Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Lisa Moore - the stuff of legend

Lisa Moore is finally coming to Perth. The Australia pianist is based in New York but returns to Australia regularly and this time Perth is first on her schedule.

In fact this isn’t her first visit to WA; if you were watching closely you would’ve spotted Moore when the Steve Reich Ensemble performed in Mandurah in 2003. But this is the first opportunity to hear someone the New Yorker described as the ‘queen of avant-garde piano’ in recital mode.  

Moore’s fearsome technical skill and compelling story-telling is the stuff of legend in New York. Her reputation as a performer who will do absolutely anything has inspired composers the likes of David Lang, Brett Dean and Elena Kats-Chernin.

On the concert platform she has performed symphonic works under Pierre Boulez, Edo de Waart and Richard Tognetti. Moore was a founding member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars and toured with them for 16 years. She still plays with the Steve Reich Ensemble, although they don’t perform as often anymore.

“We’re getting old,” laughs the 54 year old on the phone from New York.

Lisa Moore and Martin Bresnick
Moore has just finished a strategising breakfast with her husband, composer Martin Bresnick, who she met while playing his music in Bang on a Can. Bresnick is professor of composition at Yale University and the couple will be involved in lectures, performances and masterclasses during their week-long visit to Perth.

Moore was born in Canberra and studied at the Sydney Conservatorium before transferring her degree to the University of Illinois in 1980. She remained in the USA to complete a doctorate at the State University of New York and in 1999 she married Bresnick. In her mind, she explains, she still intends to return to Australia.

“I always think ‘when I go back...’ but it hasn’t happened yet. There are things I prefer about America. I don’t like the way women are treated in Australia, it is a very macho country. It has more of a culture of criticism, whereas people in America tend to be more optimistic.”

photo c Mark Ostow
Optimism is essential in Moore’s freelance career as she often doesn’t know if she will have work in six months time. Currently she is hosting a piano program on national public radio, performing chamber music and teaching piano at Wesleyan University, Connecticut.

“Like any freelance life it is hectic, running around doing a bit of this and that. It is exciting and frightening and tiring and I wonder how much more I can do.”

Where does she find the energy to keep going?

“I keep going back to what I loved originally: sitting at the piano and playing the repertoire of the greats – Beethoven and Haydn. It keeps me in touch with that great tradition instead of all the logistical crap of a working artist.”

It might come as a surprise to hear an artist renowned for championing modern repertoire draws her strength from music hundreds of years old.

photo c Nina Roberts
“I never gave traditional repertoire the flick; maybe it has flicked me. Publicists get confused when you don’t fit in a box, they prefer to market from one particular angle. But I love to keep my fingers in the repertoire. I am planning a program of ‘last sonatas’ and have recently started working on Beethoven’s Sonata No 32.”

Her recital at the Octagon Theatre on Saturday August 9th as part of the Tura Scale Variable series has an intimate focus and is titled ‘From Me to You’. The theatrical program includes works such as De Profundis by Rzewski; Intimacy and Resistance by Ted Hearne, and a setting of Leunig poems by Brett Dean. Moore will also premiere Little Room by Australian composer William Gardiner which includes text she has compiled drawing on her Irish roots. The program requires great vocal as well as pianistic skills; Moore must sing, hum, narrate, hit and rub her way through the music.

A singing pianist is not a common sight in classical recitals and Moore says the experience has given her great respect for performers like Billy Joel.

“It is extraordinarily difficult singing against a hardcore piano rhythm. But I find it spiritually easier. Normally a pianist isn’t supposed to groan or grimace, we just walk on and off like performing monkeys. But with words you are breaking the ice, you can have humour, it is much easier to communicate with the audience.”

The singing pianist
On Thursday at the University of Western Australia Moore will feature in a lunchtime concert dedicated to the works of Bresnick and in a lecture given by Bresnick for the Institute for Advanced Studies. She will perform on Friday with the UWA New Music Ensemble and in recital on Saturday for Tura’s Scale Variable.

This article copyright The West Australian 2014

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Magic Flute review

Mozart’s The Magic Flute has something for everyone. The composer and his librettist Shikaneder created a singspiel in 1791 with an extraordinary jumble of style and music that was obviously meant to have a broad appeal. And it still does. If it’s romance you’re after Tamino’s noble quest to rescue princess Pamina will win you over, for comedy watch Papageno trying to bag his bird, there’s fantasy in the magical instruments and dancing animals and for religion try the Freemason ideology.

Typically productions of The Magic Flute emphasise either the pantomime aspect or the Masonic saintliness. WA Opera’s restaging of Goran Jarvefelt’s Opera Australia production (last seen in Perth in 2008) concentrates on the people as psychologically true. The audience is invited along on the journey of self-discovery.

In keeping with the realism the opera was sung in English with Australian-ised dialogue, which meant the audience received the full brunt of the comic banter.  Papageno delivered lines like “better an old chook than no chook at all” and the audience delighted in the accessible humour and frolicking costumed animals.

Pamino's flute bewitches the animals. Photo James Rogers
Under Rachel McDonald’s direction Monostatos was thankfully no longer cast as a black character and Pamina’s rejection of him was put down to his ‘ugliness’. Liberty was also taken with the translation to smooth over some of the gender shockers. It was tempting given the refreshingly updated language to envision modern dress too; instead 18th century wigs and stockings abounded. Admittedly the gilded frock coats and bustling silk skirts added a touch of opulence to Carl Friedrich Oberle’s otherwise plain set: three walls marked with Freemason slogans Wisdom, Nature, Reason.  

The bustle of silk - Queen of the Night with Three Ladies. Photo James Rogers
Young tenor Alexander Lewis made his WA Opera debut as Tamino singing on opening night with boyish fervour and a promising dark-hued glow. Katja Webb’s (Pamina) well-centred soprano was impeccably controlled, opening up into glorious top notes and whisper-soft in her tender Act Two aria ‘Ah I feel it’.

James Clayton’s comical Papageno was all the more impressive remembering the darkness of his recent Iago in Otello. His interaction with Papagena (the winsome Jennifer Barrington) was pure delight.

Minor roles included an outstanding trio of Ladies (Fiona Campbell, Sarah Guilmartin, Caitlin Cassidy), Three Boys (Thomas McQuillan, Harry Playford, Oliver Freyne) who couldn’t be topped for polish or cuteness and Daniel Sumegi as a regal, fatherly Sarastro. The villain roles were less successful: Milica Ilic was inconsistent as Queen of the Night and Robert Macfarlane empty bluster as Monostatos.

The chaos of The Magic Flute is held together by Mozart’s music which spins (as only Mozart can) one marvellous melody after another: tender love songs interspersed with birdcalls and majestic hymns. Conductor Brad Cohen drew a fine performance from the WA Symphony Orchestra: joyful, coherent and synchronised. It’s hard to top Magic Flute and there is much to love in this production.

The Magic Flute runs July 19-26th. Tickets here.

This review copyright The West Australian 2014

Friday, 11 July 2014

Winter Soirees

You are invited to a Musical Soiree!
Enjoy a decadent dessert while I share the survival stories and music behind my book Women of Note.

I am about to embark on a series of winter Soirees held in private homes around Perth. I can't think of a better way to be spending a winter evening (it is particularly wet and wild in Perth at the moment). Sipping mulled wine with friends (old and new), listening to Becky Llewellyn's serene Berceuse, arguing about the beauty in Cat Hope's ear-bending bass guitar distortions and sharing the tragic but inspiring story of Margaret Sutherland; this is life in all its richness!

One of the best parts of being the author of Women of Note is observing people's reactions when they hear the survival stories of the women composers and listen to some of the music. Invariably there is a deep connection to the topic. I've given many library, school and author talks but the Soiree is the best setting, I believe, for people to connect with what my book is all about. In many ways it is even better than reading Women of Note because I can play you some of the music. (Unfortunately the CD to accompany the book didn't eventuate).

The Soiree guest list is exclusively invite only so do let me know if you are interested in attending so I can add you to the list. Or if you would like to host a Soiree that is also an option.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Women of Note reviewed in MSA journal

Jenny Game-Lopata has given Women of Note a frank and very affirming review in the Musicological Society of Australia (MSA) Journal, one of Australia's most rigorous and intellectual journals.

What I liked best was her focus on the composers and their resilience. Game-Lopata picked up the underlying theme of endurance which unites the women, despite the huge diversity of their music and their life experiences.

“...the strength in this book lies in the resilience demonstrated by these women and their ability to overcome obstacles to continue to composing music. It almost inspires the development of a ‘great woman’ theory.
...Women of Note reveals some fascinating details and experiences of the women it surveys. The musical lives and survival stories of all the women featured in women of Note are inspiring. One can almost believe anything is possible. At the very least women of all ages can find in it a variety of survival tips for women composers: remain a kid inside, try the fool-proof-mother’s method, adopt a missionary zeal, find religion or just a room of one’s own.”

Jenny Game-Lopata in MSA Journal July 2013

I can't quote the entire review for copyright purposes. The journal can be purchased here. Game-Lopata describes Women of Note as ' excellent starting point for anyone interested in exploring the music of Australian women composers.'

Her review gives me renewed enthusiasm for the book and especially the amazing women it profiles. This is good timing because I am about to embark on a series of winter "Soirees" where I will be sharing the stories and music from Women of Note over wine and dessert. These rather decadent Soirees are being held in private homes around Perth. Let me know if you are interested in attending or hosting a Soiree of your own.