Courtesy PhotoComposer Lera Auerbach

Musical phenom does it all

It is no exaggeration to call 2013 the “Era of Lera” in contemporary art.

Lera Auerbach, the New Century Chamber Orchestra’s featured composer this week, is also a virtuoso pianist, poet, novelist (in English, Russian and German) and painter; her operas and ballets are being produced internationally; and she is an active member of the Young Global Leaders at the World Economic Forum.

By the Bay, in addition to numerous performances of her chamber works, she is best known as the composer of the San Francisco Ballet’s acclaimed “The Little Mermaid,” which was nationally televised in 2011.

The commissioned world premiere on New Century’s concert schedule this week is her String Symphony No. 1, “Memoria de la Luz” (Memory of the Light).

Boundaries between the secular and sacred are blurred in the work.

“It is structured in six movements that become six prayers, not in a traditional religious manner,” she says, “but rather a most intense act of soul searching, a hard and honest look into oneself, questioning and searching for answers.”

Born Valeria Lvovna Auerbach on Oct. 21, 1973, in Chelyabinsk — a Russian city in the Urals bordering Siberia — Auerbach wrote her first opera at age 12 and went on to a career as a pianist, receiving degrees in piano and composition from the Juilliard School and the Hochschule für Musik Hannover. She lives in New York but is constantly on tour, both as a pianist and guiding productions of her works.

Performers of her compositions include Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica; David Finckel; Wu Han; Vadim Gluzman; the Tokyo, Kuss, Parker and Petersen String Quartets; several major orchestras in Germany; and the Royal Danish Ballet.

Her music also has been commissioned by and performed at the Caramoor International Music Festival, Lucerne Festival, Lockenhaus Festival, Bremen Musikfest and Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival.

Her new opera, “Gogol,” premiered in Vienna last year.

Last month, the Tokyo String Quartet made its farewell appearance at Herbst Theatre in The City, performing Auerbach’s String Quartet No. 6 between works by Mozart and Brahms. The substantial, intriguing, dramatic work makes a big impression on first hearing and has been acclaimed everywhere the Tokyo quartet took it on its world tour.

Another current commission is for a viola sonata Auerbach wrote for the 850th anniversary of Vevey’s Arts & Letters organization in Switzerland.

Through this summer, Munich’s Bavarian State Ballet presents “Helden” (Heroes), choreographed by Terence Kohler, to music by Auerbach and Schnittke.

And after chamber music premieres in Europe, Auerbach returns to New York in July for the Lincoln Center Festival presentation of another new opera, “The Blind,” to her own libretto, after Maeterlinck’s strange play about 12 depersonalized beings.

In this month’s concerts, the New Century Chamber Orchestra, known for its consistently adventurous programming, is presenting an all-symphonic lineup for the first time. Auerbach’s String Symphony is bracketed by Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll” and Haydn’s “Farewell Symphony.”


New Century Chamber Orchestra

Where: S.F. Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $29 to $59
Contact: (415) 392-4400,

Additional performances:

  • 10 a.m. Tuesday: Open rehearsal, S.F. Conservatory
  • 8 p.m. Thursday: First Congregational Church, Berkeley
  • 8 p.m. Friday: First United Methodist Church, Palo Alto
  • 5 p.m. Sunday: Osher Marin Jewish Community Center, San Rafael
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