the masters of regeneration

chris reid: eleonora sivan and larry sitsky’s the golden dawn

THE PINNACLE OF MUSIC MAKING IS SURELY THE SOLO PIANO PERFORMANCE. IT IS FOR THE PIANO THAT THE GREATEST MUSIC IS WRITTEN, AND WHEN VIRTUOSO PIANIST MEETS LEGENDARY COMPOSER—RICHTER AND BACH, BARENBOIM AND BEETHOVEN, ARGERICH AND CHOPIN, NIKOLAYEVA AND SHOSTAKOVICH—MAGIC HAPPENS. MUSICAL RECEPTION INVOLVES EMOTIONAL PERCEPTION. THE COMPOSER WRITES TO ELICIT EMOTIONAL STATES AND THE PIANIST CONNECTS THE LISTENER TO THE COMPOSER THROUGH HERSELF.

Pianists need more than a high level of technical facility. Indeed, they can’t fully realise the music until they can transcend the score, find the composer’s voice and use it to tell their own story. When buying a recording, I used to look for the ‘best’ rendition of the work, but soon found that many renditions will appeal in their own ways. You meet a unique and engaging individual, the pianist, who introduces herself through another unique and engaging individual, the composer.

The pianist’s teacher empowers and inspires the pianist to find the composer’s voice and her own voice. To become adept is a lifetime’s work, a vocation. In her insightful and uplifting memoir Piano Lessons (Black Inc, 2009), Anna Goldsworthy reveals that her own teacher, Eleonora Sivan, teaches the philosophy of life, and describes how her teaching creates the pianist.

Inspired by meeting Eleonora Sivan and some of her former students at a music teachers’ conference, composer Larry Sitsky wrote a seven-movement suite, The Golden Dawn, each movement of which would be performed by one of Sivan’s former students—Goldsworthy, Gabriella Smart, Jane Burgess, Inna Fursa, Rosanne Hammer, Phuong Vuong and Debra Andreacchio. Sivan was a noted performer and teacher before migrating to Australia, and those students are themselves now performing and teaching, continuing a pedagogical line that can be traced back to Liszt and Czerny. Sitsky is also a teacher, having been a professor at the ANU School of Music, and was taught by masters who inculcated the Busoni tradition in him. Comparisons with the legendary Nadia Boulanger spring to mind—a teacher who could so inspire composers and performers that a whole era of development resulted.

Sitsky has written some great piano works, his The Way of the Seeker, wonderfully recorded by Michael Kieran Harvey, being a notable example. The idea of writing a work that celebrates the master teacher is uncommon in Western culture, but appropriately acknowledges the importance of teaching. In this concert, each pianist ceremonially paid homage to her teacher by giving her allotted movement a sparkling premiere performance.

For Sitsky, music is fundamental to life itself and is inextricably linked with mysticism. He named the suite after an early 20th century magical society in England, the Golden Dawn. The society used an esoteric language, Enochian, from which the names of the various movements were taken. The work is powerfully expressive, and the character of each movement is reflected in its title. The opening movement, Mahorela (Dark Heavens) begins with a slow, hammering bass and develops into a series of short, stabbing gestures as a call to action. The second movement, Malpirgi (Fiery Darts) begins with a loud bass gesture followed by cascades down the keyboard, fleeting figures and rapidly repeated notes. Vinu (Invoke) is slow and rhythmic, and Ser (Lamentation) is dreamily mournful. Luciftias (Brightness) starts with quiet tinkling and gains in complexity and Yor (Roar) growls and bellows. The final movement, Vaoan (Truth) is measured and speech-like, returning to the bell-like tones of earlier movements. Recurring forms and motifs connect the movements. The black-clad pianists sit closely around the piano, which, given the magical theme of the music, resembles a three-legged cauldron from whose depths they conjure. This is an enchanting event, and the playing is superb.

This performance is followed by delightful renderings of Sitsky’s Fantasias No. 11, E and No. 4, Arch, played by Smart, and No 7, on a Theme of Lizst, by Goldsworthy, demonstrating the range and depth of his composition.

The Golden Dawn celebrates both a school and group performance. The seven pianists approach the composition in their own ways. Should they change places, the result might be different musically, but no less resolved. The next generation is establishing itself; for example Marianna Grynchuk, a student of both Sivan and Smart, is giving articulate and persuasive performances. Each pianist brings to her playing her own emotional range and expressive style, her own consciousness.

The Golden Dawn is a consummation of elemental life forces. Afterwards, both Eleonora Sivan and Professor Sitsky seem well pleased and the gathering of teachers, composers, musicians and listeners rejoices.

Larry Sitsky, The Golden Dawn, performers Anna Goldsworthy, Gabriella Smart, Jane Burgess, Inna Fursa, Rosanne Hammer, Phuong Vuong, Debra Andreacchio, Hartley Concert Room, University of Adelaide, Nov 27, 2010

Chris Reid’s review of Sitsky’s The Way of the Seeker appeared in RealTime 78.

RealTime issue #101 Feb-March 2011 pg. 51

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2011
Close

Join our e-dition list

Sign up for free online e-ditions offering occasional reviews and commentary and curated selections from and response to the RealTime archive 1994-2017.