Camerata Pacifica opens its 2019-20 season — its 30th, which it has dubbed Why Beethoven? II — in Santa Barbara with a concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, in Hahn Hall, at the Music Academy of the West, 1070 Fairway Road.

The same program will be performed at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, in the Museum of Ventura County, 100 E. Main St., Ventura; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, in Rothenberg Hall at The Huntington Museum in San Marino, 1151 Oxford Road; and 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, in Zipper Hall of The Colburn School in Los Angeles, 200 S. Grand Ave.

The program will consist of two works: Lera Auerbach‘s “24 Préludes for Violin & Piano” (1999), and Ludwig Beethoven‘s “Piano Trio No. 7 in Bb-Major, Opus 97, ‘Archduke’ ” (1811). The participating Camerata musicians will be violinist Paul Huang, cellist Ani Aznavoorian, and pianist Gilles Vonsattel.

There is a lot of Auerbach’s music available on the web; I’ve been seeking it out for several years now, whenever Auerbach’s name has appeared on a concert program I was previewing. I find her a very impressive composer, basically romantic, but also enigmatic.

I began listening to her as if she was, foundationally, a Soviet composer (born and raised in the USSR, she was 18 when she defected). I tried to hear traces of Shostakovich or Schnittke, but I could find no information about her Soviet years with respect to teachers or influences.

(Like the websites of most artists, the “Biography” button on her homepage yields a catalogue of awards and achievements, with virtually no biographical information.)

Once she arrived in the U.S., the trail becomes somewhat easier to follow. I learned that at Juilliard she studied composition with Milton Babbitt and Robert Beaser. I don’t hear any Babbitt, but Beaser (to my shame, I have just recently started listening to him) has romantic and tragic elements that may well have helped bring her natural proclivities into sharper focus.

Auerbach’s output is so vast and varied that it is a daunting task to characterize it. I have found only one legitimate attempt, so far.

As part of a conference called Creative Diaspora: Émigré Composers from the former USSR, held in Seattle March 22-23, 2014, the musicologist Christoph Flamm read a paper with the title The Very Last of Soviet Émigré Composers: Lera Auerbach, which has since been published online by (you can find it at

Flamm jumps around a lot, which is distracting, but the extraordinary multi-directional nature of Auerbach’s creativity — as well as being a world-class composer and pianist, she is also an award-winning poet, as well as an accomplished painter and sculptor — demands a serious scholar cast his nets in as widely as possible.

Flamm’s main subject, of course, is on Auerbach the composer: “a composer too prolific to be discussed here thoroughly.”

He begins by noting that “Despite … the immense success of Lera Auerbach on an international scale, musicology has completely overlooked her up to now. There are virtually no scientific studies or publications at all, only interviews in newspapers and magazines and a very few entries in dictionaries about women composers.”

The most interesting, because least technical, section of Flamm’s essay bears the heading: A Russian Composer?

“This is the point where the question of the national or Russian in Auerbach’s work must be addressed. The three cycles of 24 preludes put Auerbach not so much in the tradition of Bach as in that of Chopin, Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Shostakovitch and Shchedrin.

Chopin’s Slavic nationality seems less important here than his role as an ancestor for Russian piano music in general. And it surely has been this romantic Russian tradition in which Lera Auerbach was trained in the Higher music school of Chelyabinsk, in itself a remote place where contemporary and Western music trends would have arrived with great delay if at all.

“Thus, the backlooking aesthetics of Auerbach has to do both with her cultural upbringing, as an external factor, and with her idea of music to transport pathetic messages of the human soul, as an internal factor. These messages centre around a pessimistic, tragic and fatalistic worldview which we may read as a Russian, so-to-say Dostoyevskian heritage, reinforced by the experience of Russian cultural traditions in Soviet times as being uprooted, distorted or expelled.”

In conclusion, lest we think Flamm is claiming definitive authority, he adds, “I should like to point out that Auerbach doesn’t confine her pathos to Russian topics alone. Remember the dedication of the Russian Requiem? It speaks of victims of intolerance and repression, not of ‘Russian victims.’

“And Auerbach’s pity is not even limited to repressed victims alone. Her second violin sonata is an explicit reflection of 9/11, and in 2005 she wrote an orchestral work called ‘Dreams and Whispers of Poseidon,’ commemorating the victims of the devastating tsunami flood in 2004.

“In other words, global catastrophes of this kind in some way confirm her tragic worldview, as if her Russian fatalistic perspective would make for general fatalism. In this respect, Lera Auerbach is one of the most extraordinary musical voices singing epic laments and dark prophecies of apocalyptical dimensions. It is doubtlessly a voice with a very strong Russian accent.”
Beethoven’s “Archduke Trio” dominates his other essays for the violin-cello-piano ensemble even more decisively than the “Fifth Piano Concerto” dominates its genre, but while the nickname Emperor expresses the concerto’s rank, the nickname Archduke signifies no such hierarchical eminence among the trios.

It is merely a reference to the dedicatee of the trio, Archduke Rudolph of Austria. Beethoven himself played the piano at the first public performance (April 11, 1814), with Ignaz Schuppanzigh on violin and Josef Linke on cello.

When this same ensemble played a repeat performance a few weeks later, it marked the last time Beethoven played the piano in public. The Scherzo is particularly lighthearted and lovely.
Admission to all venues is $58. For tickets and other information, show up at the box office, call the Camerata Pacifica, 805-884-8410, or email

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at The opinions expressed are his own.