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“Why create limits” in your music programming?



When I read about Lisa Moore’s upcoming programs as part of her Australian National Academy of Music residency, I admittedly marvelled at the works she’s set to present – from an Andriessen Australian premiere, to a Wallace work inspired by the sentiment: “Chopin walked into a bar, ordered a whisky and headed straight for the pinball machine”.

But there’s plenty of decision-making that leads to the presentation of these works over, for instance, a familiar piece by Beethoven or Mozart.

In this interview, this Canberra-born, New York-based artist tells us exactly what to expect from her upcoming performances Workers Union (4 May), and Piano Pictures (9 May).

She also tells us how her choice of music represents her broader feelings about diversity in music programming today, and the relentless battle between old and new. After all, as Lisa asks, “why create limits?”.

Lisa captured by Yumiko Izu.

Lisa, last time we touched base you’d released a new album dedicated to new music. How has it been received in the time since, by the music community and beyond?

Thanks for checking in about this. It’s been a gradual, upward journey for the Preludes Op. 8 CD. We recently received a warm notice from WNYC New Sounds and a rave in depth review by Stephen Mould in Loudmouth.

You’ll perform some new music with ANAM soon, too. Tell us about the programs.

Designing concert programs is an art; a delicate balancing act between the audience expectations, style of works, composers, thematic choices, presenters needs and guidelines, time constraints, and repertoire. Many of my friends are composers, so sometimes the choices are painful. The piano repertoire is vast, and it’s usually not hard to find strong, unique music. It’s a question of meeting a happy medium between all the forces and having time to develop ideas.

I prefer not being told what to play. As I have entered the second half of my life I try to only play music I like and choose. Being a pianist is a labour of love, and piano playing is high maintenance. You are wedded to the bench. I’ve remained independent throughout my career partly to maintain as much control as possible over my programming.

There are two chamber concerts related to my ANAM April 30-May 9 residency, in addition to five solo concerts during my upcoming April-May tour. In the two upcoming ANAM chamber concerts, I was honoured to design inventive programs in collaboration with MRC and ANAM.

The first, Workers Union, is in Melbourne’s Metropolis Festival. This will be a dramatic ensemble concert featuring two landmark, radical works from the 1970s musical counter-culture […and] the Australian premiere of Andriessen’s Langzame Verjardaag (‘Slow Birthday’), tipping our hats to his 80th birthday.

The second concert Piano Pictures is for six grand pianos playing in a circle together. Five ANAM pianists and myself will form a “band of grands”. Heavens will be shifted to get six [grand] pianos into the South Melbourne Town Hall. (Thank you, ANAM!) Keep in mind: piano sextet repertoire is not something you just pick up at your local music store. The majority of these works have been written, or arranged, especially for my piano sextet in NYC, Grand Band.

What does it mean to you to perform new music in an educational environment?

We all learn from each other. This particular educational environment verges on the cutting edge of professionalism, given the extremely high standard of ANAM musicians. It’s always a great pleasure to meet young artists and feed off their energy, enthusiasm, and insight. It keeps me young(er), and I’m happy to pass on any tips I have learnt along the way to open- and like-minded souls. It’s so important for youthful artists to have mentors or examples of people who have survived the so-called business over time.

New music is normal practice in other genres such as pop, jazz, folk, rock, and hip-hop. I think all classical musicians should play new music. You meet new people, hear new sounds, and challenge your mind and technique. Why limit oneself?

All music was new at one time. When I play traditional music, I imagine the composer is alive in the room with me. This brings the music alive.

Your collaborator Paul Kerekes created a fresh arrangement of the Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition for Piano Pictures at ANAM – with six pianos, no less. Why did this particular piece need another arrangement, and in this form?

This is the only piano sextet arrangement of Pictures at an Exhibition. A few years ago, Grand Band was seeking ‘classical’ offerings for our artist management, so it could pitch concerts to more conservative presenters. Piano sextets are a scary concept for presenters, even though six pianos are easier to acquire/borrow than one might imagine. I proposed building a program of classical arrangements, given there are not many piano sextet works in libraries. Pictures was suggested, and Paul Kerekes – a GB member and wonderful composer – ran with it.

The tunes are so good, and the sonic resonance is extraordinary. We knew dividing and amplifying that work for six pianos would work. The chamber music skills required are challenging, but the arrangement sounds brilliant. We programmed Pictures with three movements from The Planets (Holst), and also adapted a piano duo Bernstein arrangement of West Side Story – ‘souping’ it up for six players.The program was called Sound Arrangements. People loved it. We happily received standing ovations in both Detroit DIA and Lansdale PA.

As a performer who specialises in the presentation of new music, what do you need from an arrangement of older works?

Arrangements offer audiences and players a ‘new take’ – a fresh listen to an old favourite. Many classical works can be (and have been) adapted for other instruments quite successfully. Arrangements offer players opportunities to perform works not written for their instrument, or works they might not ordinarily have time to prepare as a solo. I have performed Pictures at an Exhibition in the original solo version, but it takes extraordinary energy.

There’s a lot of discussion about the over-performance of older works on concert programs. But as an advocate for new music, how do you feel old and new music can coexist in harmony?

I often mix and match my programs with traditional and new music. I also mix in voice, and multi-media. Musicians program works they want to play. The Western musical canon is rich, and it survives because musicians want to keep playing it. Yes, it would be wonderful to hear more 20th- and 21st-Century works performed by orchestras. I was recently part of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s program with phenomenal works by Janacek, Bartok, and Reich. Unfortunately, that’s quite a rare event.

Personally, I enjoy imagining another time-world from the one we live in. I try not to take trending thinking on programming too much to heart. At my stage, I’ve heard it all. Trends come and go. The repertoire is huge and fantastic. Why create limits?

Another point I’d like to raise is that, due to the declining levels of music education in schools and universities, many young people – even musicians – have lost touch with music history, and especially the wonderful traditional piano music out there. So, it’s nice to remind them of the great timeline preceding us. Audiences are usually pleasantly surprised. I’ve never had a listener say, ‘I didn’t care for the mix of old and new’. In fact, it’s been the opposite. Audiences love variety.

What does your selection of music tell us about your identity as a performer?

If I have a mission, it is simply to move listeners, to bring music to their ears, and to move people away (for an hour or two) from daily stresses. If more people listened to music, there would be less war, and more bridges for living together on this beautiful planet.

I like my professional life to have a lot of musical variety. I strive to diversify, play all genres, explore new directions, experiment, listen, challenge, and ultimately get right inside the music. My mission is to keep practising and playing music, no matter what era it was born in. I am committed to exploring the new and the traditional – living composers’ works, as well as composers who have passed on.

I will continue to work with living composers of all genders, race, age, sexual preference, traditions, and backgrounds.

When you perform at ANAM, what are you going to explore with the emerging artists?

In preparation for the two ANAM concerts mentioned above, we will be together rehearsing, collaborating, discovering, building ensemble team work, and sharing ideas in masterclasses and individual lessons.

What’s your favourite work on the program, and why?

Hard to say. I don’t really have favourites. It’s all grand. However, if I had to choose, perhaps the Ben Wallace piano sextet Fryderyk Chopin’s Psychaecadelic Technicolor ‘Electro-Funk-Core Superstar Lit Ultra-Throwdown on Op. 28 No. 4. It makes me smile. Serious classical music doesn’t often do that – that’s not a bad thing, but it takes a special talent to make musical jokes. Ben Wallace has that. The title alone makes me happy.

Is there anything else you’d like to add for emerging pianists looking to perform new music like you do?

Go for it. Jump in. Grab a composer and ask them to write you a piece. Or write a piece yourself. There’s no time like the present. And please come hear me play and chat afterwards!

Lisa Moore will perform in Workers Union, 6pm May 4 as part of the Metropolis New Music Festival in the Melbourne Recital Centre, and in Piano Pictures at 7.30pm May 9 at ANAM, South Melbourne Town Hall.