On the Couch with Sonya Lifschitz

Sonya Lifschitz Stalin's PianoWho is Sonya Lifschitz?
A musician, piano maverick, serial collaborator, artistic director, educator, radio personality and arts advocate. She works across many contexts, with repertoire spanning from 15th century Faenza Codex to works written for her today. She is known for her fierce imagination and bold, daring collaborations across film, animation, spoken word, visual and performance arts. This year she’s performed in venues as diverse as the London’s Barbican Centre, Sydney’s City Recital Hall, Rotterdam’s De Doelen, an old converted prison in Hobart, a tiny gallery in Deloraine (in Tassie), on  Stradbroke  Island, and up in the spectacular Adelaide Hills. A critic has recently described her as “a life force of extraordinary density and capacity” – something she hopes to live up to through her work and art.

What would you do differently to what you do now?
If I wasn’t married to the piano and the arts, I would pursue my childhood passion for figure-skating, and grow pumpkins in my backyard (if I had enough money to buy a house with a backyard and time to tend to the veggies). But given that I’d probably get equally obsessed with and neurotic about perfecting my figure-skating skills and mastering vegetable growing techniques, I might as well stick to making music.

Who inspires you and why?
I am irrepressibly drawn and inspired by fiercely creative, fearlessly inventive, path-breaking, courageous and imaginative artists. Game-changers. Thought leaders. Risk-takers. And also people of great humanity, generosity, empathy and vision. Some people have been particularly instrumental as role models for me, like the recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey and flute fiend Claire Chase. These fearless, luminous women have wrapped their entire lives around creating new paths, inventing new directions, breaking down barriers, fostering creativity, and cultivating thriving communities of artists around them. This is the kind of path I am committed to pursuing and having people who are walking on this path ahead of me, illuminating the way forward, is incredibly inspiring.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
Recycle. Compost. Go to climate change strikes. Make art that moves people and uplifts their lives, even if in tiniest of ways. Donate money to animal protection charities. Plant trees. Consider people who are not as privileged as me. Bring my own shopping bags to the shops. Take a bus instead of driving. And practice kindness, every single day – kindness is what heals us, connects us, supports us, and enables us to flourish.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
The Dead Sea in Israel. Because it’s as close as I’ve ever felt to complete rapture, with the majestic Judean Desert behind me, the spellbinding, mysterious Jordanian mountains in front of me, the pastel-coloured sea in between, and an iridescent, golden, dazzling and UV-free sun above me.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
In Melbourne, the Abbotsford Convent and the Collingwood Children’s Farm. It’s got everything – stillness, beauty, animals, good food, community feeling, bike paths, veggie patches, walks, and art.

What are you currently reading?
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Not for the faint-hearted…

What are you currently listening to?
Right now I’m listening to Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for violin performed by the legendary Yehudi Menuhin.

Happiness is?
Happiness is “having things right in your life and knowing why”, as the great poet William Stafford put it.  He was talking about wisdom, but I think that’s a perfect definition of happiness too. There are so many levels of happiness… big, overarching, existential happiness, a feeling of wholeness, of deep wellbeing and contentment, which is a life-long work-in-progress for most of us I’d imagine; and then there are the small daily happinesses – a good, productive practice session; a well-played concert; a heart-felt conversation with a dear friend; something you’ve worked hard for finally coming to fruition; being greeted at the door by your beloved pet… these are the more fleeting types of happiness that come and go and grace our lives from time to time. I think one of the main tenets of happiness would have to be the capacity to care passionately but hold lightly… knowing everything is impermanent.

What does the future hold for you?
Who knows… But what I do know is that I love the job I currently have running the music performance/creative practice program at the University of NSW. I adore my colleagues and my students there and the work I’m able to do with them. There are some very exciting projects in the pipeline, both at home and abroad. And there’s always that option of moving to the country and growing those pumpkins!

Sonya presents Stalin’s Piano at the Melbourne Recital Centre on Thursday 17 October as part of the 2019 Melbourne International Arts Festival. For more information, visit: www.festival.melbourne for details.

Image: Sonya Lifschitz – photo by Paul McMillan