Review: ZOFOMOMA, Melbourne Recital Centre

With 20 fingers, 15 composers, and 15 artworks, ZOFOMOMA is a creative and jubilant spectacle.
Review: ZOFOMOMA, Melbourne Recital Centre

Pianists Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi. Image: Musica Viva.

It is fun to watch Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi play the piano. The duo, based in San Francisco, share the one instrument on an otherwise empty stage. They call themselves ‘ZOFO’, a ‘twenty-finger orchestra’, and move together with fluid precision and exceptional co-ordination. Both are charismatic performers who deploy flourishes of foot stomping and vocalisation in crescendos of tension, occasionally manipulating the internal strings of the piano to various effect. It’s a creative and jubilant spectacle to behold.


The concept of this performance, currently touring Australia, is straightforward: 15 composers from around the world were invited to submit a painting from their country, representative of their culture, with accompanying music. The results are eclectic. Each piece rolls onward with a small moment of dark screen, sometimes punctuated by one half of the pair promenading around the piano to reach the other side, then, the next image is projected high and large above the pianists. This creates a hybrid experience of art and sound; for the casual audience member, it ranges from moody discordance to orchestrated ‘chaos’ to dreamy meditation. What is advertised as a ‘walking tour through a virtual museum of modern art’ is a tossed salad of Impressionism, Minimalism, muralism, abstract expressionism and more. Relaxing into the ‘tour’ is advisable. Resistance is futile. Curiously, the depth of looking at each artwork only increases as the 70-minute performance continues, unlocking nuance in paintings that one might have sailed by in a gallery setting, or regarded only cursorily if not to one’s personal taste.

The Iranian artist Nicky Nodjumi’s 2012 painting, Inspector’s Scrutiny, complemented by Sahba Aminikia’s composition is a manic, captivating highlight; the image, juxtaposing Western-suited men with a distressed horse, evokes cultural misunderstanding and historical schism. Zimmermann’s bold dramatisation utilises her breath as a second instrument, gasping and yawping with extraordinary control.

ZOFOMOMA recalls Mussorgsky’s 1874 Pictures at an Exhibition, musical responses Mussorgsky made to drawings and watercolours by his friend Viktor Hartmann, arranged and interpreted subsequently over the years by many, notably Ravel, and more recently by Vladimir Ashkenazy. As a multimedia concept, almost like a static Fantasia, here it works particularly well to stimulate viewers not necessarily inclined toward classical music. The sonic and aesthetic textures are mixed, with some synching pleasingly, whilst others fall short of the mark. Whilst sometimes lacking in overall coherence, as might be expected given the ambition of the brief, ZOFOMOMA never ceases to engage.

3.5 stars out of 5 ★★★☆

Presented by Musica Viva
7 May 2019
Melbourne Recital Centre

Upcoming Tour Dates:
Newcastle 16 May 2019
Perth 21 May 2019
Adelaide 23 May 2019
Sydney 25 May 2019
Canberra 28 May 2019
Tickets $40-$110


Anna Westbrook

Wednesday 15 May, 2019

About the author

Anna Westbrook is an interdisciplinary queer feminist storyteller, critic, creative producer, poet, and freelance educator, currently working on her second novel and a collection of essays. She has a PhD in writing from the University of New South Wales and is the author of Dark Fires Shall Burn.