The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Ukrainian pianist Valentina Lisitsa’s solo recital of music by Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and Rachmaninoff is a MUST-HEAR for piano fans. It is this Thursday night at 8 in the Wisconsin Union Theater. | November 18, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Compared to the start of many seasons, surprisingly this fall hasn’t seen a lot of piano music— either solo recitals or concertos.

The Ear says “surprisingly” because box office statistics seem to suggest that piano concerts general draw good audiences. Pianists are favorites as soloists with orchestra fans -– as you could see in October when Russian pianist Olga Kern performed a concerto by Sergei Rachmaninoff with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under conductor John DeMain to a big, enthusiastic house.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that so many people take piano lessons when they are young. Or maybe it is because the repertoire is so big, so varied and so appealing.

And, true to form, next semester promises a whole lot more piano concerts of all kinds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Salon Series at Farley’s House of Pianos.

Anyway, one piano standout of the fall is about to happen this week.

The Ukrainian-born and Ukraine-trained pianist Valentina Lisitsa (below) will perform on this Thursday night at 8 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Valentina Lisitsa

The program is an outstanding one. It features the dramatic “Tempest” Sonata in D minor, Op 31, No. 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the “Symphonic Etudes” by Robert Schumann; a medley of the late piano intermezzi and other miniatures, Op. 116 through Op. 119, by Johannes Brahms, works we hear too infrequently, possibly because they are more for the home than the concert hall; and the rarely played Piano Sonata No. 1 in D minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Tickets are $40, $42 and $45; $10 for UW-Madison students.

For more information, plus a video and some reviews, visit this link:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/season14-15/valentina-lisitsa.html

And here is a link to a story about her unusual career that appeared in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/arts/music/valentina-lisitsa-jump-starts-her-career-online.html?_r=1&

This is Valentina Lisitsa’s third appearance at the Wisconsin Union Theater. She has performed there twice when she accompanied American violinist Hillary Hahn in what The Ear found to be memorable programs that offered a wonderful balance of dynamics in a chamber music partnership.

Lisitsa_Valentina_2

Lisitsa has established a special reputation for building her live concert and recording career not through the traditional ways or by winning competitions, but through using new media. In particular, she has amassed a huge following with something like 62 million individual views of and 98,000 subscribers to  her many YouTube videos.

Valentina LIsitsa playing

So impressive was her record with YouTube, in fact, that the venerable record label Decca offered her a contract. Her first release was a live recording of a recital of music by Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin that she gave in the Royal Albert Hall in London — a recital for which she let her fans determine the program through voting on-line.

Then she recorded the complete knuckle-busting Rachmaninoff concertos, an all-Liszt album and a bestselling CD of “Chasing Pianos” by the contemporary British composer Michael Nyman, who wrote the well-known score for the popular gothic romance film “The Piano.”

valentina lisitsa and michael nyman

Here is a link to an interview Valentina Lisitsa did with NPR (National Public Radio):

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/classical-music-youtube-sensation-pianist-valentina-lisitsa-talks-with-npr-about-her-unusual-career-and-her-new-recording-of-music-by-michael-nyman-she-performs-next-season-again-at-the-wisconsin-un/

Now she has a new and nuanced recording out of the complete Etudes, Opp. 10 and 24, by Frederic Chopin plus the “Symphonic Etudes” By Robert Schumann that she will perform here. (You can hear Chopin excerpts from the new CD in a YouTube video at the bottom.) The Ear is betting that, if an encore is in the offing this Thursday night, it will be a Chopin etude or two from the new recording — perhaps a slow and poetic one, perhaps a virtuosic one, or perhaps one of both kinds.

Valentina Lisitsa Chopin Schumann etudes CD cover

Her Madison appearance features a big and difficult program. But Lisitsa has the technique and power, the chops, to bring it off. She also demonstrated how she combines that substantial power with sensitive musicality in memorable solo recitals at Farley’s House of Pianos. And she claims to have developed a keyboard method that allows her to play difficult music for long periods of time without strain or injury. To one admiring reader comment about the new YouTube etude video, she says simply: “Playing piano is easy!”

Valentina Lisitsa's hands

Well, good for her! But I say go and judge for yourself — and don’t forget to enjoy the music as much as the musician.

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