Lisa Moore‘s concert last Sunday afternoon at The Center for New Music drew a standing room only crowd, and those in the audience were treated to an exceptionally well-conceived and performed program of music by living composers. Moore is a New York-based Australian, one of the founders of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, and has performed with orchestras, dance companies, and ensembles around the globe. The New Yorker dubbed her “New York’s queen of avant garde piano,” which drew my interest. She’s also a vocalist, and a large part of her repertoire are pieces for written for piano and voice, which are altogether different from lieder or art songs as the pianist and vocalist are the same. It’s a tricky feat, and one I’ve never seen performed live by a classical pianist, at least like this.
The program, entitled “from me to you” began with two instrumentals by Philip Glass, Metamorphosis I and IV, both of which feature the composer’s trademark repetitive rhythmic foundation as well as constant threads of the contemporary romanticism which runs through so much of his work but rarely gets the same level of attention. They were the only pieces Moore performed that were completely instrumental, serving to set the program’s tone and allowing the audience to focus their attention on her playing. I realized I need to revisit these pieces more, having forgotten how moving they are.
Next came Ted Hearne’s “Intimacy and Resistance,” with a text by Allison Carter which found Moore stating “my expectations are scaling back…” The combination of words and music create a number of possible meanings. I don’t know exactly what Carter had in mind, nor Hearne, and I didn’t notice whether the music actually contained some form of scales in reverse or anything like that because the words and music were taking on a more personal meaning as I listened to them, prompting me to think of my own expectations, and whether they are growing or shrinking, which is actually what I do think Carter intended. In case you were wondering, in my own case it depends on what expectations we’re talking about.
“Little Room” by William Gardiner featured a text by Moore, and a portion where she played a kind of mini vocoder. It reminded me of the outer boundaries of Rickie Lee Jones or Kate Bush’s oeuvre, like an improvisation of “Prelude to Gravity” from Jones’ The Magazine or Bush’s 50 Words for Snow. It’s music that feels atmospheric and of the elements, outdoors somehow, despite the title.
“Ishi’s Song,” a composition by Martin Bresnick based on music recorded by the Native American who was the last of his tribe and walked out of the Northwest and ended up in Berkeley a hundred years ago, was full of gorgeous, interesting tones- just beautiful music. Bresnick was in the audience, and he and his work received a well-deserved warm response.
After a break Moore returned with Brett Dean’s humorous “Equality and Prayer,” a combination of emphatic notes and Michael Leunig’s text proclaiming “All men are bastards. We will fight for equality,” leading to a wry punchline. A interlude not listed on the program followed, or maybe it was part of Dean’s piece. I don’t know, but it felt like a buffer to allow some space in front of what was coming, an acknowledgement that one can’t really segue very well from a joke into Rzewski’s De Profundis, the presence of which on the program was undeniably a major part of its allure. The chance to hear it performed live was certainly what compelled me to be there, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that.
Rzewski music doesn’t appear on too many programs. It’s challenging to play and demands much from the listener, but as I discovered after spending a lot of time listening to Rzewski Plays Rzewski: Piano Works, 1975 – 1999, it’s worth the effort (here’s an excellent review of the set by Andrew Lindemann Malone). De Profundis is a twenty-five minute excursion through the anguish and brilliance of Oscar Wilde’s famous 1895 letter written during his imprisonment for homosexuality. Rzewski’s music captures something fundamental in Wilde’s words, and Moore did both proud, turning in an exhilarating performance, full of fleeting moments instead of approaching it like an epic. When it was over it felt like only a few minutes had passed, and the audience took a moment to let it sink in before giving Moore a sustained, hearty ovation.
She followed with Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” as an encore without leaving the stage. It was a suitable, gracious way to end one of the finest programs I’ve attended this year.