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

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