The Russian Lera Auerbach (1973) does not shy away from major challenges. And that is an understatement. Recently she made a big impression with her cycle Goetia 72: in umbra lucis, a setting of the names of 72 demons for the Netherlands Chamber Choir and Quatuor Danel. At the same time a CD appeared with 72 Angels: in splendore lucis, in which she set 72 names of angels for the same choir and the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet.
Her music often has a spiritual element. In addition to the above-mentioned full-length choral cycles she composed impressive works such as Dialogues on Stabat Mater (2005); the large-scale Requiem: Ode to Peace (2012) and the forty-minute Violin Concerto De profundis (2015).
Auerbach regularly spices up her music with electronic instruments such as the theremin and the ondes martenot. Both were developed in the 1920s and produce an otherworldly sound midway between a human voice, a singing saw and a violin. Thus making it the ideal musical representative of her often esoteric subject matter.
In 2011 Auerbach made her debut in the Friday concert series with ‘ordinary’ instruments when the Radio Chamber Orchestra played her Serenade for a Melancholic Sea for violin, piano, cello and string orchestra. In 2019 she composed Evas Klage, a joint commission from RSO Wien, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and AVROTROS Vrijdagconcert. This will have its Dutch premiere on 28 February with the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by their brand new chief Karina Canellakis. The previous night they will present a foretaste in the series Pieces of Tomorrow.
In Evas Klage, too, the ondes martenot play a major role. A thunderous orchestral introduction is succeeded by softly wailing sounds, like the weeping of a desperate ghost. The wistfully descending and ascending lines of the ondes martenot run like a thread through the piece. You automatically associate this with the voice of Eva, who is lamenting her fate. Regularly the orchestra tries to silence the fragile whimpering with ferocious outbursts of brass and percussion.
The sometimes violent atmosphere is explained by the subtitle: O Blumen, die niemals blühen werden. Auerbach quotes this verse from Paradise Lost by John Milton in German, because the first performance took place in Vienna. For the composer, this sentence symbolises the oppression of women throughout the centuries. Rarely, if ever, did they have the opportunity to develop their talents: their voices were stifled.
In Evas Klage, the ondes martenot – Eve’s voice – is continuously in danger of going under. But towards the end her singing ascends to heaven, leaving the orchestra behind on earth. Yet there is not only doom and gloom, for Auerbach weaves fragments of early music through her score. Both reference Henry Purcell.
Quite in the beginning we hear a quotation of his witty song What Can We Poor Females Do? To which an answer comes in the form of the well-known Music for a While. The message: the ladies may enjoy themselves with music. – Be it only as a momentary diversion.
The ethereal finale leaves no doubt that this Eve won’t be bullied into making ‘music for a while’. She brilliantly overcomes all obstacles, as is powerfully illustrated by a constantly rising melodic line at the end. ‘Perhaps the answer is to rise, to stay above, to remain above it all’ writes Auerbach. Thus we may keep a glimpse of the lost paradise, ‘as the inner light of childhood when the world was still undefined and everything was possible’.
Eve frees herself from her subordinate place ‘in umbra lucis’ – in the shadow of light, and self-confidently chooses a place ‘in splendore lucis’ – in bright light. In doing so she turns her lost paradise into a paradise regained.
The reviews of the world premiere in Vienna in October 2019 were unanimously laudatory. ‘The piece has a motivic richness that is both intellectually and sensually accessible’, opined the Wiener Zeitung. I wholeheartedly agree. – Hope to see you at the concert!