Piano Lessons by Anna Goldsworthy

I finished reading Anna Goldsworthy’s award-winning memoir Piano Lessons last month.

I thought it unique in that memoir, for me, tends to lack in emotion compared to fiction, which I’ve never understood: if memoir recounts a true story written by the actual participant, shouldn’t it brim with passion for being so personal? Somehow it seems to fall short.

Not so with Piano Lessons; it is the most heartfelt memoir I’ve come across. And now, in this stage production of the book, Goldsworthy takes the feeling one step further. But really, how could she not? She has added music.

The story begins with Anna as a nine year-old girl meeting her piano teacher, Eleonora Sivan, for the first time, and what follows is an enduring relationship between the two, as well as between Anna and the piano.

Sivan’s eccentricity lies in her Russian accent and the way she interrupts Anna’s playing with an abrupt, “not” again and again, but her strength as a character lies in her wisdom of music. She does not simply teach Anna to play; she teaches her the philosophy of playing. Helen Howard portrays Sivan fiercely and with great gentleness. Her work as a voice and accent coach certainly shines through.

Goldsworthy stars as herself in the production. She is an acclaimed concert pianist, having played to audiences around Australia and internationally, so she is, of course, a professional. Still, I was struck by her natural presentation.

The dialogue between the two characters is moving, intellectual and simultaneously playful, which aptly describes the piano playing, too. The story begins with a strong focus on narrative with samples of piano, and moves to full sonatas with very few words in between. In this way, we follow the trajectory of Goldsworthy’s perception of herself as pianist; it becomes more consuming as she grows.

The Liszt piece, for me the point of her transition, is extraordinary, and is a heady reminder that Goldsworthy is one of Australia’s finest pianists.

 Piano Lessons, part of the 2015 Adelaide Cabaret Festival program, plays at the Space Theatre today (Sunday) at 2.30pm and Monday at 2pm.

 More Adelaide Cabaret Festival stories and reviews here.

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