Thursday, October 13, 2011

Julian Rachlin – and friends; 'Facebook' concept of social networking revisited for classical musicians

Julian Rachlin Photo: Julia Wesely
When I had the pleasure of hearing the young violinist Julian Rachlin performing live and seeing him in action at this year’s summer festival at Verbier, it was clear that this performer had something more to offer than a beautiful tone-palette on the violin (and the viola for that matter, his second instrument of choice). His recent interest in conducting also must contribute to transmitting his widening spectrum of deep involvement with the classical music he loves.

Most definitely this artist has shown determination in establishing a powerful artistic communication on many different levels. For one thing, he integrated the classical music world with personalities from the film industry. This he tried and succeeded with at his own “Julian Rachlin and Friends” Music Festival in the Croatian Dubrovnik. James Bond film legend, Roger Moore, proved a fascinating lover of classical music getting involved with Prokofiev- readings of Peter and the Wolf, and the classical comedian team Igudesman& Joo, longtime personal friends of Rachlin, spoofed away at the festival and beyond on their you- tube gigs which have been followed by their millions of fans, since the festival’s inauguration in 2001.

“I fell in love with the medieval town, and at the time – I was 25 years old- the festival that had enjoyed a great tradition in the sixties and seventies before the war, was completely bankrupt and many monuments still lay in ashes. The revival of the festival was offered to me, if I was able to bring them even just two or three amazing musicians, like Vengerov, Bashmet or Maisky,” remembers Rachlin, about the beginnings of his involvement in Dubrovnik, after a performance there.

And sure enough even at his early age, Lithuanian born Rachlin, who has been based in Vienna since 1978, was able to rely on his good contacts and ability to connect– a talent in itself, which helped him build the festival into a yearly attraction, with financial support of the newly founded “friends of Rachlin and friends” in the US and Austria. It is now in its eleventh year attracting an array of world famous musicians, from conductor Zubin Mehta to Rachlin’s long -term mentor, pedagogue and chamber-musician, Boris Kuschnir.

Photo - Rachlin with Zubin Mehta at Dubrovnik's Festival "Rachlin and Friends"

In 2010, Rachlin was officially appointed UNICEF ambassador, raising money and awareness for projects, supporting underprivileged children all over the world.

“I have also started an intense collaboration with the soccer club of Barcelona, whose entire team is an ambassador for UNICEF as well. That allowed me to connect my love of soccer and bring this interesting alliance into the classical music arena. This connection just begged to be further developed into the UNICEF soccer -gala event at my festival in Dubrovnik, mixing ex-celebrities of the football team with musicians and football enthusiasts from the media. The children get inspired by the interaction of all their heroes.”

Inspiring is his whole viewpoint of bringing classical music to a new level of “coolness” for a younger generation of musicians and their audiences. He reaches out to the older generation of accomplished “greats” validating their high professionalism, as well as to the younger crowd, and so his circle of friends seems to be growing steadily in the process. The classical musician as a hero – on the same status as a football pro, or film star – nothing seems to be impossible for Rachlin’s admittedly contagious enthusiasm.

While building on the old and incorporating the new does not seem like an entirely new concept initially, Rachlin’s sure entrepreneurial instincts and personal integrity have proven successful in bringing people from all different directions together and has gained him stout support and a great following.

Without the “dumbing” down aspect of classical music, used by so many, through crossovers into other more popular music genres, he is guarding the integrity of classical music and its protagonists.

Julian Rachlin Photo:Julia Wesely

“Classical music will never die, but we have to find new ways of packaging it to warrant what it takes to achieve its highest quality, “says Rachlin quoting his old time friend, cellist Misha Maisky.”On a personal note, I recognize all the great individual efforts of some of the most prestigious agencies that went into building my professional reputation, even if now I have decided on a different approach.” Since this year, Rachlin has hired a smaller management’s representative, the entrepreneurial Alexia Blumenthal, focused to bring all of Rachlin's and his many friends’ endeavors under one umbrella. She is continuing to expand horizons for Rachlin’s outreach into North- and South America.

This Friday, October 14th, Rachlin will open the Philadelphia Orchestra’s new season under the baton of Charles Dutoit, in his final season as the orchestra’s chief conductor of thirty years, with Sibelius’s violin concerto.

Rachlin has performed with the venerable conductor, who will continue collaborations with the Philadelphia Orchestra as their conductor laureate during their 2012-13 seasons.

Further upcoming performances for Rachlin include engagements with: The Israel Philharmonic (Zubin Mehta); Orchestra Filharmonica della Scala (Daniel Harding); Leipzig Gewandhaus (Josep Pons); Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (Yannick Nézet-Séguin);Detroit Symphony(Leonard Slatkin); and the Orchestre National de France (Daniele Gatti). He will also continue his play/direct performances with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields,the Camerata Salzburg, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and the Moscow Virtuosi.

With his regular duo partner, pianist Itamar Golan, Rachlin will perform a series of recitals, including a Beethoven Cycle at the Beethoven fest in Bonn and a Brahms Cycle at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein in Vienna. Currently composer Krzysztof Penderecki is writing a Double Concerto for Rachlin, to be premiered at the Vienna Musikverein in 2012 with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pianist/composer/poet/visual artist/ Lera Auerbach- surreal creativity!

Lera Auerbach Photo: F.Reinhold
Sure, she is a great and spirited pianist, but the piano is just one of the many outlets of her creative inspiration, part of the sheer endless facets of her artistic persona. She is widely in demand as one of today’s most convincing and versatile composers and her Russian poetry already qualifies as required reading in Russian schools and universities and has received the prestigious Pushkin Prize (1996) for Literature. She also posts an articulate blog called the trouble clef on the Best American Poetry website. And that is not all. She has lately created some impressive visual artwork, which will receive its first exhibit at Moscow’s gallery Sistema, this year. She describes her latest artistic impulse as therapeutic, especially after she had lost all personal belongings, including her beloved Grand piano to a devastating fire, two years ago on the day before her birthday. A collage of burned pieces belonging to that lost piano of hers has a dedicated, private place on her wall.
As to her music, her compositions that to some extent relate to the musical language of Shostakovich, range from the most intimate works, such as her moving 24 Preludes for Cello and Piano which I heard her perform with cellist Gautier Capuçon at the Verbier Festival this July, (she often performs her own work in the tradition of pianist- composers of the 19th and 20th century) to grand- scale works like her brand new opera Gogol. This work, performed in her native Russian language, will receive its World premiere at the Vienna Theater and der Wien, October 15th, commissioned by the Vienna Theater, with German subtitles. In Gogol, Auerbach tries to create a “dreamlike vision of {the writer’s} inner passions, madness and genius” and the 1973 Russian-born artiste, who has a definite ardor for the dramatic narrative, relates to the Russian element strongly from experiences within her own personal and cultural Russian-Jewish heritage. “Russian history is a nightmarish fairytale from which this country may never awake,” posted Auerbach on her April blog post, a belief that she artistically also explored in an earlier work of hers, Russian Requiem, in 2007.
As composer-in- residence of the Bremen Music Fest at the time (from 2006-8), in cooperation with the Bremen Gesellschaft (interestingly, once the commissioning entity for Brahm’s German Requiem), she was given the opportunity to create her dream piece. “With all the tragic events in Russian history of repression, the constant suffering,” she explains in her animated vibrant Russian accent, “I wanted to start with the dramatic effect, the sounds of bells – original bells – ringing and the orchestra joining in, not like in a normal concert performance but rather like during a mass. They dealt with all my crazy ideas, and made the impossible, possible. The great Cathedral in Bremen lets its bells ring only for a special mass or in case of emergency. So they created a special mass for the birth of my new work, finishing 20 minutes before the concert and thus letting the bells ring in the orchestra’s performance, with the doors of the orchestra hall wide open, allowing in the sound of the bells. It was quite a grand spectacle and the Russian Requiem travelled further to Cuenca (as co-commission by the Spanish festival of religious music) and to Riga.”

Lera Auerbach Photo:F.Reinhold

My meeting with Auerbach at her prewar New York apartment on the Upper Westside took place at a most busy time. She had just come back from giving piano recitals in Dresden and is in the middle of writing another Requiem mass for choirs, orchestra and soloists, commissioned by the Dresden Staatskapelle, where she is composer in residence this season.
The new Requiem mass is planned to premiere in February of 2012. But right now she is wanted back in Europe for another Premiere of a new A Cappella Opera – The Blind, for the Berliner Kammeroper on October 13, and her Ballet score for Cinderella, for the Finnish National Ballet in Helsinki choreographed by John Neumaier, October 14, which will receive a number of repeat performances in Moscow and Hamburg.

Auerbach likes to talk about the process of artistic creation, a theme she seems to constantly explore actively through her own creations as well as in her own contemplations and observation. In her works the narrative often centers on its aesthetic exploration. In Gogol, for example, the writer’s characters are torturing his existence. He feels tormenting guilt for creating bad characters which becomes a religiously haunting vision, leading him to burn his sinful work. Finally, his created characters hold judgment over their creator.
In Auerbach’s Mermaid, based on the Hans Christian Andersson fairytale, she also explores the relationship between creator and creation. Hans Christian Andersson, who wants to protect his creation, has to admit that the Mermaid has a life of her own, that she is free. That reflects Auerbach’s general attitude to art:”It is irrelevant how you feel, what matters is the work itself. You tune yourself to be the instrument of your creation, the work writes itself. I make a grand plan, but then I let it go, and very often the work turns out differently than I had originally perceived it and I allow it to be…” she says about her creativity. In a recent interview with the German press Auerbach confessed:” I believe that art has much power by creating an image of our presence, for future generations. Art can relate to the most difficult subjects, in the most personal and direct ways. If necessary, it can be on a completely abstract level. And it has the potential of reaching people’s emotions, of making them cry even without them realizing why.”


In her young life, Auerbach has gotten used to making hard decisions on her own. When she was only seventeen years old she had to make the choice of whether to stay on alone in the United States – following her Russian concert tour to America, an incredible opportunity for the young Russian pianist – or to return home to her family, but maybe miss the opportunity of a lifetime.
During the decisive telephone call home, her mother, who, in Russia would have protected her every step, encouraged her to decide for herself despite the unknown outcome of any results. It was the time of the Soviet regime’s restricted travel permissions, and this decision involved the selflessness of essentially giving up the hope of spending any time together any time soon, a hard task for the typically Jewish-Russian parents from a provincial region, who had especially guarded their child’s course of life every step of the way. Until her sudden arrival in New York, the sheltered Auerbach had never travelled without being picked up by her parents from the train station.
Growing up in the rather isolated Russian Chelyabinsk, near the Siberian border, Auerbach was strongly connected with her parent’s world of books and music. Her mother, a piano teacher at the local music school, remains her strongest inspiration. It took Auerbach five years, after receiving an artist visa, before she was able to travel back home with a guaranteed return to continue her studies abroad. Only upon the decline of Soviet communism, were her parents finally able to join her in New York, having essentially missed the ten most important years in the young artist’s development. Auerbach was especially happy that her mom was able to attend her Carnegie Hall debut recital in 2002, the only dream she had shared with many of her Western pianist peers. In fact, it was a double debut for her – she performed as a pianist and was the composer of her Suite Concertante for Piano and Violin performed by her with renowned violinist Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica.
The double sided activities of composer/musician are what create the biggest challenges in the logistics of planning out her life. “As much as it’s always important for me to have a piano close to me – and I compose partly at the piano, partly without it – I had to cut down concertizing significantly within the last three years. I have to have longer stretches in between concertizing, to concentrate on composing. The biggest conflict comes, when I am on tour and have deadlines of new works to meet.”
How does her composing influence her piano performance? “I do perform standard repertoire, but I do hear it in a different way and I play only pieces, where I feel I have something new to say. For example I have a very personal way of playing Pictures of an Exhibition by Mussorgsky; I like to take a lot of liberties, typically like the performer- composers of previous generations. There is no such thing as a good piano sound. There is only the magic of making the piano sing in another voice, taking on the characteristics of other instruments. In the hand of a great performer it becomes a psychological means to hypnotize an audience into accessing their imagination in the best possible way.”
Auerbach does not experience her being a woman as a decisive factor in her career. “It is a question of perception. I for myself see no difference, and you choose to be above those limitations, “says Auerbach, acknowledging that double standards still do exist to a certain extent. But she feels as though “she doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody,” and the young, married artist, who does not see children in her life, simply replies: “My opuses!” to that question.
Besides her studies at the Manhattan School of Music and at Juilliard, where she studied piano with Joseph Kalichstein and composition with Milton Babbitt and Robert Beaser, she also spend time with Beethoven specialist, the Norwegian Einar Steen-Nokleberg in Hannover, reporting it to be a very worthwhile experience. Essentially she views a truly engaged self examination, the willingness and curiosity of wanting to continually grow, as the conditions for any successful outcome in the learning process. “When the student is ready, the right teacher will appear” she smiles knowingly.
Named “Young Global leader” by the World Economic Forum in 2007, Auerbach’s Renaissance-style Omni creative presence is fully recognized by her contemporary artistic environment internationally. In Germany she was awarded the prestigious Hindemith Prize and, at the Pacific Music Festival, the Tokyo String Quartet and Sapporo Symphony joined forces to perform her Fragile Solitudes. New York’s Chamber Music Wu Han and David Finckel brought Auerbach’s work to Lincoln Center. Auerbach relies on long time colleagues to keep her works alive, beyond the works’ premieres, such as the Borromeo String Quartet who have performed her entire selection of string quartets and recorded them on an archival recording. She also recognizes the efficiency of the Music Accord Organization, which was formed by different concert organizers, who work together to extend the life of a Lincoln Center premiered work, by taking work on to tour different concert venues.
In the near future, the composer plans to concertize with an artist she admires and has performed with at the Verbier Music Festival recently, Boston based violist Kim Kashkashian, for who she wrote a transcription of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes for Cello and Piano, arranged for Viola.

Lera Auerbach / Verbier Photo: Aline Paley

On November 15th, violinist Leonidas Kavakos will bring a selection of Lera Auerbach’s Preludes for Violin and Piano, Op. 46a, to Carnegie Hall.
Audio and Video:
Her website:
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