This program presents classic landmark works and a new composition by pianist-composer Frederic Rzewski (1938-2021) from Moore’s new CD ‘no place to go but around’ on Cantaloupe Music (release date: June 24 2022).
To His Coy Mistress (1988) – text by Andrew Marvel
no place to go but around (1974)
Coming Together (1971)*
Piano Piece no.4 (1977)
*requires microphone for voice amplification
This project began with a gift.
Martin Bresnick, my life partner, surprised me for my 60thbirthday with a new piece he had commissioned for me, from Frederic Rzewski. Amoramaro – a soulful, strange, almost haunting piece – was written for me, and is dedicated to me, and by a strange fate it is one of the last works Rzewski wrote. Before I could get a chance to play it in public he was gone.
I met Rzewski in 1992, in Amsterdam. I was a founding member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, and that night we were performing Coming Together, in our own rollicking version – dividing up and trading off the music and the text amongst the sextet. Rzewski was there and he introduced the work from the stage, his unsmiling, strong profile making him both terrifying and yet amusing and lovable. “Western Civilization has been in decline since the Roman Empire” he deliberated into the microphone. The restless audience fell silent.
That same day, a colleague suggested I approach Rzewski and ask him for the score of De Profundis– his new piece for a speaking pianist, based on the letter by an imprisoned Oscar Wilde. He said I should come see him, and a few months later, I drove to Kingston NY, where he was renting a house, to get the score from him. He generously handed it to me, made me a tuna fish sandwich and we sat and talked in the back garden. He said he used to be a communist, but now he was a nihilist. He told me he didn’t believe in copyright, only copyleft and copywrong. “So make a copy of the score and post the original back to me.”
Rzewski’s declamatory, terse way of speaking was a breath of fresh air to me, (familiar to my own family style). He was a one-off. He didn’t seem to care what people thought of him. He was blunt, matter of fact, frustrating, and brilliant. Yet deep down he was a real ‘mensch’ who cared deeply for humanity. His works had strong underlying, or overlying, messages of social justice. He was a bohemian family man, giving most of his meager income to his children and grandchildren. Personally, when I once thought of quitting piano he encouraged me to keep going – he said “why stop playing? Don’t waste your investment, just do other things too.” We always got along. I worked with him closely on De Profundis and To His Coy Mistress. He said “the playing’s always fine Lisa, but go further to exaggerate the words – you have to be the crazy woman in the attic.”
I have dined out on many of Rzewski’s lines. “The so-called field of contemporary music” is one of his phrases I like to use because it so encapsulates our niche-famous status in this boutique field of new music. He could be outspoken, contrarian, outlandish, and opinionated, and yet humble and surprised, even puzzled, as to why the world found him difficult. Neither of us could win teaching jobs, and once, commiserating over lunch, he said “it’s because we’re both terrorists, Lisa.”
Once we were on a NYC ‘gig’ together for twenty-one pianos conducted by a man who only spoke Italian. Things were getting lost in translation. Rzewski was the only one who could translate for the other twenty of us. We asked him for help. But after a long chat with the conductor, Rzewski turned to us and said “you’re on your own.”
pic (by Martin Bresnick) of Lisa Moore and Frederic Rzewski 2010 @ Yale-Norfolk Summer Festival