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Lera Auerbach: Little Mermaid in Copenhagen

Aus Anlass des 200. Geburtstages von Hans Christian Andersen haben der Choreograph John Neumeier und die russisch-amerikanische Komponistin Lera Auerbach ein Ballett nach dem Sujet Die kleine Meerjungfrau kreiert. Die Premiere wird am 15. April 2005 im neu erffneten Opernhaus des Kniglichen Theaters Kopenhagen stattfinden. Wir sprachen mit der Komponistin:

Sikorski Magazine: Do you remember your first meeting with John Neumeier?

LA: We first met through music. John heard my violin preludes, performed by Vadim Gluzman and that was the time when he decided to choreograph a ballet based on my 24 violin preludes.

Sikorski Magazine: When and how was the idea born to adapt Andersens fairy tale Die kleine Meerjungfrau for a ballet with music by Lera Auerbach?

LA: The idea was John's. I wrote a violin concerto which was premiered earlier this year at the new Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and I wanted John to hear it. My friend from Juilliard, who is now a Concertmaster of the Hamburg Opera, Anton Barachovsky, learned this piece. In fact we performed it in Hamburg in the sonata version for Violin and Piano. Unfortunately John couldn't attend either performance - so Anton agreed to come with me to the Balletzentrum and to play it for the audience of one - John Neumeier. When we finished, John asked me if I could write a full ballet for him, based on Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid.

Sikorski Magazine: You are a poet and a novellist at the same time. What is the secret of Andersens famous stories from your point of view?

LA: Andersen understood human nature. In a simple, poetic and metaphorical way he can speak about the most complex, often tragic elements that are universal. We all have hopes and dreams, some realized, some broken; we all have childhood memories that are precious, we seek beauty (in whichever form it may take), we all die. We dream at night and do not know where the dreams come from or if there is a message in them and what makes us dream. We fall in love, yet we struggle to discover what love is and we may even lose our sense of identity or security, as being in love means to rediscover and redefine oneself; we are afraid of death as it is unknown, and of darkness as we lose certainty, and of loneliness as we search for understanding. All of this is in Andersen's tales, which remind me of Schumann's Kinderszenen - they can be read by children, but are intended for adults.

Sikorski Magazine: Did you take part in Johns plans of adaptation?

LA: This ballet is a real collaboration. When John sent me his libretto, he added in the letter, which accompanied it, that I should use this libretto very freely - as source for inspiration and as a suggestion for the structure - so that in return the music could inspire the choreography and vice-versa.

Sikorski Magazine: The Little Mermaid is a very romantic story. Will your music be romantic music too?

LA: Well, this all depends on the word romantic", doesnt it? The idea of reaching the unreachable and transcending one's own realm indeed fits perfectly with the high romantic era in art. In a way, any tragic love story does. But of course my music reflects my own time and any other language would deem false. However, The Little Mermaid's story is touching upon many more issues then just unrealized love.

Sikorski Magazine: What is the most impressive scene in this story?

LA: For me - it is the ending, her last transformation. Neither human nor mermaid -- at last she becomes a sister of the air. She is like a Phoenix - dying and burning her past, yet is capable through extraordinary strength of her essence to be born anew. Her last state is neither a reward for courage nor a punishment (although she is assigned a task of purification), yet there is a sense that here she may finally find peace as she IS the air and she is everywhere. Only perhaps in this purifying nonexistence she could be content.

Sikorski Magazine: I think it is a very special problem to write for ballet today and in every time. What are the main characteristics you have to pay attention to?

LA: I don't think there are any problems. The form by itself cannot be a problem. It can only present challenges. There are great works and there are bad ones. A master can create a masterpiece with ANY instrument, form, material, etc. However, the peculiar quality of theatre music is that there are extra-musical frames to work with. One needs to find a balance between achieving what you intend to create artistically and yet make it work organically together with all the dramatic requirements of the theatre. If music becomes only a servant of the dance as it happened with many 19th century ballets - then it is a problem. The other difficulty is the length. With the Little Mermaid we have full three acts - and to sustain your best quality within the span of a three-hour production where the overall architecture needs to hold the structure together is definitely a challenge.

Sikorski Magazine: The premiere of The Little Mermaid will take place in Copenhagen next year and the Danish people have a very close relationship to their national poet. Is this a special challenge for you?

LA: I feel a tremendous responsibility. This is a great honor to be part of this national celebration of Hans Christian Andersens anniversary. The little mermaid is a symbol of Copenhagen, as what identifies a nation - is their poets. Yet as with any great poet, Andersen became an international figure. () My music doesn't suggest the Danish culture of Andersen's time as this would not only be false but it would artificially cage him into the time which he has outgrown.

Sikorski Magazine: What kind of instruments will you use in your orchestration? Is it a traditional symphony orchestra or a special instrumentation?

LA: It will be a traditional symphony orchestra, but with some unusual elements as well. Somehow I am a bit reluctant at the moment to talk about this as it is still very much a work in progress.

Sikorski Magazine: In Preludes CV, which was premiered at Hamburgische Staatsoper two years ago, you took part as a pianist. Will you play the piano in The Little Mermaid too?

LA: The Preludes were originally written as a concert chamber music. John brilliantly choreographed it with the musicians on the stage which allowed for a wonderful and close collaboration between the performers and dancers. The Little Mermaid is using a full orchestra and it is written as a ballet from the start. I hope one day to conduct some future performances of it.

Sikorski Magazine: Until today you only wrote ballet music for the stage. Are you planning an opera for the next years?

LA: The little Mermaid is really my first ballet (everything else is concert music) - and it is still not written. At the age of 12 I wrote a childrens opera which was staged and toured the former Soviet Union. Recently I completed a short (1 hour) a-capella opera "the Blind" based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck in which all 12 characters are blind. It has not been premiered yet. I think writing a full opera is a natural next step.


Aktuelle Auffhrungen von Werken Lera Auerbachs:

16.01.2005 Luzern




22.01.2005 Regensburg

Klaviertrio op. 28

(Klaviertrio Tichman-Bieler-Kliegel)

Deutsche Erstauffhrung

09.02.2005 Paris



Franzsische Erstauffhrung

06.04.2005 New York

Overture for an Unforeseeable Future fr Orchester

(American Youth Symphony; Ltg.: Alexander Treger)


30.04.2005 Hamburg



Deutsche Erstauffhrung

28.05.2005 Tanglewood

Epilog fr Klavierquintett


Auerbach im Brahms-Studium

Lera Auerbach wird sich vom 3. bis 28. Mai 2006 zu einem Arbeitsaufenthalt im Brahmshaus Baden-Baden aufhalten.