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"Yet still light-years away" - an Interview with Lera Auerbach

On the occasion of the ballet premiere of "Prludes CV" by John Neumeier at the Hamburg State Opera (22 June 2003), an interview with the composer Lera Auerbach appeared in the weekly newspaper "Welt am Sonntag" (15 .06.2003). Monika Nellissen invited the 29-year-old to a conversation:

"Lera Auerbach pushes away the plate of chocolate biscuits out of reach with an energetic gesture. Unnecessarily, for during the course of the conversation one gains the impression that this young woman with the seriously wakeful, precocious child's eyes can resist any temptation, even if it is so close and appealing. Nothing, so it seems, can really disturb her. Not even the request to lie down halfway under the piano, because the photographer wants it that way. 'Nothing happens without there being a meaning to it,' chirps the 29-year-old with a high voice, thus revealing her philosophy of life. Everything that happens is to be regarded as a challenge that brings on a new realisation and perception.

"Lera Auerbach is a 'universal genius' as composer, pianist and authoress, if one is to believe the exuberant critiques that have accompanied her life since childhood. But in John Neumeier's ballet centre, she is first of all a person who answers every question politely and attentively, without giving away the least bit of herself. She sits very close and yet seems light-years away. Not that she has erected a wall of impatience or resistance because she wants to practice again as soon as possible, or change something in her Prludes cycles for cello and piano and for violin and piano, based on the cycle of fifths, which are to be premiered at the State Opera next Sunday with the composer herself at the piano. This extremely dance-like music inspired John Neumeier to create his latest work, 'Prludes CV,' which will open the 29th Hamburg Ballet Days.

"This would also contradict her view that profit should be made from each conversation, whatever its nature. Lera Auerbach is living proof of her thesis that artists survive difficult situations nearly unscathed because they can withdraw back into the inner world of their music, painting or books, which protects them. She is herself an exceptional artist, permanently being tested by public critical opinion. As a protection against this, she has, to date, a richness of at least 70 musical works of the most variable genres and five volumes of poetry to her credit, as well as the works of other artists that she has embraced in her inner life. No one can take these from her, she says. She externally arms herself against this, perhaps unconsciously, with a friendly pensive but sober objectivity.

"In response to the question whether her decision not to return to her Russian homeland from a 1991 American concert tour at the age of seventeen was the most difficult one of her life, she answers: 'It was the most important decision. It came entirely spontaneously. I had been separated from my parents for the first time; I was aware that I might not see them again. I knew that there was no way back. And also, I couldn't speak English.' Not a word about loneliness, longing or desperation.

"She was received with open arms at the famous Juilliard School in New York. Since then she has lived in New York. Her parents followed her there a year ago; her father is a former professor of economy and from a literary family, her mother, a musician who taught Lera.

"She had a perfectly normal and happy youth, in which pets and friends had a place, says Lera Auerbach. She indeed seems not to be an eccentric prodigy, not even considering that she was twelve when she wrote her first performed opera."