Nearly a week has passed since my friend Jim Stubenrauch and I attended Lera Auerbach’s private recital and in the musical equivalent of what dance critic Arlene Croce called “after-images” I am still hearing snippets of her compositions. I'd hoped to post about the evening sooner, but life’s obligations intervened, and this is my first chance to do so. Lera (left) arranged this performance at the last minute as a run-through before a concert in Boston where she and her accompanists Philippe Quint (violin) and Nicholas Altstaedt (cello) would perform two sonatas and a piano trio. In describing her music, Lera explains that she is driven by twin obsessions of memory and time: “Memories are the one thing we have that cannot be taken away from us,” she says, and “we are always trying to stop time, escape time, be free from time.” Auerbrach is a brilliant composer and pianist (and poet and translator too). Those of you who are unfamiliar with her work should check it out here and in the many videos that have popped up on YouTube. Right now I’m listening to a CD of 24 Preludes for Violin and Piano. It’s haunting but also filled with flashes of humor; a folk melody creeps in, hints of passages from iconic pieces by other composers. When we played a selection for John Ashbery a few months ago, he was reminded of Shostakovich; my friend Jim, a musician himself, was reminded of Olivier Messiaen. This is not to say that Auerbach’s compositions aren’t uniquely her own, just that the musically-trained ear will pick up the conversations that composers have with each other across generations, just as poets do with poems.
A few words about the setting: Picture a palatial mid-town apartment high above Manhattan with views of Central Park out of one set of floor-to-ceiling windows on one side and views of the Hudson River out of the other. A dining area with wine and hors d’ouevres on offer. A living room arranged for a concert with rows of folding chairs and a sofa facing the Bösendorfer grand piano – an instrument that Jim tells me he’s never seen outside of a concert hall. Our host is a medical doctor and music lover. The roughly 30 guests are friendly and range in age from twenty-somethings to sixties and beyond. To my delight, the American Ballet Theater’s prima ballerina Diana Vishneva (pronounced Dee-ana) walks in and I nearly fall over myself to tell her how much I loved her Giselle in the summer of '05. (Afterimages, indeed).
It's on to the music, which is exciting, physically demanding on the musicians, complicated in parts, sweetly melodic in others, especially in the lovely encore (Postlude for violin and piano, available on the CD, above). But don’t take my word for it. Listen for yourselves here.
Shout out to the world. Lera is embarking on a multi-city world tour. Catch her if you can.