About this video: On March 5 1953, Joseph Stalin died in his bed. Spinning on his record player was Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.23, performed by his pianist of choice, the formidable Maria Yudina. An outspoken champion of new music and artistic freedom, Yudina was banned, suspended or exiled time after time. Yet, whilst so many of her fellow artists ‘disappeared’ or were purged by the KGB, Yudina outlasted Stalin and lived to tell her story. Robert Davidson’s new work, conceived with and for the Ukranian-born and equally fearless pianist Sonya Lifschitz, takes us into the heart of the ever-simmering conflict between state and individual, with contributions from people as diverse as Goebbels, Ai Wei Wei, Jackson Pollock, Whitlam and Yudina herself. Weaving together virtuoso piano music, the recorded voices of iconic creative and political figures, video and Sonya’s speaking voice, this new composition by Robert Davidson is a devastating and captivating exploration of the big themes of modern history.

Composer Robert Davidson says: It has been a fascinating journey creating Stalin’s Piano, kicking off from a fascination with the courage of Maria Yudina in her artistic resistance to tyranny. Sonya and I first really started talking about it on our long bus trips while touring with Topology in North Queensland, so the piece will forever be associated with the image of looking out the window at cane fields, glorious mountains and giant sculptures of cane toads. It’s been a genuine composer-performer collaboration, with Sonya’s creative vision very much tied to my own in selecting what stories to weave together. It’s a complex interplay between the roles of creative artist and politician – roles that seem often to overlap and mingle in diverse ways, from artists informing public policy, to politicians getting involved in artistic projects, to artists being subjugated to political agendas, to politicians seeing themselves as artists working with populations as modelling clay. There’s no set meaning to the piece, but there are many linkages between the works. The hope is that audience members find dense layers of meaning for themselves in considering these striking slices of history.

Part of the project is also about finding empathy. When we focus on words, as our thinking brains are so much in the habit of doing, we sometimes miss the deeper, emotional communication that is going on behind the words in the intonation of speech – the melodies, rhythms and timbres that communicate a lot more than just the dictionary meanings of words (as Oliver Sacks so eloquently described in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat). I find that hearing the speeches as music assists me in hearing these meanings, and hearing the person rather than just their words, or the category they represent.

Click here to learn More about Robert Davidson.

Stalin’s Piano
(protagonists/pieces – in alphabetical order)
Bertolt Brecht
Edward Estlin Cummings
Dwight Eisenhower
Julia Gillard
Joseph Goebbels
Percy Grainger
Megyn Kelly
John F. Kennedy
David Malouf
Thomas Mann
Michelle Obama
Jackson Pollock
Dmitri Shostakovich
Susan Sontag
Joseph Stalin
Donald Trump
Ai Wei Wei
Gough Whitlam
Frank Lloyd Wright
Maria Yudina

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