Praised by the New York Times and The Age for her “dynamic” and “powerful” performances, Ukrainian-born pianist Sonya Lifschitz is internationally recognised as one of Australia’s most innovative and creative musical voices. Sonya’s Fellowship Performance, “Cosmic Mechanics” is tomorrow night, so we thought we’d catch up with her to get a preview.
Some ANAM audience members may not know a lot about you. Tell us about how you came to be an ANAM Fellow?
As a contemporary artist working within the art music scene, I am presently faced with notions of relevance and sustainability of classical music within the rapidly changing terrain of contemporary culture. I am a fierce believer that a creative, imaginative approach to performance-making and concert environments is essential to the longevity of classical music and its role as a driving cultural force. I have always seen ANAM as a powerful advocate for musical creativity and exploration, championing innovative programming, fostering exciting collaborations, and embracing musical mavericks and visionaries. In applying for this Fellowship, I hoped to become a part of this wonderful and inspiring community of musicians, to tap into its creative resources, to access a stimulating and supportive environment in which to realise my ideas/projects, and, subsequently, to contribute to the thriving artistic milieu that is ANAM.
What is your big attraction to George Crumb?
It is not an exaggeration to say that hearing and seeing George Crumb’s music performed for the first time as an undergraduate student at the Queensland Conservatorium changed my life, certainly my creative life. I had never heard the piano produce sounds, textures and timbres of such otherworldly, cosmic, mystical beauty. I had also never seen pianists play inside the piano, using its strings and its frame, plucking, strumming, knocking, vocalising, and whistling, evoking a strong sense of theatricality, choreography and dramaturgy in the performance. This was my rite of passage into the fascinating and miraculous world of contemporary music, of which I am now a fierce advocate. All these years later, Crumb’s visionary and ground-breaking MAKROKOSMOS is a staple of my concert repertoire and I am immensely excited to be sharing this music with ANAM audiences this coming Saturday.
How did you conceive the concept for this Saturday’s Cosmic Mechanics performance?
I wanted to dream up, curate, and present an evening-long festival dedicated to the music of George Crumb, and especially to the four books of his MAKROKOSMOS – a work of extraordinary imagination, inventiveness and almost mythical beauty. My vision for this project involved a close collaboration with a lighting designer and a performing artist/musical-saw sorceress Christine Johnston (known for her work in the comedy trio The Kransky Sisters), to create an experiential environment that would intensify the mystical, unique and otherworldly quality of Crumb’s music, unify the 4 performances into a seamless musical feast, infuse it with a healthy dose of humour, and illuminate the entire building into vivid, pulsing life by placing the performance of each book in a different space throughout the building. I wanted it to be a movable feast, where the audience could choose their own adventure, lose themselves in the labyrinth of mysteriously lit rooms and corridors, and immerse themselves in the soundworld of Cosmic Mechanics. And let’s not forget a culinary feast that will be part of the performance!
Tell us about some of your biggest musical accomplishments.
I feel really fortunate to have had incredible opportunities in my life. As a Fulbright Scholar I studied for 4 years with one of the world’s greatest living piano legends, Leon Fleisher, at the Peabody Conservatory of Music (USA). During those years I got to tour in America and Europe, performed Ravel’s left hand concerto with Israel Symphony Orchestra, participated in some of the most inspiring summer schools and made life-giving and enduring friendships. More recently, after completing my PhD at the University of Melbourne, I have made a debut at one of New York’s most prestigious concert series, the Bargemusic, was a resident artist at the Banff Centre in Canada, have performed regularly at the Melbourne Recital Centre, and last year I curated a multi-media project, Canzone, that premiered at the Melbourne Festival. My collaborations with living composers also feels very important to me and I am proud to have commissioned and premiered a number of new works.
Who inspires you?
I am irrepressibly drawn and inspired by fiercely creative, fearlessly inventive, path-breaking, courageous and imaginative artists. Game-changers. Thought leaders. Risk-takers. And also people of great humanity, generosity, empathy and vision. Some people have been particularly instrumental as role models for me, like the recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey and flute fiend Claire Chase. These fearless, luminous women have wrapped their entire lives around creating new paths, inventing new directions, breaking down barriers, fostering creativity, and cultivating thriving communities of artists around them. This is the kind of path I am committed to pursuing and having people who are walking on this path ahead of me, illuminating the way forward, is incredibly inspiring.
Do you have any plans for next year or beyond?
Yes, lots of exciting projects in the pipeline for end of 2016 – 2017 season! In November, I’m heading to New York to perform with the incredible pianist Lisa Moore (well known to ANAM community from her numerous visits and residencies). We are doing Bach’s Goldberg Variations reimagined for two pianos by another hero of mine, a former teacher, current chamber-music partner and ANAM faculty, Stephen Emmerson. After that I’m planning another residency at the Banff Centre – a utopian oasis for artists. When I return, I head to Canberra to premiere a new project I am developing with composer Robert Davidson at the Canberra International Music Festival (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXN_ ZNEMatQ). I then step into Bach world for a project at the Melbourne Recital Centre before heading to Brisbane for the Queensland Music Festival to present the Cosmic Mechanics. And so it goes!
See Sonya and a host of other wonderful musicians in tomorrow night’s performance of Cosmic Mechanics
Saturday 15 October 7:30pm
South Melbourne Town Hall
Tickets available on the web or at the door. Box Office opens one hour prior to event.
Photo credit: Sarah Walker