It’s not often that classical piano feels inviting, accessible, future-facing and, above all, empowering. But internationally-acclaimed pianist Sonya Lifschitz, alongside composer Robert Davidson, has done exactly that.
Echoing throughout Fairfax Theatre on Sunday 7 May, as part of the Canberra International Music Festival’s 2023 line up, Sonya and Robert will showcase the power and multifaceted nature of the piano with their five-part immersive experience, .
Through a delicate balance of film, audio recordings, and carefully considered musical compositions, the work gives voice to generations of women who have shaped (and continue to shape) our society, culture, and our world. From 20th-century pioneers, trailblazing scientists such as Marie Curie, artistic visions of musician Nellie Melba, and the bravery of contemporary figures such as Julia Gillard and Greta Thunberg.
So Much Myself: Piano Portraits is just one of the many highlights of the 2023 Canberra International Music Festival, where sound not only becomes a vessel to inspire but transports us around the globe—no passport needed. From the Yorkshire-based Brodsky Quartet whisking us off to the UK, to Quatuor Van Kuijk, whose French string quartet feels like an effortless journey across European borders, and didgeridoo legend William Barton who will powerfully bring us back home.
With over 150 artists, 28 concerts, and ten full days of magical magic music making from 28 April – 7 May, the CIMF will continue its legacy of pushing boundaries, rousing fresh perspectives, and using artistry as a means for change—a vision so masterfully brought to life by Sonya and Robert within this multimedia-rich body of work.
“Our show is full of trailblazing female artists, scientists, politicians, and public figures who really brought their fullest selves to challenge traditions, defy conventions and stand up for prejudice and bias,” explains Sonya. “And it feels like that is all of our roles. It’s always the role of the artist, especially when you have a platform to use your voice to advocate for change and advocate for better opportunities and for equality and gender equity.”
“I think it’s so empowering for [the] women of today because the show on the one hand shows how far they’ve come in terms of women’s rights and gender equality, but also, it shows how much further we still have to go.”
As each story of female resilience unfolds, Sonya captures their emotions on stage, absorbing their pain and strength while finding gorgeousl- paced rhythms within their words. Pulsing with the same raw, untapped feminine power that’s so unsettling to those who would seek to contain it.
However, it’s when Sonya connects with the voices of her Ukrainian Grandmother and Great Aunt that the event takes on new meaning—a tender mediation between the past and the haunting reality of Ukraine today.
“The audio is an interview that I did with them a few years ago, and they talk about escaping Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, in 1941 when Nazi Germany invaded and the bombs fell in Kyiv. And the incredibly extraordinary thing about that is that they might as well have described Kyiv 2023 as we see today.”
“So I wanted to use my own voice as an artist to highlight and draw people’s attention to what’s happening and to pay attention to what’s happening in that part of the world.”
Binding together these emotional layers and interwoven multimedia elements is, of course, the beating heart of this production—the piano. It’s what Sonya describes as a “golden thread” that bends and weaves alongside the multidimensional and intimately connects with the audiences—creating more than just an architect of resistance but a work of art.
“The glue and the senior of the work is the piano because if there were only recorded speeches of this woman, it would be a lovely kind of documentary experience of watching a lot of archival material and hearing inspiring stories, but what makes it a work of art, is a lot of performance elements and of course the piano. I think it’s a golden thread throughout the show that connects everything together and synthesises everything so the work can speak directly to the audience.”
The power of Sonya and Roberts’s work can also be found in their ability to transform piano music into something that feels accessible, inviting, and, above all, modern. And for Sonya, this is what the Canberra International Music Festival is about—using sound to paint musical portraits of our contemporary world that can connect with us all.
All that’s left to do is to listen.
“I have a very special relationship with the festival—it always feels like a family,” reflects Sonya. “There are such beautiful people involved, and because it’s quite intimate, it has a family feel where you feel embraced by the festival.”
“And I think the importance of festivals like this for Canberra (and for any city) is that it inspires people, it uplifts, people, it gives people a different perspective to their own. It brings culture, and culture is the absolute lifeblood of civilization and of our lives.”
Sonya Lifschitz’s So Much Myself: Piano Portraits will be performed on Sunday 7 May at Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia. Find more information at cimf.org.au/shows/c19-so-much-myself
What: 2023 Canberra International Music Festival
When: 28 April – 7 May
Where: Various locations across Canberra
Feature image: Sarah Walker