“Lisa makes my dice too small”

The piano player visiting Trondheim on Thursday, made the water flow. Not literally, but this was the experience she created.
Words: Maria Veie Sandvik

Water flowed into the cathedral, it was like a dream.
Lisa Moore performed on a podium underneath the main tower, between the northern and southern wing. Despite her considerable international standing, she radiated a humble seriousness. She’s got natural authority, not expressed through posing gestures, but through calmness. Already before her fingers hit the keys, we are focused. The audience sit on chairs that make a lot of sound even by the slightest movement, still the only sound to be heard are occasional suppressed coughs.

The programme of the evening is dedicated to Philip Glass, “the founder of minimalism”, who’s been working cross culturally with icons like Doris Lessing, David Bowie and Woody Allen. Glass himself describes his works as “music with repetitive structure”. In addition to Glass, the audience were treated to “Ishi’s Song” by Martin Bresnick and “Wed” by David Lang.

Swathed in blue light, Moore starts with Glass’ “Etude no. 2”. The first thing that springs to mind is waves, the water flows in, growing in volume and intensity. Even when Moore releases a key, the sound hangs in the air for a long time. It is really, really quiet, not even the squeaking of a chair, only the falling sound of the note.

In the pause before “Metamorphosis I-V”, I move myself to the front row. The light shifts again and gets warmer, from ocean blue to apricot. Are we as an audience being transformed? This year’s Olavsfest impresses, not only through the festival’s choice of artists, but also through how they are presented to the audience. Moore’s playing is ravishing, enchanting, alluring – it’s like we’re all dissolving and become one. And this doesn’t happen through works of dead classic composers, but some that are very much alive. Bresnick is present to hear Moore play «Ishi’s Song». Before Moore sits down by the grand piano, we hear Bresnick tell us about Ishi, who in 1911 was the last survivor of the Yahi tribe of California. Bresnick emphasized how both Ishi and himself had lost the opportunity to speak their native tongue, and described the piece as a requiem for Ishi, but also as a song of healing. What made the piece stand out even further, was that Moore used her own voice, not just the keys on the piano. I got a similar experience from Rossana Mercado-Roja’s performance “Sin Nombre” at the Konst-Tid festival in Åre a few days later. What do you do when you no longer know your native tongue?

Then, the water flows in again, running through Moore’s fingers. It fills the cathedral and lights up the windows. Moore impresses through incredibly precise touches. She’s brilliant, and time and time again I get the feeling she’s gonna leave us – through her sudden and surprising changes, long before the concert ends. Finally she leaves us for real, but we applaud her back and get “Etude no. 7” as a gift in return. With this encore by Glass we also get to hear her hammering the keys, this time with even greater contrast in her approach. It’s like history itself wells out of her piano.

Olavsfest’s festival theme, transformation, turned specific through Moore’s choice of material. Thursday night, Moore gave a voice to both Ishi, Bresnick and countless others.