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In Conversation with Music in the Round Performer Anna Goldsworthy

Playing since the age of nine, Anna Goldsworthy’s passion for and mastery of the piano has taken her to unforgettable and surreal places – none more surreal than the stage in which she played the role of herself in the theatre production of her best-selling memoir ‘Piano Lessons’. We chat to Anna about favourite composers, her fond memories of the Convent and more.

You began learning piano at the age of nine under Russian émigré Eleonora Sivan. How long lasting was her influence on you as a pianist?

Her influence remains with me daily, not only as a pianist but as a writer too, and also of course as a human being. She has been one of the great mentors of my life.

Sivan comes from a line of teachers dating back to 19th Century composer Franz Liszt. You’ll be performing Liszt’s ‘Rigoletto Paraphrase’ of Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’ at ‘Music in the Round’. Is this performance a nod to Sivan and her lineage?

Only in the sense that I started playing this piece again as an adult because it was part of the story I told in my book ‘Piano Lessons’, which is in itself a nod to Eleonora Sivan. After I published the book, I started presenting some the works it refers to in recitals, and this was one of them. And I found I rather enjoyed it as an adult – and saw it quite differently from how I had as a teenager.

Also, at Music in the Round you’ll be performing Prokofiev and J.S. Bach. Both composers’ music is featured on your album ‘Piano Lessons’. Have they been long-time favourites?

Bach is an ongoing source of sustenance and joy for me. He was the first composer who really spoke to me as a child, and for years I began my daily practice routine with an hour on Bach. On those occasions when I’ve strayed, he’s always led me back to music (and indeed sanity!). I love Prokofiev too – the craft, the complete absence of sentimentality, the vitality and wit and pungency – but he’s probably not as central to my world view.

The album ‘Piano Lessons’ is an accompaniment to your best-selling memoir of the same name, which was also adapted to a radio serial and a theatre / concert piece. Did you ever think your story would adapt to so many mediums?

Never! Writing the book was a private experience, in which I sought to come to terms with a number of different parts of my life. I never imagined that it would be taken up by so many, and in so many ways – my publisher joked that the action figures would be next.

In the theatre / concert production of ‘Piano Lessons’, you played the role of yourself. Did that seem surreal at the time, or a natural step for someone who takes to the stage to perform regularly?

Utterly surreal, not to mention hubristic. It’s been wonderful to step into the world of theatre (and to clock all the parallels with music) but I would never have set out to write a play about myself, starring… myself. In my defence, none of it was my idea! Deborah Conway commissioned me to turn it into a stage play for the Queensland Music Festival. The play has enjoyed a life of its own, and is about to be remounted yet again, but each time I perform it I do have at least one disorienting moment on stage: how did I come to find myself in this situation?

This is your first time performing at ‘Music in the Round’. What are you most looking forward to about performing at the Convent?

I just love the Convent. It was one of my favourite haunts when I lived in Melbourne: riding to the Collingwood Children’s Farm with my son strapped on to my bike, and then partaking of a late breakfast in its beautiful grounds. It’s a sanctuary. I always love coming and playing for 3MBS just to spend some time here!

Do you get the chance to perform many solo recitals these days?

For the last few years, my recitals seem to have fallen neatly into a pattern of about 50 per cent chamber music and 50 per cent solo. It seems about right to me. If the solo playing slips too far below this, it becomes much harder.

You’ve been performing for more than 23 years with Seraphim Trio, a group that prides itself on performing new Australian works, including those of Ian Munro, who is also performing at ‘Music in the Round’. It must be nice to share a bill with people who inspire you’re playing so directly?

Yes indeed – lovely to be playing alongside Ian, as well as the many other wonderful artists you have in store.

What projects are you working on next?

A new work of fiction; a whole bunch of solo Bach; and exciting chamber music plans for 2018.

See Anna Goldsworthy perform along with other acclaimed musicians at ‘Music in the Round 2017′, 11am – 5.45pm, Sunday 24 September at Abbotsford Convent.