Lera Auerbach Fills Dual Role with ProMusica this Weekend

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Lera Auerbach is both composer and pianist this weekend with ProMusica Chamber Orchestra(Photo: leraauerbach.com)
Lera Auerbach is both composer and pianist this weekend with ProMusica Chamber Orchestra(Photo: leraauerbach.com)

There was a time when it was commonplace for composers to write music to perform themselves. Mozart and Beethoven are probably the first two who came to your mind.  Franz Liszt was another.  Fritz Kreisler and Pablo de Sarasate were violinists who wrote music for there own performance, but to a much lesser degree.  They had no shortage of repertoire and composers who wanted to write music for them.

Today, the number of composers who also regularly perform is small.  Conrad Tao comes to mind.  He has written multiple works for many orchestras, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra among them, along with many chamber, electro-acoustical, and pop works – all while continuing to perform.

While Conrad Tao is still in the early stages of his career, Lera Auerbach’s composition list is massive.  Her website lists an impressive array of posts as both composer and performer:

She just wrapped up a stint as “Composer-in-Residence of the Staatskapelle Dresden, is currently Artist-in-Residence for BASF’s highly regarded “Kunst und Kultur” program, now in its 91st season, as well as resident composer of the New Century Chamber Orchestra, the Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra, the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont and the International Verbier Festival, which has commissioned her to write a new symphonic work to commemorate their 20th Anniversary.  The complete list spanned two more paragraphs.

One of her piano teachers my have unwittingly pushed her into this dual career by trying to stop it.  ”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.”

The composition being performed by ProMusica this weekend is Eterniday, (Hommage to W.A. Mozart) for bass drum, celesta and strings, The title is a blending of the words Eternity and Day, “something everlasting and fragile, yet blended together into one.”  Auerbach says she had recorded all of  the keyboard pieces Mozart wrote between the age of 5 and 9 years – and felt his subtle presence as she wrote.  We spoke about her piece.

Fittingly, she performs a work by Mozart as well, his Piano Concerto 20 in d, K. 466.  It is a weekend not to be missed, as ProMusica looks to help revive the concept of composer/performer.  You can hear my complete conversation with Lera here.