dark in Davos, Switzerland, during the World Economic Forum. In our modern society we tend to rely on our vision above all other senses, yet we struggle to communicate and to truly “see” and know each other. By allowing other senses to take over, although feeling disoriented and lost at first, we can discover and enrich the understanding of who we truly are. Religious symbolism underlying this opera is amplified by this “unseen” staging. By wearing a blindfold, one surrenders to the unknown, to the vulnerability of uncertainty. The illusion of predictability is stripped off, and one is left alone with questions. Questions often reveal more than answers, and I personally look forward to not seeing this visionary production. THE STRINGS The strings are the veins of music. In the night, inside the piano, They grow silence Until it ripens and calls To the composer, who gathers... Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
My father never asks for directions. Even when he’s lost – he looks quite confident. He spends long hours studying his collection of maps. If it’s not in the map – its existence is doubtful. My mother asks everyone for directions, even when she knows well where she’s going, even if she is just two blocks from her house. She looks like a lost child, waiting to be found, not yet panicking, but on the verge of tears. My father likes the smell of his old car, its obedient noises, familiar caprices. He feels it’s the only thing left where he’s still in control, while all else is slipping and moving away. He can’t stand it if someone else is driving. Without his car – life loses its meaning. My mother goes to sleep early, she will sleep soundly until the morning. He watches her curled in the bed, fixes the blanket. He sits in the armchair, a book on his lap, thinking of driving to some unknown sight; traveling there, he is dozing off, his mouth opened and nose looking as if it belonged to someone else – in his sleep he is drawing the map of his dreams. Continue reading
Posted Jun 15, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
I’ve grown too impatient to read long poems. After a while my eyes start shifting like dancers who’ve missed their entrance cues. I find – I am reading a different poem all together than the one on the page. I close my eyes. The letters are dancing and chewing my eyelids, like tiny caged rodents, sharp teeth protruding, their round eyes almost blind, their whiskers trembling, trying to smell through. This new poem I am reading in my mind is related to the one in the book, but as a distant cousin, the family ties are vaguely remembered, some childhood memories, a gray photograph, taken at some forgotten occasion, but not much else ties them together. The long poem is starting to look like a shopping list. Each item is a new line, the stanzas form departments, where all the words are labeled and neatly packed in rows on parallel shelves. I’m forever lost in its aisles, in the endless labyrinth, where each detail is screaming to be noticed and appreciated. I am taken hostage by the advertisements, the cleverness of its commercials, coupons, attractive packaging, already forgetting what was on my list. What was that I was looking for when I started reading, and feeling – oh, so, so inadequate. The long poem turns into a dark ancient forest and I am a child lost in its meanings, the unfamiliar verbs are howling like owls, announcing the arrival of the twilight time. It is not yet the night, but it’s chilly already and the long arms of the shadows are touching my feet. Alarmed and still hoping for a last minute happy-ending miracle or at least for some understanding or a familiar sight - I rashly turn pages, feeling slightly embarrassed of my impatient flight, and vaguely suspecting that some part of me is still lost in the maze in the complex associations and hidden meaning of that long poem, in its hostile branches and roots of incomprehensible words, and that small part of me may never be rescued from its crowded pages, and I will never know what happens at the end. Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
• Orchestra: democratic dictatorship. • Piccolo flute: ears’ toothpick. • Piccolo’s passages: scraping of the nervous system. • Flute: skeleton of an exotic bird. • Flute in the low register: unheard of. • Alto flute: melted flute. • Bass flute: imaginary friend that makes an occasional imaginary appearance. • Block flute: a child’s toy, requiring a highly specialized professional to perform. • Oboe: permanently out-of-tune instrument, so much so that the rest of the orchestra has to tune to it. • Oboist: a man who always tastes his instrument before playing it. • First clarinet: exhibitionist of circular breathing. • Bass clarinet: unfunny bassoon. • Bassoon: royal jester. • Contrabassoon: grandfather of the royal jester. • Contrabassoon’s staccato: old king’s farts. • French horns: cellos of the brass section with violinists’ ambitions. • Trombones: throw a glissando at them and see what happens. • Bass trombone: Mr. Macho Machissimo, married to Mrs. Tuba. • Tuba: the golden halo of the orchestra. • Mute for the tuba: Wouldn’t you wish to have one for your spouse? • Tuba’s frullato: time for dinner. • Orchestral pianist: percussionist who cannot count. • Percussion section: the brains of the orchestra. • Timpanist: arrogant percussionist. • Harp: amplifier of silence. • Harpist: harpy in disguise. • Harp: undressed piano. • Piano: a coffin for a harp. • Piano: 88 keys for an unlocked door. • Violin: prima donna. • Cello: soul of the orchestra. • Contrabass section: a mythological tortoise on which the world is built. Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
I am in the middle of writing a book – collection of random thoughts, musings, daily fragments. Here are some of them: On self: Wondering wanderer in search of wonder, always lost, never found, profane and profound; round and round circling sounds in the maze of the page, musical sage, child of the times, enchanted by rhymes, seeking connection in all forms of art, forgetting her part in everyday matters (invoices, letters), not knowing left from right, hiding alone in a secluded hut, dying from a papercut. . . . . . . . . On art: If there is consensual love, there must be consensual art, but great art is never consensual – it rips you apart, uses you for its creation, and then leaves you like an empty useless shell. You may resent it, but you can't help loving it all the same. You may deny your lover, but you can't deny your calling. . . . . . . . . On work: I never know what to say when asked about my occupation. It's such a strange word! How can one occupy a profession? And does it imply that you are taking forcefully someone else's space to which you have no right? Suddenly, your job takes the form of a war zone and you stand alone and lost, staring at a hostile blank page. . . . . . . . . On age: Young people are unashamed of big words or concepts. Avoiding them is a sign of maturity; scorning them is a sign of an old age. You are as old as the skeptic within you. . . . . . . . . On books: My grandfather always requested that I wash my hands before touching a book. He worshiped his library. To bend a page was a sacrilege worthy of spanking. “It’s only a book. It’s not going to break,” I would object. “Write your own books. Then see if they are breakable,” he would answer. . . . . . . . . On progress: There is no progress in art. Art denies Darwinism. Stravinsky is not better than Mozart and Mozart is not better than Bach. Picasso is not better than Rembrandt. There is no progress – only linguistic or stylistic changes reflecting the times. Continue reading
Posted Mar 30, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
If Venice is married to Death - the small island of San Michele is the offspring of this union. It takes an entire day to visit San Michele, the legendary Isle of the Dead. The entire island is a cemetery, which resembles a labyrinth consisting of many contrasting sections, almost like miniature islands within one larger island. One of the most striking and memorable "rooms" of this labyrinth is the children’s section: children’s graves, most of them recent, with photographs, toys, flowers… On marble stones kids’ faces are so painfully alive, smiling, laughing, celebrating the joy of their too fleeting lives. The contrast of their youth and their surrounding is heart-wrenching. We do not associate death with youth, yet children are much closer to that vast non-existence from which we all come from and where we all end up, and the thread which binds them to that "forever beyond" is much shorter than with most adults. A turn in the labyrinth of San Michele – and a 19th century cemetery comes into view, with forgotten graves, some half-decayed, names no longer decipherable… Another turn – and an island of gravestones for nuns appears all neatly organized in rows like brave little soldiers conquering the heavens. A narrow path leads to an open sea of flowers of the most recent graves – after 12 years of temporary residence in San Michele, they will be transported elsewhere. At San Michele, the post-mortem real estate seems to be just as coveted and unattainable as guaranteed indulgences. One more twist of the road - and the foreigners' section is found. The Isle of the Dead is home to many famous artists. Visiting Isola di San Michele in Venice was a sort of pilgrimage for me. The impact of Sergei Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky in music and theater, specifically their collaborations in Le Noce, Le Sacre du Primtemps, Pulcinella and Petruchka, was the most influential in the 20th century. Their legacy is felt by every living composer, choreographer and producer today. In death, they stand as they stood in life: Diaghilev’s overpowering large gravestone and Stravinsky’s modest plate without any overstatement, but at the center of attention by visitors. I am always interested in the offerings the living bring to the dead. Diaghilev's grave is covered with… ballet slippers. Real, worn ballet shoes which dancers bring as offerings of their gratitude to him. On Stravinsky's grave there are also several glued pieces of paper with handwritten music, offerings from composers, perhaps. Next to Stravinsky is the gravestone of his wife, Vera. Her grave is the mirror image of his, yet her stone-plate is covered with leaves, and there are no "gifts" of burning candles, slippers or music pages. Even in afterlife, she is in his shadow. View from Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev grave - still looking over his company Here lies Igor Stravinsky A musical offering... Stravinsky speaks about the creation of The Rite of Spring and playing it for the first time for Diaghilev in... Continue reading
Posted Mar 24, 2013 at The Best American Poetry