For today's entry I would like to use an excerpt from a conversation I had with Helmut Peters for the Dresdener Philharmonische Blätter - The Quarterly Magazine of the Dresden Philharmonic.
LA - Lera Auerbach
HP: A lot of your works have titles like “September 11” or “Serenade of a Melancholic Sea”. How important are non-musical topics to understanding your music?
LA: Actually, most of my compositions do not have a program. After a work is fully written, I think of what to call it. The conventional titles such as ‘Fantasia’ or ‘Sonata’ or ‘Symphony’ are acceptable, of course, but they are also a bit dry and boring. By giving a work a creative title I try to encourage the listener to be free to engage his or her imagination to the fullest, to dream, to be moved, to remember. The titles are nothing more than a point of departure for the listener’s imagination.I don't think purely abstract music or purely abstract art exists. As a performer, I create stories and images and make different associations every time I play music of any composer, be it Mozart or Shostakovich — and every time these images are different and their relationship with the work is different. This is what makes music alive and exciting. As both a performer and a composer, I hope that music reaches the listener and connects to his soul in the most individual way, unique to his own life experience.
Malevich's famous painting “Black Square”, which became an early symbol of abstraction in art, is full of thought-provoking images, as is John Cage's silent piece 4’33’’. If something purely abstract could indeed exist, it would not be created by a human mind and it would not be able to touch us or connect to us, it would be entirely incomprehensible.
Perhaps giving a title to a work also creates some limitations, since it invites the listener to engage in a direction suggested by the title. However, I hope the process is more liberating than limiting.
HP: You like the word ‘Dialogues’. I’m thinking of your orchestral works “Dialogues on Stabat Mater” or “Dialogue with Time”. What kind of dialogue can we imagine in this case?
LA: Dialogue is an attempt to communicate. For a writer, composer, or any homo scriptus the act of writing is a form of dialogue, except it appears more as a lonely monologue. Writing, in general, is a lonely occupation. But any true monologue, like a prayer, in its attempt to communicate is really a dialogue, whether this communication is with God, or a member of the audience, or a future reader or your own alter ego.
In my symphonic work “Dialogue with Time” - it is a dialogue between the material that sounds cold and inescapable (for example, the repeated note G in the beginning), and the melodic material, with its human warmth and its search for freedom as it tries to break free from the cage of steady repetitions. This work is tragic, since breaking free in life is only possible through death. Or through Art. But that’s a different kind of immortality.
HP: Music and poems, life performances and audience. Do you mean this correlates as well with ‘dialogues’?
LA: Everything in this life could be seen as dialogues. Every person affects another being, even if we may not be aware of it. All human actions are attempts to communicate. And even in one’s loneliest hour, one is never fully alone, though it may seem so at times.
SYMPHONY No. 2 'Requiem for a Poet' by Lera Auerbach
HP: “Dialogue with Time” was first performed last year but written in 1997. What are the reasons for this long time between genesis and performance?
LA: Well, the real history of this work dates back much earlier to 1988, twenty years ago. I was fourteen at the time and one night, in my sleep, I heard this music in a dream. I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote the complete sketch of what you will hear in Dresden (minus specific details of orchestration, of course). This music was unlike anything I was writing at the time and unlike anything I ever heard. The entire experience was very strange, even terrifying, but also wondrous for me. I have always heard music in my dreams and still do, but this was the first time I was actually able to fully remember and notate it once awakened.
I did not know what to do with this sketch. Shortly after this experience I was asked to write a flute sonata and decided to use this musical material for the slow movement. However, I was not satisfied and later removed this sonata from my catalog. Deep inside I knew that this material needed much larger forces than flute and piano, and that it was the orchestra that I heard in that dream.
So, when in 1998 I wrote a piano concerto, I decided to try this material again as the second movement. This time it worked. As I performed this piano concerto it occurred to me that this movement could really stand on its own as an independent orchestral work, and that this would be, perhaps, most faithful to the spirit of the original vision. So when I was asked last year for a short orchestral piece for a concert in Chicago, I thought this would be a perfect way to re-think this material as an independent orchestral work.
HP: Your are a poet, a composer and a pianist. Is it difficult for you to accept Andris Nelsons’ way of interpreting “Dialogue with Time”?
LA: For me there is nothing more exciting than hearing different interpretations of my music. It is only when the work is played by many performers, conductors and orchestras that it has a chance of becoming part of the standard repertoire. Once the work is written - it is no longer ‘mine’, so to speak. Just as a parent doesn’t ‘own’ his child, but needs to let him experience life, the composer has to let go of a work once it is written. It is almost as if the work becomes a real being with its own soul, its own life independent from me. And that makes me happy.
I do love performing my music. I keep revising and editing works as long as I feel they need my help. I love collaborating with conductors and performers, but its only when the work eventually takes on a life of its own, independent from my existence, that I feel fulfilled.
HP: The Symphony Orchestra of the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts first performed “Dialogue with Time”. Did you change some details in your score after the premiere?
LA: No. In fact, I was not able to attend the premiere in Chicago. Dresden will be the very first chance for me to hear this piece played and to work on it with the orchestra. So for me this is the premiere.
HP: Have your heard the Dresdener Philharmonie at other concerts?
LA: This is my first collaboration with the Dresdener Philharmonie, both as a pianist and as a composer. In fact this is my very first visit to Dresden. I hope this is only a beginning...
HP: In this concert with the Dresdener Philharmonic we will also hear the “Symphony No. 6” by Dmitri Shostakovich. You have a very close musical kinship with him, have you not?
LA: Oh certainly, he is my grandfather’s long lost half-brother. They even look alike. This makes him…hmmm… my half-great uncle I suppose? Is that right?
HP: In which way has Shostakovich had influence on your own works?
LA: Life is tough. But it has its moments. So is Shostakovich.
HP: How important is tonality for you. How important is it for the development of contemporary music?
LA: It is the future. However, that depends on what one understands under the word ‘tonality’. There are lots of different definitions that refer to this so often misunderstood word. If one reads definitions of ‘tonality’ from Rameau’s “Treatise on Harmony”, to Friedrich Marpurg, to Fetis, to Schenker, to Schoenberg (who, by the way referred to himself as the creator of ‘new tonality’, and hated the word ‘atonal’ in reference to his music), we see that tonality means something very different to each of these theorists. And so, such discussions or questions often have very little to do with or to contribute to the actual musical experience in the concert hall.
As a listener, I really don’t care if what I am listening to is called ‘atonal’, or ‘tonal’, or ‘neo-this’, or ‘neo-that’, or even ‘post-this’, or whatever else it may be called. I am either changed by the musical experience, (perhaps troubled, perhaps inspired, moved, challenged, passionate), or I am bored and the whole experience leaves me cold. This applies to both composition and performance. As a musician, I am of course curious why certain music has a certain effect on me as a listener. But this would bring us to another topic and another long discussion.
Brain-teaser [Day 6]: Find a third word that is connected or associated with each pair of words.
Hint: The first pair is PIANO and LOCK. The answer is KEY.