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.
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.
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 choose only grew. Even today, after countless performances worldwide and with more than 100 compositions published, some of my well-wishers are still concerned that I may be spreading myself too thin. My response to that? I started creating visual art. As always -- I could not stay just with the paintings. Quickly I added mixed media, photography and sculpture.
It's not that I have not tried to limit myself to one form. And heaven knows, even one career in music is hard enough. But every time I tried to do so, the weight of a blank page became unbearable and I would feel depressed and accomplish less than when I allowed myself to fly freely with the child-like approach that everything is possible. My friends think that I am a workaholic, but I am not. I am a chronic procrastinator, always guilty of not doing something else. Yet somehow everything gets done with illusory effortlessness.
Experiencing art through its different forms helps to gain a fresh and unexpected perspective. Often we are unable to see what is right in front of us, but through the metaphor of art we recognize our own face. This is why a melody or a line in a book can move us to tears, as it becomes personal, and through sharing this experience we realize that we are not alone. Often enough, by immersing oneself in art, one may find solutions for seemingly unrelated problems.
And one more thought. There is no such thing as progress in art. Art does not follow the principles of Darwinism, at least not qualitatively. Picasso is not better than Rembrandt, Stravinsky is not better than Mozart, Pasternak is not better than Dante. Art changes and evolves so that the artist becomes an instrument and representative of his time. In one of his early interviews, Steve Jobs said that all his work will become obsolete by the time he is 50. Unlike art, technology becomes outdated almost overnight. Any scientific discovery, with time, will be found either obsolete or incomplete, whereas a work of art can remain relevant and whole throughout centuries.
In our fast-paced ever-changing world, art reminds us of our humanity, of that which is timeless and always relevant. Art communicates through the universal language of human emotions and thus, while representing its time, it is also capable of transcending it. Music of Mozart, words of Shakespeare, paintings of Da Vinci continue to inspire us, to move, to touch and to transport us beyond our daily routine; they are as powerful now as when they were created. Through these works we continue the dialogues between the centuries, as we individually attempt to answer some of the essential universal questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What happens when we die? Why is there so much suffering, cruelty and war? These are the unanswerable eternal questions that define our existence. In the cosmic frightening vastness of silence of these unanswered questions, and facing the perpetual terrors of history, it is Art and Culture that become the frames allowing us to justify our existence and creatively flourish in any field we choose. Our art and culture give meaning to our lives and become our legacy.
I know the price of Silence
When on the threshold of sound,
It congeals in the contour of emptiness
Blends with the beating heart.
The air is charged with fear
And opens into voiceless space.
Hypnotized by incorporeality,
The wind unfurls its wings in dance.
Silence parches the mouth
As I catch it on my lips,
Mesmerized by the muteness of sound,
The dreary whiteness of the page.
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.
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
University, Kilbourn Hall, 3 PM
Lera Auerbach - String Quartet No. 8 “Sylvia’s Diary“
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 turn the heater on for the first time in a long time and hear the old pipes waking from their slumber. I stop the pendulum of the grandfather clock, not to hear it peck in the dark of the house, but still hear tick-tacks – my heart is still counting. The sand is still running – gravity is always at work.
I welcome you, Fall, my favorite season, with its late generosity, its careless bloom – to give it all away without a safety-net. When you know you’re falling – choosing to fall from the sky.
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 are the veins of music.
In the night, inside the piano,
They grow silence
Until it ripens and calls
To the composer, who gathers sounds
In the darkness, like a blind-man
Picking the wild flowers
Guided only by their fragrance.
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.
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.
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.
Oboe: harmonics’ condenser.
Oboist: a man who always tastes his instrument before playing it and smacks his lips in satisfaction.
English horn: is neither English nor a horn.
First clarinet: exhibitionist of circular breathing technique.
Clarinet (instrumentation advice): don't write p (piano, i.e., quietly) for clarinet or he will melt into his musicianship and vanish without a trace.
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. Please note: 1. Horns do not have horns, but curves. 2. French-horn players are, supposedly, good kissers, but not everything that has French in its name is either French or sexy (French fries, for example).
Piccolo trumpet: spilled silver.
Trombones: howling bones.
Trombones: throw a glissando at them and see what happens.
Bass trombone: Mr. Macho-Machissimo, married to Tuba.
Tuba: the golden halo of the orchestra.
Mute for the tuba: Wouldn't you wish to have one for your spouse?
Celesta: music box, always sounding ahead of the orchestra.
Orchestral pianist: percussionist who cannot count.
Percussion section: the brains of the orchestra.
Symbols crash: time to wake up!
Timpanist: arrogant percussionist.
Harp: amplifier of silence.
Harpist: a harpy in disguise.
Harp: skeleton of the piano.
Piano: a coffin for a harp.
Piano: 88 keys for the unlocked door.
Violin: prima donna of the orchestra.
Viola: Prince in exile.
Cello: soul of the orchestra.
Contrabass section: a mythological tortoise on which this world (i.e., orchestra) is built. Slow and clumsy, but it is the foundation and all depends on its solid dependability.
Contrabassist: a man who carries his coffin.
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.
. . . . . . . .
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.
. . . . . . . .
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.
. . . . . . . .
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.
. . . . . . . .
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.
. . . . . . . .
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.
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.
Joseph Brodsky's work was introduced to me in Russia when I was thirteen. His name did not mean anything to me then. Simply someone once gave me a few typed pages with his poems. My teenage reaction was one of shock. His work was unlike anything I had read. His poetry was real, it spoke to me in a powerful way, it was a calling, a recognizable, irresistible voice addressing me directly. It was impossible to ignore. When I arrived to the United States in 1991, one of my wishes was to meet Brodsky. This meeting happened, and his support of my work meant the world to me during that crucial time of my life when everything I knew was left behind.
Brodsky's wish was to be buried at San Michele. He visited Venice often, always in the winter. This was the city of his love if one can be in love with a city. Yes, Venice, more than his native St. Petersburg, was the city of his dreams; Venice, with its glorious decay, its endless reflections, its past so vast that it already contains its future.
Brodsky's grave is simple yet beautiful, with overgrown flowers and many special offerings from visitors. There was a cigarette on his grave-stone (he was a heavy smoker), a Watermen fountain pen (his favorite brand); someone left a few old Soviet coins, which I personally thought would not be the most welcomed gift by this deceased. And, of course, candles and flowers.
In a somewhat ironic twist of fate - not too far from Brodsky lies another famous poet, in many ways Brodsky's opposite – Ezra Pound. Pound's grave is large yet unkempt.
I spent long hours wandering this cemetery, listening to the seagulls, deciphering the writings on the graves, and thinking of Time. Time is always abundant in Venice. Venice is cradled in Time just as it is draped in death. This cradle song of death is comforting, quiet and peaceful. In a world where everything multiplies and doubles with reflections, San Michele provides perspective which widens the horizon and unearths the essence.
Sometimes, before falling asleep, I imagine what it would be like to spend a night at San Michele, listening to the moon-beams splashing the water and the occasional cries of birds. I imagine the ghostly concerts and poetry readings featuring that never finished symphony or a poem and wonder if the dead are just as curious about the living as we are about them.
Arriving home after several months of travel, and while taking some time to recollect experiences by organizing photographs, I came upon images of one of the most memorable trips of last year. It was my first visit to Brazil, where I performed a Mozart piano concerto in the city of Curitiba with a superb orchestra led by Maestro Osvaldo Ferreira.
Brazil made an indelible impression on me. After my performances in Curitiba, a modern city with all the 21st century commodities, I spent ten days traveling and learning about this mysterious, vast, multi-cultural country, buzzing with creativity. I took a detour to a part of the world both terrifying in its isolation and achingly beautiful - the last point of civilization before the great expanse of Amazon rainforest between Brazil and Colombia. Twelve hours by fast boat from Manaus lies a small town on the south bank of the portion of the Amazon River known as the Solimões. It is called Tefé, no roads lead to Tefé. It is only reachable by boat or small plane. Lonely Planet describes it: "It’s not that there is anything wrong – it’s a perfectly agreeable place, just not particularly memorable." Yet, it was in Tefé where I found one of the most extraordinary sites in all my travels.
The heat and humidity were unreal. As I walked from the port up the hill, I saw hundreds of large black birds circling up in the distance. Soon I realized these were vultures. The image was unsettling yet hauntingly beautiful, so I walked towards the birds. The heat was melting the sole of my sandals. After about half an hour, I reached the gates of the place I was looking for. What I encountered is a memory that will stay with me forever. A cemetery that was a charnel ground, with some of the most chilling (in spite of the heat) yet mesmerizing images of a place for the dead. Here are some of the images:
Excerpt from ‚Die Welt’ – 12.02.2012 -- by Joachim Lange
The Russian-American composer Lera Auerbach, endowed with many talents and currently enjoying the success of her opera "Gogol" in Vienna, has expanded her large-scale Requiem into an Ode to Peace. Auerbach composed the work for the renowned Saxon orchestra as composer in residence.
Cosmopolitan as the prolific composer is, she does not only fill out the Frauenkirche up to the dome with the large choral and orchestral forces, but also has the world in its entirety pictured before her mind's eye. In the Kyrie, for example, the text is set with an almost papal eloquence in 40 languages at once with tympani and trumpets, without any fear of being influenced by the great models of the genre. The settings of central prayers of Christians and Jews are also self-assured in their utopian approach, as are those of Hindus, Buddhists and Moslems as well. The fact that one must read along in order to find one's bearings in the polyphonic, indeed mellifluous text in the space of the Frauenkirche is most likely part of the concept of a human utopia of harmony in the longing for peace.
Auerbach seeks to bridge the gap between the wound of Dresden and the present day. The so-called Dresden Amen, already used by Wagner in Parsifal, repeatedly appears. One also hears the text "Peace, Where God Dwells" by Dresden's own Christian Lehnert, engraved in the peace bell of the Frauenkirche. But there is also a reminiscence of 11 September 2001 with Father Judge's prayer.
Auerbach has composed symbolically charged music that perfectly fits the special performance space. The audience (who did not applaud in the church but observed a minute of silence) hardly resented the fact that she did not offer unsettling novelty but instead sought to make a direct effect with the entire impact of the orchestra and choir. There are, at any rate, only a few islands of calm reflection - such as "In “Silentium", which beguiles with simple melodies - in the layering of surging songs and of skilfully varied melodies pervaded by orchestral vehemence. Otherwise, high-pressure emotion dominates, always gaining new impetus through the orchestra and choir spurring each other on, leading again and again to a sweeping stream of sound.
I have to apologize to the readers of BAP for my disappearance. One of the reasons is that I am in the process of completing an orchestral score for the upcoming premiere of my opera Gogol in Vienna. It is a large-scale opera with three acts, full orchestra, two choirs (adult mixed choir and boys), dances and the cast of fifteen characters.
Since yesterday was Gogol's birthday, I think it would be appropriate to share with the readers of BAP a short interview I gave last week via email about Gogol. While the actual interview will be published in German, here is the English version of it.
1) Why are you fascinated by Gogol?
Gogol, born a Ukrainian cossack, is often considered the father of modern Russian literature. He was a writer with a rich and conflicted inner life, able to bring to light, in the most vivid form, the tragic nature of the human condition. His writings are even more relevant today than they were during his time.
2) Which story is reflected in your opera "Gogol"?
Before starting my work on this opera, I reread the complete works of Gogol, as well as over twenty books written about him. For the opera, I wished to create not a historical account of Gogol’s life, but a dreamlike vision of his inner passions, his madness and genius. Opera is above all a drama, the ultimate dramatic expression. Some operas based on historical events and real people, such as Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov", can also be viewed as tragic fairytales for adults. "Gogol" is ultimately a Russian opera, and Russian history is a nightmarish fairytale from which this country may never awake.
3) Which character is Gogol in your opera? Is he a tragic person or is he funny?
Gogol was a deeply troubled man, possessed by fears. He became religiously obsessed and began to believe that he brought real evil into this world through his writings. A priest, whom Gogol trusted, ignited these convictions and encouraged Gogol to burn the 2nd and 3rd volume of the "Dead Souls". Gogol's deep seriousness is what allowed him to become a great satire writer. This opera is ultimately tragic but has dark humorous undertones. As an example, Bes (a demon), who is Gogol's adversary, but also in many ways his alter-ego, often ridicules Gogol. Bes' comments can be grotesque, yet they also ring of truth. In a tragically distorted manner, Bes, whom Gogol passionately fights and fears, also represents Gogol's consciousness.
4) First you wrote a play and then the libretto. Why are words not enough? Why do they need music? Which dimension can you express with the music?
The play and the libretto are two separate entities. The play is complete without music. The libretto is an adaptation of the play, specifically crafted to be a partner to the music. Opera is one of the most complete art-forms: music, text, staging, and drama are all part of the whole. As librettist for my own works, I have an ideal collaboration with the composer.
5) In what way is your regional provenance important in your music?Although I have lived half of my life in the West, Russian culture and music are part of my DNA.
6) What do you think is generally characteristic of your music?Let music connect directly to the listener regardless of the composer’s own attempts to interpret its essence. Jorge Luis Borges wrote “A man sets himself in the task of portraying the world. Over the years he fills a given surface with images of provinces and kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fish, rooms, instruments, heavenly bodies, horses, and people. Shortly before he dies he discovers that this patient labyrinth of lines is a drawing of his own face”. Sapienti sat. Cetera desunt.
VARIATIONS ON THE THEME OF TIME
in this empty
in the silence
I open the door
and breathe in
you can see
the dim valleys,
its colors –
it can rest
for a while,
it can cuddle
in a cradle
In its sleep
[by Lera Auerbach]
I opened the windows on a dark orchard.
Trees were guarding the movement of branches.
And with the bitterness of October rennet apples
I opened the windows on a dark orchard.
The funeral decay of the orchard lingered,
Covering the heart in fallen memories,
With autumnal stilling languor,
The funeral decay of the orchard lingered.
October lingered and languored.
Stealthily approached with tiny steps.
And we defoliated mysteriously too,
While October lingered and languored.
The last frame has been brought into focus.
Branches draw organ screams in sky.
Who knows what will come, what drama
When the last frame has been brought into focus.
Well it is good that we are still alive;
That time ages while years like ink
Run down and smudge shoddily, lazily,
And it's good that we are still alive.
--- Lera Auerbach
So yellow as if - - Lera Auerbach
defending this color
was its only quest;
as if painted
by an artist,
as if stitched
by mid-summer’s sun;
made with delicate silk
in the ancient country
the canary swings
on its wooden swing,
claiming its cage
It glances at me
through the bars –
sings far better
than any sounds
As in rapture,
some birdly ecstasy,
its song shimmers,
in the slight rips
and tears at the edges
of the air
of the cage.
I humbly retreat,
for a treat,
my modest offering
I have the freedom
to fly and rejoice,
but where is
So yellow as if
- - Lera Auerbach
WHAT CAN KILL YOUNo,
To unwind the ball of string as I make my way to my beginnings.
I am my memory, the sum total of all the moments I have lived. Moreover, my "I" divides and multiplies: I am an infant, and an elderly person, and an artist, and a thief, and a murderer. All of these possible past incarnations of mine swarm past in my subconscious like phantoms, and when I begin a monologue in my own name (as I see myself at this very moment), I inevitably put it into the mouth of a phantom from my own midst. And that which seemed to me to be sincere and the only true thing when I was writing is only one facet of a thousand and, like the crooked mirror, does not reflect the features, but distorts them. Although who knows, perhaps only crooked mirrors tell us the truth. I see crowds and crowds of people. Among them are artists, captains, artisans and kings, musicians and circus performers, milkmen and murderers. And all of them are me. And every time I begin to wind the thread that leads me out of the labyrinth toward the light, instead of exiting I fall into a new labyrinth. In each of the labyrinths a Minotaur lies in wait--sin that arrives from my former incarnation. And my goal is to kill the Minotaur.
Here are several characters from my spectral retinue:
Apollo (Rational Force)
Dionysus (Elemental Force)
Gaiea (Primordial feminine, fertility, the mystery of birth passed on from mother to daughter)
Homeless Wanderer (The Wandering Jew)
Martyr Hero (for whatever you like: faith, fatherland, ideas)
Whore and Nun
Joseph, sold into Egypt
–Well, who else is there, come out into the light!
The characters are wearing masks, one transmutes into another. A mirrored hall, where the mirrors reflect one another, fracturing the reflections. A carnival of phantoms; bifurcation, disorder, division of my self.
...In his own likeness and image...
A crowd of mirror werewolves. Welcome to the theater of the absurd.
Abel = Cain.
And so, ladies and gentleman, let's begin.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.