Introducing The Music of Liza Lim

In April 2020, I received an email from Brian Howard, director of the Australian publisher Wildbird Music. Wildbird wanted to produce a monograph on Liza Lim’s music to add to their Australian Composers series. Liza had recommended my name to him; would I like to write it?

This was just three weeks into the first Covid lockdown and life was still rather scary and uncertain. And here was the chance not only to work on a large-scale project, but also one involving an artist whose music is very important to me. In fact, a book on Liza had been in my mind as a possible project one day, I just hadn’t thought he might publish it. I waited a beat, then bit Brian’s hand off.

Quite quickly I got the book’s overall structure worked out. Brian wanted an introduction to Liza’s music that was detailed and focused on the scores, but also appealing to a student audience. Based on the other books in Wildbird’s series (on Nigel Butterley, Richard Meale, Peter Sculthorpe and Carl Vine), I settled on chapters for different performance forces (solo, chamber, vocal, orchestral, installation and stage music) and began drawing up lists of works that could be covered in each chapter, based on a general principle of trying to show as much range in Liza’s work and in the themes her music addresses. Each chapter would be chronological, and the whole book would grow in scale, from the short viola solo Amulet with which it begins, to the 2016 opera Tree of Codes with which it ends. As I wrote, I would try to add layers of understanding with each new piece. And that was all I needed to get started. Unusually for me, I wrote it from beginning to end, which I hope conveys some sense of discovery and exploration, as well as of a continuing thread (or bundle of threads), which is how I see Liza’s overall body of work.

Of course, there were some shifts and changes along the way: some of the running themes only became apparent midway through the project and had to be retrospectively inserted into earlier chapters. The chapter on installations moved several times before finding its final position. And, pertinently for this blog, analyses of three pieces were taken out of the book entirely, primarily for reasons of space.

On 11 September I will be in Berlin for Ensemblekollektiv Berlin’s performance of Liza’s Machine for Contacting the Dead, as well as works by Xenakis and Iannotta. This concert is also doubling up as a launch event for the book and beforehand, at 4:10pm, I will be interviewed by SWR’s Leonie Reinecke and will be doing some signings and what have you. The book is available for pre-order from Wildbird’s website until then.

Until then, I will be posting those three unused analyses as bonus content here over the next few days, starting on Friday with Liza’s short gift to the Arditti Quartet, The Weaver’s Knot. Stay tuned! And if you’re in Berlin on the 11th, come and say hi.

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