Ode to Peace: Ode to Peace: Lera Auerbachs Requiem »Dresden« to be premiered by the Staatskapelle

Once a year, musicians of the Staatskapelle Dresden and the State Opera Chorus Dresden are performing a concert on the 13th and 14th of February to commemorate the destruction of Dresden during the Second World War. Especially for this occasion, a new requiem has been composed which not only deals with the past but also addresses nowadays’ grief and includes hope for the future.

The »Dresden Requiem« is a composition by the current Composer in Residence Lera Auerbach and is a commissioned piece by both, the Staatskapelle Dresden and the Frauenkirche Foundation. Moreover, it is Auerbach’s most extensive piece since she has been appointed the position as Composer in Residence. The premiere of the requiem takes place on February 11th in the Frauenkirche Dresden – Auerbach’s source of inspiration for this piece of music.

Especially during the last few months, Lera Auerbach has caught the attention of the media: in August and September 2011, the composer commenced her annual position as the Staatskapelle Dresden’s Composer in Residence with the performance of her »Dialogues on Stabat Mater« and the premiere of Auerbach’s new string quartet »Songs of Alkonost«, which has already performed in the Semperoper as well as at the International Shostakovich Festival in Gohrisch/Saxon Switzerland. In November 2011 followed the debut of her opera »Gogol« at the Vienna theatre which was well received by critics and the audience and turned out to be a major success. Reinhard Brembeck, journalist of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, praises her: »Auerbach is primarily a melodist. Someone, who believes so strongly in melodies and is not looking for anything else in instrumental music, is also able to write brilliant pieces for singing voices.«

In this year’s concert on Dresden’s memorial day the premiere of Auerbach’s next vocal piece awaits us. The »Dresden Requiem«, comparable to Auerbach’s full-length opera »Gogol«, is the biggest composition which the Staatskapelle Dresden has commissioned so far. For this purpose, the Staatskapelle collaborated with the Frauenkirche Foundation. The common desire of both commissioners was a world premiere in the reconstructed Frauenkirche, Dresden’s most important church, which symbolizes death and grief, as well as hope and reconciliation. Therefore, Auerbach’s »Dresden Requiem« will be presented on February 11th, only days before the destruction of the church, and again, on February 13th and 14th in the Semperoper Dresden.

For the Russian-American composer Lera Auerbach, who currently lives in New York, the »Dresden Requiem« was a heartfelt wish. During former visits in Dresden, it was inevitable for her not to deal with the city’s history. »Due to the destruction during the Second World War, Dresden has become a symbol for unbelievable harm and devastation. But today, this city stands for peaceful rebuilding and innovation, too. « Therefore, the title of Auerbach’s composition was completed by the subtitle »Ode to Peace« during the process of writing. This decision clearly underlines the central thought of reconciliation and hope. In addition, Auerbach wanted to achieve a resemblance to Schiller’s »Ode to Joy«, which was partly created in Dresden.

First requiem world premiere since 56 years
The »Dresden Requiem« is already Auerbach’s third requiem composition. Her »Russian Requiem«, which debuted in Bremen, was composed in 2007, only one year after she had written her second symphony, subtitled »Requiem for a Poet«. Both works are characterized by a rather traditional approach of composing but managed to keep their individuality. They also tend to move the listener emotionally, which will certainly apply to the »Dresden Requiem« as well.

In preparation for the requiem Auerbach examined Dresden’s history thoroughly and furthermore, gained some knowledge of linguistics and theology. For the libretto in 18 movements, Lera Auerbach has used not only parts of the Latin mass but also a range of other sources, such as the »Pater Noster« as well as prayers of the Jewish liturgy, which are well-familiar to the Jewish-born composer. Furthermore, a prayer from Father Judge, who has been the chaplain of the New York City Fire Department and one of the first victims of 9/11, and a poem by Dresden-born writer Christian Lehnert, written for the christening of the Frauenkirche’s bell, are included, too. The so-called »Kyrie« is sung in over 20 languages, which is another evidence of the universal approach that Auerbach pursued with this piece. Besides, by using several ancient prayers and contemporary texts, Auerbach’s requiem appears interdenominational and timeless.

In this regard, Lera Auerbach’s »Ode to Peace« is a challenge. Compared to other memorial concerts of the Staatskapelle Dresden, the requiem occupies a special position. Usually, »traditional« requiems by Mozart, Brahms, Verdi or Berlioz were presented on these occasions. The last world premiere took place in 1956, when Kurt Striegler, who conducted his own requiem in dedication to the victims of the bombing of Dresden in 1945. Lera Auerbach, having the current political and ideological conflicts in mind, wrote her requiem »in remembrance of all the victims of nationalism worldwide«.

International understanding through music
The performers, who will present the »Dresden Requiem« in Dresden’s Semperoper and Frauenkirche, were also chosen on purpose. Jan Nast, the managing director of the Staatskapelle Dresden, explains: »It was especially important to us to engage artists from countries which were suffering from German attacks during the Second World War. For the Staatskapelle Dresden, this also plays part in contributing to a better international understanding. « Therefore, Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski, English baritone Mark Stone, Dutch countertenor Maarten Engeltjes as well as London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir and New York’s Saint Thomas Choir of Boys will accompany the Staatskapelle Dresden and the State Opera Chorus Dresden during the concert. Thereby, the concert in Dresden resembles Benjamin Britten’s »War Requiem« of 1962, where similar artists were chosen to underline the reconciliation of nations which were at enmity during the war. In contrast to Britten, the score of the »Dresden Requiem« only includes male singing voices. Auerbach justifies her decision by adding that »it is the boys and men who take part in military action – until today. But as long as there are also boys singing in choirs, there is hope that the suffering and devastation caused by war will end someday.«

The conductor of the concerts, Vladimir Jurowski, ranks among the greatest exponents of Russian contemporary music. He started his musical education at the Dresden College of Music and still retains a very close connection with Dresden. The Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra has been guest conducting the Staatskapelle Dresden on a regular basis during the last few years and each of his visits turned out to be a highlight of Dresden’s musical landscape. For Jurowski, the premiere of the »Dresden Requiem« on Dresden’s memorial day remains something very »extraordinary and affecting« as they end without any applause but instead, with a minute of silence.

In preparation for the concert, Lera Auerbach will be talking about the »Dresden Requiem« on February 10th  in the Semperoper’s foyer. In addition, an introduction into the concert with the composer Lera Auerbach takes place directly before the world premiere on February 11th in Dresden’s Frauenkirche.

(Author: Tobias Niederschlag)

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