Lera Auerbach was born to a Jewish family in Chelyabinsk, in the Ural Mountains. Her mother was a piano teacher, many of whose ancestors had also been musicians. Auerbach began composing her own music at an early age. She later told an interviewer: "I was born to do this, to work in art... I had this feeling when I was four and I had it when I came to New York...". In 1991 Auerbach received permission to visit the United States on a concert tour; although she spoke no English, she decided to stay in the country to pursue her musical career. She graduated from the Juilliard School in piano and composition, supported by The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. Auerbach has composed an astonishing catalog of music including two operas, four symphonies, numerous concerti and, for chamber music, at least nine string quartets and five piano trios. Her commissions and collaborations with leading musicians and ensembles demonstrate that Auerbach is an important contemporary voice. Auerbach also studied comparative literature at Columbia University, and is equally prolific in literature and the visual arts. She incorporates these forms into her professional creative process, often simultaneously expressing ideas visually, in words, and through music. She has published three books of poetry in Russian, and her first English-language book, Excess of Being – in which she explores the rare form of aphorisms. This was followed in 2022 by an illustrated work for children, A is for Oboe. Auerach’s visual art is exhibited regularly, included in private collections, and represented by leading galleries.
Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 28 (1992 – 1996) was composed while Auerbach was still in her late teens and early twenties. In the composer’s words: "In 1991, at the age of seventeen, during a concert tour in America, six months before the fall of the Soviet Union, I decided to defect. The following year, when the first two movements of this trio were written, was perhaps the most difficult of my life. I was alone, and did not know whether I would ever see my family again. Many of my works of that period were not completed until a few years later; this trio is one of them. The last movement was written 4 years later, in 1996.” The work features many extended techniques; for example, toward the end of the first movement the score instructs: “Imitating the cries of seagulls”. The work premiered in 1999 in Schwetzingen, Germany.
Mieczysław Weinberg is arguably one of the 20th century's most underappreciated composers. Born in Poland, Weinberg emigrated to Russia in perilous circumstances, where he was to live out the rest of his days half-way between deserved fame and unjustified neglect. Often seen in the shadow of his close friend Shostakovich, by whom he was regarded as one of the most outstanding composers of the day, Weinberg is being rediscovered as a genius and a figure of immense significance in the landscape of classical music. Weinberg's musical idiom mixes traditional and contemporary forms, combining a freely tonal, individual language with ethnic influences. His prolific output includes 17 string quartets, over 20 large-scale symphonies, numerous sonatas for solo stringed instruments and piano, as well as operas and film-scores.
Piano Trio, Op. 24 (1945) is a product of World War ll, Weinberg having just recently fled the Nazis from his native Poland to Russia. At that time he did not know what had happened to his family, but he sadly feared the worst. He would, in fact, never see his parents and sister again, as they were murdered in the Trawniki concentration camp. There can be no doubt that the horrors of war left their mark on the work, but there is also a sense of optimism and hope, connected with his love for Natalia Vovsi-Mikhoels. She was the daughter of Solomon Mikhoels, the famous Soviet actor and artistic director of the Moscow State Jewish Theater. Appointed as chair of the newly formed Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in 1941, Mikhoels traveled the world on behalf of the Soviet war effort, and his family was relocated to Tashkent. It was there that Weinberg fell in love with and later married Natalia; his Piano Trio Op. 24 was dedicated to her. The opening Prelude is dramatic, almost inspiring, but the Aria becomes progressively starker and sparer before a final pizzicato. The Toccata, with its slashing piano chords, seems unstoppable, providing a perfect contrast to the opening of the Poem which follows. The Finale movement is fugal, increasing to a wild dance, eventually combined with music from the other movements.
Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 4 (“Dumky”) (1891) is among the composer's best-known works. It significantly deviates from the traditional structure of classical chamber music, both in terms of the number of movements as well as the formal organization of those movements. Dumky is the plural of dumka, a Slavonic word with a long etymological history. Originally it meant to meditate or brood. In Ukrainian the term took on the additional meaning of a lament or pensive folk ballad about deeds of heroism in bygone days. Still later, a dumka became a sorrowful instrumental work, often followed by a wildly joyful dance called a furiant. This pairing of two sharply contrasting moods spread throughout central Europe, becoming particularly characteristic in the folk music of Poland and Bohemia. Dvořák used the dumka form in several of his other compositions.
The “Dumky” Trio premiered in Prague, with Dvořák himself on piano, on the same evening that Prague's Charles University awarded the composer an honorary doctorate. The work was so well received that Dvořák subsequently used it as the centerpiece of his 40-concert farewell tour through Moravia and Bohemia, just before he left for New York to head the National Conservatory of Music of America. The trio was published while Dvořák was in The United States and was proofread by his friend Johannes Brahms.
The form of the piece is structurally simple but emotionally complicated. Considered essentially formless, at least by classical standards, it is like a six movement fantasia — completely original and successful, a benchmark piece for the composer. Being completely free of the rigors of sonata form gave Dvořák musical license to be both brooding and lighthearted.
SATURDAY, MARCH 2 @ 2:00 pm
(Performance Insights @ 1:00 pm)
Bethel United Methodist Church