The Encounter That Put the Pianist Kelly Moran on an Unexpected Path

Kelly Moran’s “Moves in the Field,” due March 29, is her first album in six years. (Photo: Brian Karlsson for The New York Times)

The 36-year-old musician helped introduce the prepared piano to fresh audiences. Amid personal upheaval, she abandoned it and found a new voice.

By Grayson Haver Currin |


As spring 2022 bloomed, Irena Wang emailed the pianist Kelly Moran to ask for a mixtape.

They had briefly met just days before — at the funeral of Wang’s partner of seven years and Moran’s high-school sweetheart in the little Long Island town where they grew up. He had died from an accidental overdose, eight months after becoming a father.

“He was my first love, my first heartbreak, my first everything,” Moran remembered one evening after dark in Yamaha’s sprawling Midtown Manhattan piano studio in early February, a week before she turned 36. “I saw his widow and infant son, and it was one of the saddest moments of my life.”

Wang’s husband, Damian, had always bragged about Moran, and even accompanied Wang to see her play with Oneohtrix Point Never in Los Angeles. After the funeral, Wang sent her an email: “I really want to know you, but I need some time. Can you maybe recommend some music?”

Moran dumped 28 albums into Dropbox. That stylistic tangle — the serene throb of Gas’s “Pop,” the mesmeric pull of John Adams’s “The Dharma at Big Sur,” the magnetic oddities of Broadcast’s “Tender Buttons” — was the tentative first step of what became a friendship between Moran and Wang, and is now a family. Late last year, they moved in together; with Luka, Wang and Damian’s son, the members of this unorthodox trio have empowered one another past the shadow of grief.

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Posted Date: 
Wednesday, March 27, 2024