Hail the queen of the keyboard tightrope

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SHE’S been dubbed “New York’s queen of avant-garde piano” by “The New Yorker”.

Critics in the Big Apple laud her as “fearsomely game”, “a natural, compelling storyteller and “a tightrope-walker.” She’s even slapped herself in the face while playing a composition by her husband, Martin Bresnick.

She’s Lisa Moore, born and raised in Canberra, and she’ll be here for this month’s Canberra International Music Festival.

The founding pianist for the New York electro-acoustic sextet, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Moore has performed in La Scala, the Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall. She’s founded ExhAust, a collective of ex-pat Australian musicians in New York and hosts New York Public Radio’s Q2 show “Hammered.”

In other words, she’s a star.

I caught up with her at Lilli Pilli, where she was preparing to tour to Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne with Haydn, Adams, Bartok, Bresnick, Harris, Janacek, Mazzoli, Lang and Reich and to residencies at the Sydney and Queensland conservatoriums.

Although since the 1980s she has lived in the US, where she completed her bachelors, masters and doctorate, her view is broader.

“My contribution is global,” Moore insists, “all types of music are great and I try to play as many styles, eras, periods as possible… Chris Latham’s [the director of the music festival here] and mine reach to the USA, because ‘we are all in the world’.”

She believes Australia has many similarities to the US –  “young pioneer nations, breaking from the past while also identifying with ‘the old country’.”

Her feelings about Canberra are mixed, though this mellowed in 2008 when she returned to direct the “Sounds Alive” music series at The Street Theatre.

With her mother, Felicity, a curator at the National Gallery of Australia and her father, Des, a Treasury official, theirs was “a party household”. She loved playing Oliver Twist and Snow White at Girls Grammar School.

As a child she studied with Wilma McKeown, the widow of the legendary Canberra Grammar School headmaster P.J. McKeown, on whose Bechstein Moore is practising when we meet.

“By the time she was 15,” Mrs McKeown tells “CityNews”, “there was nothing more I could teach her.” She went on to study with Alan Jenkins and Larry Sitsky, but on returning from a stint with her family in London during the early 1970s, she found Canberra too quiet, eventually ending up at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Now she calls Canberra “a city of environment” and this accords perfectly with what Latham tells me.

“We want to pay tribute to the Griffin plan,” Latham enthuses, “it’s one of the great success stories; it’s as close to Utopia as you are going to get in the real world.” You can just tell that he is at heart a utopian. He likes to call Canberra “the shimmering city”.

This festival will be a celebration of our “vibrant democracy”, and at the opening ceremony, he tells “CityNews” mysteriously, “we will “bring the Griffins to life”.

Most of this will happen though music. Peter Sculthorpe’s “The Great South Land,” he says, will explore utopianism, the presence of brilliant British violinist Madeleine Mitchell will honour the Old Country, and avant-garde artists such as Moore and the Dresher Double Duo, with whom she plays, will look to the New World.

“Musicians are used to working with this idea of the perfect performance, constantly taking us to further heights,” Latham says.

In that light, Lisa Moore is the perfect exemplar.


Lisa Moore will perform between May 16 and 19 at the Canberra International Music Festival. The full festival (May 10-19) program is at cimf.org.au



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Helen Musa
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