Lera Auerbach

Born 1973

Lera Auerbach

Composer • Piano


Lera Auerbach is a singularly talented Russian painter, sculptor, author, poet, pianist and composer. A noted child prodigy, her work often stems from the classical tradition, but the dark and ironic tone marks it as still unmistakably modern.

Auerbach was born in Chelyabinsk, a city east of the Ural Mountains, near Siberia. She began learning piano at a very young age, and her talent was immediately apparent. She had her soloist debut with an orchestra at the age of eight, and three years later she wrote an opera that would, amazingly, become famous throughout Russia and the Soviet Union. In 1991 she was sent on her first truly international concert tour to the United States but instead decided to defect to America, becoming one of the very last artists to so before the fall of the Soviet Union, at the age of only seventeen.

Since her defection, Auerbach has lived in New York City, with frequent stays in her European home of Hamburg. She completed both her Bachelor’s and her Master’s in piano and composition at the prestigious Julliard School, where her teachers included Joseph Kalichstein, Milton Babbit and Robert Beaser, while simultaneously studying comparative literature at Columbia University. She later also graduated from the piano soloist program of the Hannover Hochschule für Musik.

As a piano soloist Auerbach has had an impressive career, performing in venues all over the world such as Opera City in Tokyo, Lincoln Center in New York, the Konzerthaus in Oslo, the Symphony Hall in Chicago and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Her Carnegie Hall as both a pianist and composer came in May of 2002, in which Auerbach performed her own work Suite for Violin, Piano and Orchestra. Since then, she has had her work featured every season at Carnegie Hall.

Compositionally, many of Auerbach’s works come straight out of the classical tradition, but she is not afraid to make vast and sometimes unclassifiable leaps into more atonal and modern realms. Mostly, her pieces unfold within classically-inspired forms, including her Symphony No. 1,Chimera, which was commissioned by the Düsseldorf Symphony, and her Symphony No. 2,Requiem for a Poet, commissioned by the NDR Philharmonic and Choir of Hannover. Chimera, which heavily features the Theremin, an electronic instrument, is reminiscent at times of Stravinsky, particularly his magnum opusThe Rite of Spring, and of Mahler.

Besides her symphonies, Auerbach has written a wide variety of classical works including ballets, operas, concertos and numerous chamber works. One of her earlier operas isThe Little Mermaid, a modern version of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, which was commissioned by the Royal Danish Ballet. It has become phenomenally successful, receiving two Golden Mask awards and over 250 performances worldwide, and marks Auerbach’s second collaboration with the renowned choreographer John Neumeier. In 2011 Auerbach’s operaGogol, based on her own play by the same name, was premiered to great acclaim in Vienna.Gogol is one of many of Auerbach’s operas for which she wrote the libretti herself, and it features many unconventional effects including pyrotechnics and a tilting stage.

Auerbach’s music has appeared on multiple record labels including Deutsche Grammophon, ECM, ARTE, PBS, Capriccio and Cedille, but her longest and most fruitful collaboration has been with the Swedish label BIS. BIS has released roughly one CD containing her music per year since 2003, when they published Lera Auerbach: 24 Preludes for Violin and Piano. In 2006 they released the CD Lera Auerbach Plays Her Preludes and Dreams, which was her first to be featured as both performer and composer.

Although she has been incredibly successful in the musical world from a very young age, for many her name is even more recognizable in other circles. She is a very prolific visual artist, having started at a young age as way to aid her compositional process. After a fire destroyed her studio and much of her work in 2009, she invested herself even more in painting and sculpting, which is often dark and melancholic. Auerbach has admitted an attraction to morbid subjects, saying “everywhere I go, I visit cemeteries or abandoned ruins — including one in a very small village in Brazil that you can only reach by boat. You walk in and there's this incredible cemetery, with all sorts of flowering trees and completely disintegrating graves … It was exceptionally beautiful, in a gruesome way.”

However, in many parts of the world, particularly Russia, Auerbach is best known for her writing and poetry. She has published five books of poetry in Russian, featuring some poems she wrote as young as the age of eleven. The first volume,Sorokolunie (Forty Moons), won her the title of Poet of the Year in 1996, awarded by the International Pushkin Society. Her literary works, including submissions for magazines, are so prevalent in Russia that many of her poems are part of the Russian language studies curriculum at schools and universities throughout the country. In 2015 Auerbach published her first book in English,Excess of Being, which is a collection of aphorisms, strung together her strong narrative instincts as well as her own internal and cover artwork.

In the past few years, Auerbach has toned down her concert career to leave even more time for composing, with recent works including her oratorio,In Praise of Peace, her Requiem Ode to Peace, her Russian Requiem and several concertos. Auerbach is both humble and rational about her own achievements, preferring to place them in a greater context. In her own words, “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.” Auerbach has certainly lived up to her own words, and remains one of the foremost representatives of her time both in literature and music.

Images courtesy of Online Music Magazine, BachTrack and SF Examiner