So Much Myself: Piano Portraits shines new light on archival footage of memorable women

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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.

So Much Myself: Piano Portraits

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.

So Much Myself: Piano Portraits
Image: Tony Lewis Marie Curie also features in So Much Myself: Piano Portraits

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.


More Adelaide Festival content

Messa da Requiem: a feast for the senses

The Cage Project: piano as you’ve never heard it before

Cédric Tiberghien is coming to Australia for recitals and the world premiere of The Cage Project

So Much Myself: Piano Portraits at Adelaide Festival tells a millennium of stories celebrating discovery and courage



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The Cage Project: piano as you’ve never heard it before

Reading Time: 5 minutes

After making its world premiere at Perth Festival last week, The Cage Project is now concluding its Australian season at Adelaide Festival. We saw it last night and tonight is your last chance to see it.

The Cage Project fait découvrir les Sonates et Interludes du compositeur américain John Cage à de nouveaux publics. Cet opus de 70 minutes a été créé pour piano préparé, c’est-à-dire un piano qui a été préparé en y insérant divers objets pour donner au piano un son plus percussif. Bacchanale, qui précède Sonatas and Interludes, est la pièce la plus célèbre de Cage. Pour la créer, il a préparé le piano avec des vis, des boulons, des écrous, du plastique et du caoutchouc. Le schéma ci-dessous permet de voir où les différents objets doivent être placés entre les cordes du piano.

The preparations required for Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes however were even more complex taking two to three hours to do. 45 notes are altered with bolts, rubber, plastic, nuts and an eraser placed into the piano. The process is of course risky as you could potentially damage the strings. When properly done and then unprepared, that is everything removed, you shouldn’t be able to tell that the piano had ever been prepared. In The Cage Project, the inside lid of the grand piano is mirrored which allows to see some of the objects placed inside the piano to “prepare” it.


The Cage Project brings together French pianist Cédric Tiberghien and Australian percussionist, composer and artist who creates expansive sculptural musical worlds, Mattias Schack-Arnott. For the show, Schack-Arnott has created a massive kinetic sculpture suspended above Tiberghien’s piano that rings and chimes in synchronicity.


Tiberghien introduces himself and Cage’s work and explains at the outset that Schack-Arnott’s structure is controlled by the piano and that he, Tiberghien is the master of the instrument. Cage had taken an interest in Indian philosophy at the time he created Sonatas and Interludes and it is said to be comprised of 4 white emotions, 4 black emotions and number 9: tranquillity. Tiberghien described it as an exploration and kind of meditation on the emotions and finding inner peace.


Tiberghien’s passion for the Cage’s work is made clear right from his introductory words but also from his facial expressions when playing it.  At times he would appear surprised, opening his mouth slightly and raising his eyebrows, at the discordant sounds that certain notes would produce, as if he were experiencing it for the first time like much of the audience. He would occasionally make dramatic hand gestures as he played the keys. The term master of the instrument is quite apt and Tiberghien appeared to take great joy in creating the sounds.

Image: Tony McDonough

For those unfamiliar with Sonatas and Interludes or with prepared piano, it’s quite astonishing to hear the sounds the piano is able to produce. At times it sounded like church bells ringing, at others like faint drumming, and at others still the higher notes of the piano sounded xylophone-like. Occasionally you would hear the familiar sound of the piano, but not often. Sometimes, you’d think you were about to hear a child’s lullaby but quickly that would change to ritual-like bells. At other times still, there was a fleeting moment of jazz piano.


About 20 minutes into the performance of The Cage Project, Schack-Arnott’s structure starts to come to life. Firstly, lights atop it illuminate and a gong-like sound is made. Throughout the 70 minute performance, the structure starts to spin faster and faster and the stage becomes brighter and brighter. At some parts of the piece, the lower part of the structure circulates almost dizzyingly fast and low and we find ourselves wondering if it will clear the lid of the grand piano and Tiberghien’s head.


As the room becomes brighter throughout the show, the audience is able to better view Schack-Arnott’s kinetic structure. From a silver chain hang long black rods from which objects are hung. On the upper levels of it, gold plates are attached horizontally. The middle level has short gold tubes attached, which produce a triangle chime like sound. The two lower black rods each have their own smaller black rods attached to them, which in turn suspend a row of silver tubes (like the gold ones above but shorter) and thin planks of wood.


From each of the 8 black rods are round metal discs of varying sizes and we wonder whether perhaps Schack-Arnott’s kinetic structure represents the 8 planets revolving around the sun, with the sun being the piano below them. Or perhaps the 8 discs are representative of the 8 emotions Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes is said to explore.


The Cage Project is sure to delight newcomers to Cage’s work as well as those well-versed in it. Tiberghien executed the work beautifully and Schack-Arnott’s kinetic structure is enchanting. See it if you get the chance – tonight is the last show! Hopefully it may tour in the future.


Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of Adelaide Festival.



WHAT: The Cage Project: Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes performed by Cédric Tiberghien with a kinetic structure by Matthias Schack-Arnott

WHEN: Only one performance left tonight Wednesday 8 March 2023 at 7pm.

WHERE: Grainger Studio, 91 Hindley Street, ADELAIDE

HOW: Purchase your tickets via the Adelaide Festival website:

HOW MUCH: Ticket prices (exclusive of booking fee) are as follows:

  • Adult $69
  • Festival Friends $59
  • Concession and MEAA Members $55
  • Under 30 years old (ID required) $35
  • Full time student (ID required) $30



Read our interview with Cédric Tiberghien here and with Sonya Lifschitz about So Much Myself: Piano Portraits here


For other events with French and Francophone links happening in Australia, check out our What’s on in March



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