STALIN’S PIANO: A composer, a piano, a virtuoso, historical footage and a wildly chilling, at times very funny, meeting of Goebbels, Ai Wei Wei, Bertholt Brecht, JFK, Stalin, Maria Yudina, Whitlam, Jackson Pollock, Robert Helpmann, Gillard, Trump and more…
In 1953 Joseph Stalin died in his bed. Found spinning on his record player was Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, a recording of the often banned and exiled Russian pianist Maria Yudina. A formidable, outspoken champion of new music and artistic freedom Yudina was famed for her vehement defiance of Stalin’s tyranny. Whilst so many of her fellow artists ‘disappeared’ or were purged by the KGB, Yudina outlasted Stalin and lived to tell her story.
Join the equally fearless and fierce pianist Sonya Lifschitz, as she fires up Australian composer Robert Davidson’s electrifying new work Stalin’s Piano. Conceived with and for the Ukranian-born virtuoso, Lifschitz deftly syncs Davidson’s collection of rousing compositions with the pulsing texts from history-shaping speeches and interviews, taking us into the heart of the ever-simmering conflict between state and individual with contributions from people as diverse as Goebbels, Ai Wei Wei, Jackson Pollock, Whitlam, Judith Wright, Frank Lloyd-Wright, Stalin and Yudina herself.
Set in twenty vignettes, this 65 minute audio-visual epic, weaves together virtuoso piano music, the recorded voices of iconic creative and political figures, archival video footage and Sonya’s spoken voice. Starting with Bertholt Brecht as he faces the House of Un-American Activities Commission and continuing through a diverse range of artists and politicians, Stalin’s Piano creates a devastating and captivating exploration of the big themes of modern history.
Davidson’s fascination with finding music in the spoken word has led to his creation of what he calls ‘speech portraiture’.
A note from the composer: “How does speech become music? It’s not through editing the speech, forcing it into a pre-conceived musical mould – rather, it’s done here through carefully attending to the speech, finding the music that is there, and using the piano as a frame in which to place the music I find – creating an accompaniment that primes perception to hear the music that for him was always there.
To me it’s a kind of portrait-making – a careful observation of a person’s voice (rather than their face) and a kind of extraction of the essential, distinctive musical style that they project into the world. It’s treating everyone as a composer – they create melodies spontaneously, unconsciously, with their spoken utterances. Sonya’s piano helps the rest of us hear those melodies.” Robert Davidson
“If you think piano recitals are dead, go and see ‘Stalin’s Piano’: Robert Davidson’s audio-visual epic of ten fingers against the inexorable sweep of history.”
Roland Peelman – Artistic Director Canberra International Music Festival
‘Stalin’s Piano’ is a riveting multi-media show. It delivers a punchy blend of satire, tragicomedy and profundity. The live, virtuosic piano playing by Sonya Lifschitz is deftly synced to rhythmic text in historical film excerpts, with original music by Robert Davidson. From Mozart to jazzy Cuban dance, the music covers a versatile range of styles – accompanying the words of artistic and political figures… Davidson and Lifschitz wrap the episodes into an attention-grabbing, fresh and entertaining 70-minute tour de force.” Lisa Moore – New York-based Australian concert pianist