Adelaide Festival had its sole performance of So Much Myself: Piano Portraits last night at the Adelaide Town Hall. A joint project between composer Robert Davidson and pianist Sonya Lifschitz, So Much Myself: Piano Portraits is the follow-up to their previous Adelaide Festival show Stalin’s Piano which received much acclaim.
Both Sonya and David each introduce the show. Sonya Liftschitz, who we interviewed (read the interview here), explains that for someone trained in the classic tradition, it’s very exciting to be able to work with a living composer. David explains that he listened to the melody and rhythm of the speech of the women chosen for So Much Myself: Piano Portraits and that we are all composers. For example, he says that Julia Gillard speaks in D Flat Major.
So Much Myself: Piano Portraits is divided into 5 parts. Each part and the sections within it contain both audio from the woman featured along with archival video footage and the composition that Robert Davidson has composed for Sonya Lifschitz to play. The composition is inspired by the tone and message of those speeches. There are also parts which are deeply personal for Sonya Lifschitz, including those in which she tells the story of her grandmother escaping Kyiv when the Nazis invaded and bombarded the towns, and the video footage of her grandmother and her great-Aunt telling their own story, and amusing the audience with their childhood anecdotes of sibling rivalry. Sadly, the images of war-torn Ukraine from the Nazi invasion are strikingly similar to those filling our screens now almost 90 years on.
We found it quite jarring at first when phrases were repeated over and over even though we understood this was serving the purpose of a chorus in a song. However, we soon adjusted to the repetition and by the time it came to Julia Gillard’s now famous misogyny speech were celebrating the repeated words. Similarly, there were times when it seemed that the piano overpowered out the voice of the person selected and then at others we were so immersed in the video and the voice of the woman that the piano fell into the backgruond.
These musical portraits range from female composers who were sisters to their better-known brother composers, Mozart and Schumann to women in a range of fields who are still alive, Patti Smith, Malouma, Greta Thunberg. We even go further back to Europe’s first playwright since antiquity, Hrotsvit, and her 10th century play of which Sonya Lifschitz performs all of the characters while playing the piano.
Sometimes the multi-media portraits selected lead perfectly into the next, at other times we are unsure of the connection from one to the other but there doesn’t necessarily need to be one. This is not a complete history of women’s views on x or y, or women in the fields of a or b. The piano compositions range from quite light in nature to dramatic depending on the subject matter being spoken about at the time. Sonya Lifschitz was not only a joy to listen to but she was also fascinating to watch as she played. Her passion for the music and the project was palpable. She would sometimes dramatically nod her head as she played particularly dramatic compositions.
In So Much Myself: Piano Portraits, what Davidson and Lifschitz have created is a powerful composition of both video, voice and piano with a few powerful messages to take home and ruminate on beyond the performance. They send the audience home with that message without being preachy. There is also comedy within the performance coming from some of the speeches. Frida Kahlo speaking about the frog-like bulging eyes of her Diego for example, or Nina Simone (from whom the title of the performance comes) speaking about taking a gun into a restaurant to try to get paid. The audience laughed loudly on those occasions.
So Much Myself: Piano Portraits is a carefully woven tapestry of women’s voices which will take you on a journey of discovery, amusement and reflection.
Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of Adelaide Festival
The Adelaide Festival season of So Much Myself: Piano Portraits has now concluded. If you get a chance to see this show in another city, we strongly recommend you do.
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So Much Myself: Piano Portraits at Adelaide Festival tells a millennium of stories celebrating discovery and courage