Today, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend Magazine published a “Two of Us” article about my 40 year friendship with one of Australia’s leading composers Elena Kats-Chernin – sharing of our secrets and lives.
Please have a read. Text below or online:

‘She trusted me’: When a decades-long secret is shared between two friends
ByAli Gripper
April 28, 2023

This story is part of the April 29 Edition of Good Weekend.

A passionate love of music and shared secrets has cultivated a rich friendship of more than 40 years between New York-based concert pianist Lisa Moore, 62, and Sydney composer Elena Kats-Chernin, 65.

Lisa: Elena and I were students at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music when we met in 1978. Sydney was like a sleepy country town back then. I was struck by Elena because she was just so alive. She’d arrived from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, with her family when she was 19; she had all this hair, wore capes and had an intensely European air about her. We’d drink espressos and smoke cigarettes in Piccolo Bar at Kings Cross, talking incessantly about great composers. Neither of us was interested in teaching beginners in the suburbs.

Elena’s talent and modesty irritated me a bit. But she had been supporting her family by playing the piano for dance classes from age 12. She already had this incredible work ethic.

In 1980, after our degrees, we went our separate ways. I went to New York and she went to Germany and had three children. Phone calls were expensive back then and neither of us had time to write letters, but we heard about each other’s work. She was making a name for herself as one of Australia’s most successful composers. [Kats-Chernin has written several operas, two piano concertos and compositions for many performers and ensembles, including the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.]

We reconnected, as colleagues and friends, 14 years later [in 1994] back in Australia. The old chemistry was still there. She confided that her 14-year-old son, Sanya, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. This was devastating for Elena, but she just kept going. I’d go over to her place in Coogee and in between composing on the piano she’d be making lamb cutlets for the kids. There was no ivory tower.

Elena has this enormous heart with room for so many people. I can tell her anything because she doesn’t sit in judgment. When, in 1994, I reunited with my daughter Emma, whom I’d given up for adoption when I was a year 12 teenager in Canberra in 1977, Elena was the first person I told outside my family. It was difficult for me to even get the words out.

“It’s not possessions that are important, but what you create for others to enjoy after you’ve gone – and whether you’ve been a good friend. ”
“It’s not possessions that are important, but what you create for others to enjoy after you’ve gone – and whether you’ve been a good friend. ”

My family was upset, but Elena just got it. I told her that for the last three months of the pregnancy, I stayed in my bedroom. My parents moved in an upright piano and I practised and practised and practised. In 1977, the same year Emma was born, I auditioned at the Con and was accepted. It was a gift.

‘Our relationship is almost an intuitive one these days. We only have to say a few words to understand all the emotions involved.’

Elena just listened. Like me, she has a strong survival instinct. She understood that giving up Emma was what I’d needed to do to keep going. When I told her we’d reunited, she just said, “Oh, how wonderful for you both!” She met Emma shortly afterwards and embraced her, too. When you release a secret like that, all of you is freed.

Elena came to visit me in New York once and I’ll never forget seeing the city through her eyes. She couldn’t work out how to use the revolving doors in all the apartment buildings and kept calling them revolting doors. That childlike quality is what makes her so good at what she does and keeps our friendship fresh.

Elena: I kept bumping into Lisa when we were music students. We both had lots and lots of friends. I loved her shock of blonde hair, her huge, beautiful eyes and her energy and gusto. I found it hard to understand the Australian accent, but I liked talking to Lisa because she had this beautiful, clear voice and was so articulate and engaging. We lost touch completely after our studies; our true friendship didn’t really begin until the ’90s, when we were both back in Australia again and working together.

Like a lot of people, I was in awe of her formidable talent [Moore plays with Philip Glass, the London Sinfonietta and the New York City Ballet]. She is feisty and works like a steam train but, on stage, has this vulnerability and fragility. You need both to be a performer: you’ve got to give something of yourself to the audience, to infuse the music with something.

She’s complex, too. We’d been friends for a long time and then one day in 1994, when I was about to pick her up from her hotel for a performance, she said, “Oh, just a minute, I’ve got to call my daughter, Emma.” And I said, “Excuse me?” And she said, “It’s a long story.”

I was really touched that she trusted me enough to share this secret she’d been nursing for so long. My heart completely went out to her. The yearning to meet her daughter had been so strong. They’d both been searching for each other and were both so thrilled to have each other in their lives. The next thing I knew, I was meeting Emma, too. It was so moving to see them so engaged with each other. It was as if they’d never been apart.

Lisa was really there for me when one of my sons became sick. I was in a terrible state and couldn’t work. It felt like a betrayal to concentrate on anything other than him, but she gently encouraged me to keep composing. She knew it was my lifeblood and suggested I write a piece about him [Get Well Rag]. She helped me just put one foot in front of the other. I don’t know if I’ve ever told her that.

Our relationship is almost an intuitive one these days. We seem to have a shorthand: we only have to say a few words to understand all the emotions involved. I wrote a piano concerto for her called Force Majeure, which premiered at the Sydney Conservatorium last November. [Moore and Kats-Chernin received a standing ovation.] The longer I live, the more I realise that it’s not possessions that are important, but what you create for others to enjoy after you’ve gone – and whether you’ve been a good friend.

I wish Lisa lived in Sydney: she has this energy that always makes me feel so uplifted. She was in Rome recently and sent me a photo of her enjoying a coffee in a beautiful courtyard. That’s Lisa. She has this brilliant knack of keeping us connected no matter how far away from each other we are.

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.