Lara Kirsten in recital in Lidgetton, The KZN Midlands, December 2012 (photo: Kavish Rajpaul)

Lara Kirsten is a pianist and performance poet.

As pianist: After completing her high school career at the National School of the Arts in Johannesburg, Lara received her BMus and BMus Honours degrees (both cum laude) respectively in 2001 and 2005, at the University of Pretoria. Prof. Joseph Stanford and Dr. Wessel van Wyk were her mentors in solo piano and chamber music respectively. In 1998 she received the Piano Grade 8 certificate from UNISA with distinction. In 1999 she was awarded a SAMRO bursary for undergraduate students and received the Advanced Certificate for Piano from The Royal Schools of Music. In 2002 she received her chamber music licentiate from UNISA. She was appointed junior lecturer at the University of Pretoria where she taught piano from 2003 to 2005. From the end of 2005 to 2008 she went on tour with the improvising cellist Francois le Roux over the roads of SA, Europe and the USA. For the past decade Lara has been active as both a solo and chamber musician. She has played with musicians such as coloratura soprano Linda van Coppenhagen, soprano Gwyneth Lloyd, tenor Sandile Mabaso, clarinetist Morné van Heerden and cellist Wessel Beukes. For the last semester of 2011 she was appointed as music teacher on the full-time staff of the Roedean Girls' School in Parktown, Johannesburg.  In March, 2013 she participated in the Wakkerstroom Music Festival where she and Morné van Heerden presented the music concert The Dance. An exciting project in 2013 was trekking her piano all the way from her home in the Midlands of KZN to the AfrikaBurn festival (in the Tankwa Karoo of the Northern Cape) where she gave three open-air piano recitals. Concerts in KwaZulu-Natal include two tours with tenor Sandile Mabaso in 2013 and 2014, where they performed at venues such as the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg, the Michaelhouse Chapel in Balgowan and the Mariannhill Monastery. In March 2015 Lara performed with Sandile in Schubert’s song cycle Die Schöne Müllerin at the Woordfees in Stellenbosch. In the last year Lara has also performed at the FynArts Festival in Hermanus and the Michaelhouse Music Festival in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. For the last 4 years Lara has been based in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal from where she travels with her concert tours. She also teaches piano from her home. From 2014-2016 Lara has been invited to serve as adjudicator for the Pietermaritzburg Eisteddfod of the South African Society of Music Teachers. 
Lara’s concerts and teaching are not only focused on the existing classics, but include improvising too.

Performing as pianist and poet at the AfrikaBurn Festival, Tankwa Karoo, May 2013 (photo: Bo Duvenhage). 

As performance poet: Lara balances the strict discipline of the art music with the writing and performance of her own poetry in Afrikaans and English. On occasion she combines poetry with movement, visual art, photography and music. In August 2007 she made her debut as a performance poet with the one-woman piece Ingrid Jonker Dans Weer. She performed her first extensive installation art and poetry piece, Frames, at the Fook Festival in Somerset-East in 2008. This work consisted of eight poems which were performed in eight different rooms with dialoguing installation art, costume and movement. In 2009 she made her debut in The Netherlands in the show Op het Punt van Aanraken (featuring music improvised by Francois le Roux, photography by Carmen Gonzalez and poems written and performed by Lara). In 2009 she was commissioned to write and perform poetry for the 60th Anniversary of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, taking a strong view on what it is to be an Afrikaner today. In September of 2010 and 2011 she had the privilege to perform as pianist and poet in the Baxter concert hall in Cape Town. In 2012 a highlight was performing in the Guy Butler theatre at The Settler's Monument in Grahamstown. She has been invited to write and perform poetry for part of the opening ceremony for the International Aquarium Congress hosted at the CTICC (Cape Town International Convention Centre) in September 2012. In 2014 to 2016 she performed at the McGregor Poetry Festival. In the last festival of 2016 she performed one of her most significant pieces mond: asemrowende spelonk where Lara's body was calligraphed with excerpts from her Afrikaans poetry by calligrapher Andrew van der Merwe. Since 2009 Lara has performed as featured poet at the Off the Wall poetry sessions in Observatory, Cape Town.

Performing poetry at the opening ceremony of the International Aquarium Congress at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (with the Tygerberg Children's choir), September 2012.

From 2010 to 2012 Lara has conceived and performed one-woman poetry happenings at the annual AfrikaBurn festival hosted in the Tankwa Karoo in the Northern Cape. In 2010 she performed her two previously performed works Ingrid Jonker Dans Weer and Frames. A highlight was the piece she conceived and performed in 2011 Klei verewig / Life Vitrified which took her to the “bowels” of the earth – she half-buried herself in the soil at AfrikaBurn, from where she started a birthing process developing into a primal poetry/dance piece. With this piece Lara dialogued with the soil from which she is coming from, with her audience and herself thus attempting to reconcile various facets of the natural creative process, whilst honouring the earth and one’s identity and heritage. In 2012 she created two performance pieces for the festival - Tankwa Reflex was an art installation and performance poetry piece which consisted of 700 granny smith apples, water, a mirror mosaic and Lara’s green and white painted body. She chose over 40 different poems written by herself and other poets (including Pablo Neruda and Ian McCallum), printed, cut and laminated the poetry to drift on water contained in 30 green enamel bowls. The other piece she wrote, The Voices of the Ancestors, was a poem she performed for the burning of Temple Solace (created by the artist Simon Max Bannister).

Lara performing Tankwa Reflex at AfrikaBurn 2012 (photo: Tim Honey)

As published poet: Since 2007 Lara's poetry has been published in various editions of the South African Literary Journal New Contrast. In 2008 she became part of the Eastern Cape poet-group, Ecca, who presents readings and publishes collectively each year. In 2015 and 2016 poems by Lara Have been selected to feature in the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology.

Left: Lara performing poetry at the Guy Butler Theatre, Grahamstown, February 2012 (photo: Martin Glover). Right: Lara's piano recital in the Tankwa Karoo during the AfrikaBurn Festival, May 2013 (photo: Kenny Yu).

Lara performing in her performance poetry piece mond:asemrownede spelonk at the McGregor Poetry Festival in 2016 (photo: Daniele Debellis)