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24 September 2012

Piano Between Fingers and Electronic Transformation

creative collaboration as contemporary performance practice

Sonya Lifschitz Image: Sonya Lifschitz  

As a classical musician brought up in the elite performance tradition of Western art music, I cannot help but reflect deeply on the issues of art music's sustainability and its relevance to contemporary culture. The precarious position in which art music finds itself today seems to stem from the inherently separatist model in which much of this art form is practiced. The segregation between the roles of the composer and the performer, as well as the performer and the audience, has effectively created a schism between the processes of creation, transmission and reception of music.

In my own artistic practice, the growing restlessness and disillusionment with what seemed like a tightly regulated, conservative and preservation-oriented tradition of music-making gave impetus to a PhD project in which to explore ways of blurring the lines of demarcation between the processes of construction and reproduction of musical works. My intention was to facilitate a number of new compositions for piano in a collaborative environment where the evolving musical material would be realised through an ongoing creative dialogue, a bi-directional feedback loop established between the composers and myself. With this in mind, I approached four Australian composers - Anthony Lyons, Steve Adam, Kate Neal and Damian Barbeler - who have generously and fearlessly embarked on this voyage with me over the past few years.

'Piano Between Fingers and Electronic Transformation', presented by the Astra Music Society in collaboration with Eleventh Hour Theatre (Melbourne), brings to fruition two new works by Anthony Lyons and Steve Adam. Part of Astra's 'Spring Piano Plus' series, this concert reflects my growing interest and commitment to expanding and diversifying the existing parameters of performance practice and concert culture within the Western art music context.

Anthony's Trace Elements is a collection of a half dozen pieces that run together continuously in the manner of a suite. The pieces are individually distinct from one another, with some elements of improvisation; whilst some are strictly notated, some ask for playing inside the piano, and others are more acoustic and on the keys. Sampled elements and real-time manipulation of the piano are woven through the suite. The resulting works all share a reflective atmosphere, a colliding sense of past and present, of recurring sonic fragments and trace elements stitched together.

Using both the acoustic instrument and the computer software, Steve's Ion, Chance, Star and Avion also forms an electroacoustic suite of four pieces. Drawing on contemporary sound aesthetics, the intention behind the four pieces was to create a modern-day response to the three selected piano works by Johannes Brahms. The soundscape of the suite is derived from the organising principles which revolve around the processes of sampling, fragmentation and reordering of elements extrapolated from the Brahms pieces. In many ways these processes mirror the changes in society, culture, and, most importantly, music practices since the age in which the Brahms works were composed.

I feel deeply grateful for the privileged task of realising this music in sound where the composer/ performer dyad is an inseparable expressive entity that communicates the music to the audience.

AMC resources

ASTRA Spring Piano Plus #1 (30 September at 5pm, Fitzroy, VIC) - event details in the AMC Calendar
Anthony Lyons - AMC profile
Kate Neal - AMC profile
Damian Barbeler - AMC profile

Further links

ASTRA Chamber Music Society (http://www.astramusic.org.au/)

Subjects discussed by this article:

The issues of art music’s sustainability and its relevance to contemporary societies have been of deep concern in both Sonya Lifschitz's performance as a pianist and her doctoral research work. In recent years she has commissioned and premiered numerous new large-scale works, including Kate Neal’s chamber piano concerto Particle Zoo II and Damian Barbeler’s Bright Birds. Lifschitz has appeared in music festivals both in Australia and abroad and has been a guest artist with Topology Ensemble, Arcko Symphonic Project, Astra Chamber Music Society, Collusion Ensemble and the Zurich trio. In 2007, through the generous support of Fulbright Commission, Sonya completed five years of intensive post-graduate performance studies at the Peabody Conservatory of Music (Baltimore, USA). Since returning to Australia she is becoming increasingly recognszed as an innovative and exciting musical voice in both the traditional and contemporary repertoire.


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Great article, thought-provoking and so unlike the airhead material in Limelight. Keep it up, Resonate.