Last night the pianist Lisa Moore performed a tightly curated, high impact program of solo piano music (and sometimes voice). Each work had its own arc and internal organization, but what I found revelatory is the way the program as a whole told a bigger, cohesive story. There was a definite left-leaning political edge to the evening, and resistance and loss were themes that resonated for me throughout the program. What I took away from the evening is that the program is a singular time-based work of art. Yes you could drop in and out, but in order to receive the full meaning you kind of had to be there for all of it.
Lisa started with a brief work in 3 parts (Three Bagatelles Opus 1) by the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov. Here, the composer is looking over his shoulder, not with nostalgia but with longing and a sense of undoing. This work set the stage energetically and emotionally for what was to come, and was followed by Leos Janáček’s Sonata 1.x.1905 “From The Street .” Janáček, a composer whose life is worth googling, is a 19th Century artist on the brink. His language -especially in the Sonata, contains so much originality and complexity, I could already hear the sonic revolution of Claude Debussy and the devolution of traditional tonal structures which was coalescing in Europe at that time.
Frederic Rzewski is the least categorizable creator on the program: a chameleon of sounds, words and ideas. I absolutely loved hearing Lisa sing the Andrew Marvell poem – To His Coy Mistress – what a genius move to write a vocal line for the one person in the room who can barely concentrate on it, given she has to manipulate 10 fingers and 2 feet!
Alvin Curran’s alimentary aglio oglio peperoncino blues, for me, captured more the shifting nacreous clouds of a Roman sunset – going from azure to ultramarine to pink to purple to dark blue to shades of gray – all at the same time – than a plate of pasta, but, other than the non-sequitur title, I loved the piece, and Lisa’s sensitive ear got all those polychromatic registers from that piano. Did you see/hear those overtones dancing in the air just above the open piano lid? I thought I saw them. I definitely heard them!
Soomin Kim’s I’m doing well was a moment of embodied transformation. The piece circumvented my ears and went straight to my kishkes (a useful musicological term: you can look it up) where it started soft and slowly hardened into a painful unresolved mass. Artwork that the body apprehends before the mind can take over and explain the pain away needs to be paid attention to. I’m definitely going to keep an eye/ear out for Soomin Kim!
Randy Newman’s I think it’s gonna rain today and Philip Glass’ Etude no.2 are probably the most covered works on the program (and probably the most covered composers), but hearing them performed by Lisa was a new experience. Her singular, intuitive sense of timing brought a freshness and originality to these familiar pieces. This was a case of seeing something familiar in a completely new way.
The evening concluded with two works by Martin Bresnick – Ishi’s Song and Bundists – which, while individually could not be more different, together gave a more-than-the-sum-of-the-parts view into the inventiveness and artistic restlessness of the composer. Ishi’s Song, with its laser focus on a short melodic fragment from which the composer constructs an entire galaxy, while Bundists marinates the listener in Bresnick’s intellectual-visceral-humorous collage-making, which to me feels like I’m experiencing a feature film through sound only.
I’m kind of glad there was no encore. My body and heart were so full.
American Academy in Rome
Sept 30 2022