Live review: My Heart @ Melbourne Fringe Festival

Lewis Ingham reviews



My Heart: 2017 Melbourne Fringe Festival
Works by Danaë Killian, Schoenberg, Howard Dillon, Christine McCombe, Amelia Barden, Colin McKellar, Gregers Brinch, and Evan Lawson
Danaë Killian (piano)
St Stephen’s Anglican Church, Richmond, 29 September

What’d you miss?

  • Australian and world premieres
  • Poetry and piano
  • A performance evoking themes of “night-wandering, soul-homelessness, and starry yearning” 


Danaë Killian’s voice resonates around the vaulted ceilings of St Stephen’s Anglican Church. Dressed in a long flowing robe, there is a sense that the pianist is giving a sermon as she recites a poem as part of her composition My Prussian Blue Heart (2017). This composition in three movements is divided up throughout the program, allowing the pianist to develop an overall structure for her entire concert, My Heart; a performance evoking themes of “night-wandering, soul-homelessness, and starry yearning”.

What is so effective about the first movement of My Prussian Blue Heart is Killian’s absence from the piano. The performer sits at the foot of the altar, arranging a set of tarot cards and reciting a poem inspired by Mein Herz (‘My Heart’), a novel-in-letters by German expressionist poet Else Lasker-Schüler. Whether intentional or not, Killian’s composition sets up an audience expectation that My Heart will not just be a recital of individual works with pleasant clapping in between each. The performance becomes a continuous presentation of works which could be perceived and appreciated through the words of Killian and Lasker-Schüler, and then through the distinct style of the first piano work of the program: Arnold Schoenberg’s Drei Klavierstüke (1909).

Having recorded Schoenberg’s complete works for solo piano, Killian is as comfortable as she is captivating as she navigates her way through Drei Klavierstüke. Her control over dynamics gives so much expression and mood to the colourful atonal lines in these three Schoenberg piano pieces. The pianist’s consideration towards pauses and phrasing lets held dissonances present sentiments of loneliness or yearning. Killian herself states in the concert’s program notes how Schoenberg’s wrestling-with-death impulse in the early 20th Century was destined to become a birth-giving process. My Heart sees this birth-giving process extending beyond Schoenberg’s own compositional output, with each of the other works featured in the concert clearly showing the influence of Schoenberg’s musical language.

The six pieces following Drei Klavierstüke, predominantly from Australian composers, complement Schoenberg’s language as well as Killian’s skills as a pianist. Mobius (2012) by Howard Dillon has Killian showcasing her mastery over dynamics as she plays with rapid flurries of notes, a repeating melodic cell drowning and surfacing as the composition transitions between the different registers of the piano.

The two compositions I find highly evocative of the concert’s themes are two piano miniatures by Australian composers Christine McCombe and Amelia Barden. The opening intervallic stabs of McCombe’s Asphyxed (1991) permits Killian to explore the contemplative space of this music, before slowly unfolding phrases develop into ripples of notes in the upper registers, conjuring an image of the lone figure wandering against a moonless starry backdrop, as portrayed in Killian’s poem.

Before hearing Barden’s miniature, Killian performs the second movement of My Prussian Blue Heart; this movement requiring the pianist to sing and shout whilst performing at the piano. Killian’s voice rises and wavers above the piano part, magnificent in the reverberant performance space. Unable to distinguish any words, there is a sense that Killian is crying out to the world; perhaps portraying the grief expressed by Lasker-Schüler at her unfaithful husband in Mein Herz.

Barden’s The Seventh Centre (1992) plays with sparsity and contemplation, not dissimilar to Asphyxed, whilst remaining grounded by pulsing low-register intervals. Highly effective as a follow-up to the second movement of My Prussian Blue Heart, The Seventh Centre allows Killian to dictate the fluctuation of intensity in the program, giving a solid structural backbone to the entire performance.

Birth Music (2007) by Colin McKellar provides the most contrast to the other works in the program. Absent from Birth Music is the fluidity that exists in the melodic lines of the other featured compositions. This rigidity, although providing a welcome contrast to the other works, is combined with a narrower dynamic spectrum that sees Killian’s ability with dynamics under-utilised.

Gregers Brinch’s four piece work, Two Minds (2004), brings a rapidity with its individual lines, which stretches Killian to explore density rather than sparsity, as she has in earlier works. These extremes are furthered by Sikinnis III (2015), composed by Evan Lawson, which exhibits dramatic registral shifts in a vigorous work exploring ideas of dance, joy, and sexuality. The dramatic pause Killian holds at the conclusion of this engrossing composition has the audience caught in the piano’s resonances. We are only released as she moves seamlessly into performing the third and final movement of My Prussian Blue Heart.

The third movement of this work which has permeated the entire performance removes Killian from the piano once more. The poem she now recites is tinged with melancholy and loneliness, but also with hope. The tarot cards she uses present an idea of fate, which has impact when considering this character’s loneliness. The pianist leaves the audience with the lines: “My friends in this city Melbourne – and some other cities, too – have mailed me beautiful pieces to play on my blue piano next Michaelmas night. Then, my heart will rejoice”. This is a beautiful conclusion, paying credit to the composers and highlighting Killian’s programming skills. But, mostly in these lines there appears a resolution to the concert’s themes of loneliness and soul-homelessness; and my heart rejoices at that.


Image supplied. Credit: Angus O’Callaghan.


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