The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Is the Toronto Symphony censoring freedom of speech? Read about the Twitter Wars in Toronto that involve two pianists who have played in Madison.

April 18, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tweets — those messages that comes via Twitter — may be short, containing a maximum of only 140 characters.

Sample Tweet from space

But they can sure pack a wallop and get people riled up.

Consider what is happening in Toronto with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra  (below top, in a photo by John Loper) that canceled an appearance – with full payment of a concert fee  — by the Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa (below bottom).

Toronto Symphony Orchestra USE CR John Loper

Valentina Lisitsa

Lisitsa tweeted about the political situation in her native Ukraine and that apparently caused quite the stir among symphony sponsors. So the symphony canceled her performances of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff – and paid her concert fee anyway. (Rachmaninoff and this concerto are specialties of Lisitsa, as you can hear on the YouTube video at the bottom)

Locally, Lisitsa — known for her power, endurance and phenomenal technique as well as her savvy use of YouTube to establish a career — has played several times at the Wisconsin Union Theater and at Farley’s House of Pianos.

Then the Toronto Symphony tried to engage pianist-composer Stewart Goodyear (below), who is famous for doing marathons in which he plays all 32 piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven in one day. He has performed several times with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Goodyear

Anyway, here is a terrific account of the story — with great reporting and writing from Anastasia Tsioulcas — that was posted on Deceptive Cadence, the outstanding classical music blog that is on NPR (National Public Radio).

Here is the link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/04/09/398571112/twitter-outrage-takes-toronto-canceling-two-pianists

What do you think of this dust-up?

Was Lisitsa treated fairly?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Bummer!!! The recent recital by YouTube sensation Valentina Lisitsa proved tedious and showed that great pianists aren’t always great musicians.

November 24, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Valentina Lisitsa (below), the Ukraine-born pianist who has become a YouTube sensation, played a recital here last Thursday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. It featured music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Valentina Lisitsa

All four men were accomplished pianists as well as composers.

So you would have thought that nothing could go wrong.

But it did.

Big time.

From the time she took the stage, Valentina Lisitsa seemed ill-at-ease and unsure of what to do musically. What resulted was a very long concert with too much boredom and tedium.

Her default position seemed to be to play a lot, and then play some more. It turned out to be more like a marathon or a 19th-century “monster concert” than a typical piano recital. I don’t know what the intent of her program was except perhaps to show off her undeniable stamina.

Valentina LIsitsa playing

True, the “new media” phenom, who has a clear gift for self-promotion and who attracts avid groupie-like fans to her many YouTube videos and concerts, played for the better part of three hours and never seemed to break a sweat, even in the most difficult pieces.

But I have to concur with The Wise Piano Teacher who said: “It was the worst piano recital I’ve heard in my life, and I’ve heard a lot of them. I came home angry.”

The teacher wasn’t alone.

Except for a few of the miniature intermezzi by Brahms and a few of the ingenious etudes by Schumann, the piano playing seemed disjointed and the music too often lacked musicality.

Now, my instinct is to be generous and to make allowances. Maybe it was just an “off” night. Or maybe she felt ill or sick. Or maybe she has been overbooked or underrehearsed in recent weeks.

I do know that I have heard Lisitsa play much better, though she seemed at her best when she accompanied the gifted American violinist Hilary Hahn (below), who perhaps gave her some interpretive direction.

hilary_hahn

The Ear kept thinking of the response by Vladimir Horowitz (below) when somebody asked him why he didn’t take the second repeats in sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti or why he didn’t play late sonatas by Beethoven. “I don’t want to bore the audience,” he said.

Vladimir Horowitz

Lisitsa showed no such concern for the audience. In fact her program, her stage manner and her playing all seemed listener-unfriendly. At times, her recital even seemed condescending and disdainful of the ordinary listener.

Valentina Lisitsa at keyboard 2

As a critic, I have to call it as I hear it. But I take no joy in writing this. There are few enough solo piano recitals in Madison these days, and I had really looked forward to this one. Rarely do I want to walk out of a concert of any sort, especially a piano concert. But this time I did want to walk out -– and I did leave early, during a Franz Liszt encore that was his arrangement of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” I also saw some other serious music fans walk out even earlier.

As for the all-Romantic program itself, here are some snapshots or mini-critiques:

The “Tempest” Sonata by Beethoven (below): This great sonata was frequently reduced from a tempest to directionless wind by dropped or missed notes and choppy interpretation as well as by inattention to dynamics. It just didn’t make sense intellectually or emotionally -– and it is a great masterpiece of emotional depth. And certainly her playing of the same work in a live concert in Paris in a YouTube video at the bottom is better than what I heard live here. 

Beethoven big

The “Symphonic Etudes” by Robert Schumann (below top): Decca has just released an 85-minute recording (below bottom) of Lisitsa playing these pieces plus the complete Chopin etudes. She seems drawn to etudes, perhaps because they often favor fingers over music. And this woman has fingers and technique to spare, even if she lacks musical ideas. imagination and something to say.

Schumann photo1850

Valentina Lisitsa Chopin Schumann etudes CD cover

Selected Intermezzi by Johannes Brahms (below): She didn’t stick to the program, and didn’t announce the changes to the audience. She played 14, but after a while they all ran together and it seemed more like 114. Better she should have played a set of just three or four intermezzi as a quiet interlude –- which was their original intended purpose. But instead she too often rushed through them. We missed the poignant melodies and harmonies, the autumnal soulfulness of late Brahms, to say nothing of the careful construction and counterpoint he used.

brahms3

Sonata No. 1 in D Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below): The Ear thinks Lisitsa knew she has confused and lost her small audience when she went from the long Brahms set directly into the Rachmaninoff sonata. I heard some audience members wonder about what they were hearing – where Brahms had stopped and Rachmaninoff had begun. This sonata is a hard piece to hold together, and it didn’t help that she favored big noise over music, big chords over subtle voices.

rachmaninoffyoung

All in all, and despite a standing ovation — for her strength and brilliance, one suspects — The Ear found it a night to forget. I have heard Valentina Lisitsa (below) in better form and I wish I knew what happened here.

“Was she annoyed that the house wasn’t full?” someone asked. Maybe, although such an attitude would be highly unprofessional and too peevish or diva-like.

But I do know that when she next appears in a solo recital, I will think twice -– more than twice -– about attending.

That is too bad for me and too bad for her, too bad for the audience and too bad for the presenter.

Lisitsa_Valentina_2

But everyone’s a critic.

What did others of you who attended Valentina Lisitsa’s recital think?

Did you judge it a success or a failure?

The Ear wants to hear.


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
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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.


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 Union Theater.

May 2, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Ukrainean-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa is no stranger to Madison.

Lisitsa_Valentina_2

She has performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater as the accompanist for the American violinist Hilary Hahn. The recital was stupendous and she proved a terrific chamber music partner.

But Valentina Lisitsa, who possesses  a seemingly flawless technique and endless strength and stamina, is also a great keyboard virtuoso in her own right. That side of her talent is what you heard on impressive display when she appeared twice in solo recitals at Farley’s House of Pianos.

As a reminder, here are some links to older posts:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/classical-music-how-youtube-vaulted-pianist-valentina-lisitsa-to-fame-and-fortune-plus-here-are-reminders-about-concerts-today-at-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-and-the-university-of-wisconsin-scho/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/classical-music-news-new-media-can-lead-back-to-old-media-just-ask-pianist-valentina-lisitsa-whose-superstar-status-on-youtube-has-led-to-her-a-contract-with-decca-classics/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/08/20/classical-music-review-the-ear-gets-more-than-an-earful-of-franz-liszt-and-valentina-lisitsa-and-thinks-of-liberace/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/classical-music-review-recitals-don’t-come-more-perfect-than-the-one-by-violinist-hilary-hahn-and-pianist-valentina-lisitsa-at-the-wisconsin-union-theater/

Recently, NPR did an interview with Valentina Lisitsa on the occasion of new Decca recording, a CD of piano music by the British Minimalist composer Michael Nyman, best known probably for his score to the film “The Piano.”

valentina lisitsa and michael nyman

In the interview she discusses how she almost gave up on her piano career; how she turned to YouTube and the Internet the chance they could rescue her career; and how that led her to tens of millions — something like 75 million — followers, who, in turn, got her a recital at Royal Albert Hall that was recorded live and a recording contract with the major label Decca. With Decca, she has also recorded piano concertos by Sergei Rachmaninoff and solo piano music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, Alexander Scriabin and especially Franz Liszt among others in a program that her YouTube followers got to choose by voting on the web. (Her YouTube video of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata has over 7 million hits. Check out her YouTube repertoire. It is vast and varied.)

In short, Valentina Lisitsa may well be the model of the new kind of successful career in classical music in The Digital Age of high technology

And show will perform on the Wisconsin Union Theater series, when it reopens in the renovated concert hall I call the “Carnegie Hall of Madison” on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014.

Here is the NPR link. The Ear suggests listening to it, not just reading it:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/04/25/305652669/valentina-lisitsa-chasing-pianos-and-youtube-fans

 

 

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Classical music: The Carnegie Hall of Madison — the renovated Wisconsin Union Theater on the University of Wisconsin campus — will reopen next fall with a gala concert by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and other classical stars.

March 30, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear likes to call the Wisconsin Union Theater (below) “The Carnegie Hall of Madison.”

The reason is simple. Ever since the historic WUT opened, that is where the really great classical music talents of the 20th century performed, especially long before there was a Madison Civic Center or an Overture Center.

WUT from stage 1

Two seasons ago, the Wisconsin Union Theater closed for repairs and started holding concerts in Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

But the renovations are almost completed. For more information about the two-year renovation, visit:

http://unionreinvestment.wisc.edu

So the Wisconsin Union Theater has announced a gala and celebratory 2014-2015 Concert Series in the renovated theater.

The press release reads: “The Wisconsin Union Theater is proud to announce its 2014-2015 Concert Series. Reopening for its 75th anniversary (and the Concert Series’ 95th anniversary) after a two-year renovation, the theater offers a magnificent series, which includes:

Yo-Yo Ma, cello, with pianist Kathryn Stott, piano on Saturday, October 18, 2014. (At the bottom, you can hear the duo perform the “Meditation” from the opera “Thais” by Jules Massenet in a YouTube video that has more than 1 million hits.)

yo-yo ma and kathryn stott

Valentina Lisitsa, piano, who has been an Internet sensation and procured a contract with Decca Records from her millions of followers on YouTube, on Thursday, November 20, 2014.

Lisitsa_Valentina_2

Chanticleer singers on Saturday, February 21, 2015.

Chanticleer_Formal2

Takacs String Quartet on Saturday, February 28, 2015, for the Fan Taylor Memorial Concert.

takacs quartet

Sharon Isbin, guitar, and Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano, on Saturday, March 21, 2015. Presented with the Madison Opera.

Sharon Isbin

Isabel Leonard mezzo

“As was promised when the theater closed for renovations, past and current subscribers are given first priority to place an order for the series and request their preferred seating area. Others can subscribe later and single tickets will be available in August.

“This is just the beginning, says WUT officials. Details of the theater’s complete season will be released at a later date and will include many additional superb artists and performances.

“The season is presented by Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Performing Arts Committee.

Single ticket prices range from $25 t0 $125 for the Yo-Yo Ma concert. The others generally run from $12 to $45 or $50.

Brochures will be mailed in mid-June.

For more information visit:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu

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Classical music: Listen to American violinist Hilary Hahn revive the old tradition of salon music by playing the 27 short encores she commissioned from today’s important composers.

November 23, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

A frequent critic and gifted guest reviewer on this web site recently referred to Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine as the most exciting violin talent to emerge on the American scene.

Well, Barton Pine is indeed special and very gifted, as she proved earlier this month when she opened the Wisconsin Union Theater season with the magnificent Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, performed with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra conducted under the baton of UW alumnus and Madison native Kenneth Woods.

Here is a link to that review:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/classical-music-the-wisconsin-union-theater-opens-its-new-season-with-a-winning-blockbuster-program-of-brahms-and-shostakovich-performed-by-native-son-conductor-kenneth-woods-chicago-violist-rachel/

But The Ear has to respectfully disagree.

For my money, or my taste, or my values — whatever you want to call it —  the most exciting violin talent on the American scene is Hilary Hahn (below).

hilary_hahn

Hahn performs the classics and the great masterworks terrifically, with a great sense of architectural shape and beautiful tone, plus exciting but not exaggerated or distorted interpretations.

She also plays modern works and commissions works, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning Violin Concerto by Jennifer Higdon (below) who teaches composition at the same Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where Hahn trained.

And her two recitals with the then relatively unknown pianist Valentina Lisitsa at the Wisconsin Union Theater were among the best performed and most originally programmed recitals that I have ever heard.

Jennifer Higdon and cat Beau

Oh, and Hilary Hahn also blogs, by the way.

And she also did her own interviews, posted on YouTube, with the 27 composers — including Max Richter, Lera Auerbach and Avner Dorfman — who composed the encores.

Check out her website: http://hilaryhahn.com

Now the heirloom record label Deutsche Grammophon has released the “The Hilary Hahn Encores in 27 Pieces,” which features 27 recently composed pieces, all commissioned by Hahn for her use as concert encores. It is a welcome throwback, in a way, to salon music and to composers like virtuoso violinist Fritz Kreisler.

Hilary Hahn Encores CD cover

I don’t know how they did it – I suspect it was some kind of swap for advertising space – but NPR has terrific classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” and a feature called “First Listen” that also allows you to hear some music before it is released commercially. (But, as I understand it, you can’t download it or recorded it from the NPR site.)

NPR did the same for Jeremy Denk’s acclaimed new recording for the Nonesuch label of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations.

Anyway, here is a link to the new Hilary Hahn CD of encores. Enjoy the music and listening to it.

http://www.npr.org/2013/11/03/242090716/first-listen-hilary-hahn-in-27-pieces-the-hilary-hahn-encores

And let us know your Top 5 picks of the 27, or even just your Top Pick.

It will be interesting to see if there is a consensus and what ones are liked the most.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: How YouTube vaulted pianist Valentina Lisitsa to fame and fortune. Plus, here are reminders about concerts today by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

October 20, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

First, some reminders and alerts.

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

The final performance of the second concert of the season by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) is today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall.

MSO playing

The program, conducted by longtime MSO music director John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) features Benjamin Britten’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme on Purcell (also used for the popular ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra); Claude Debussy’s “La mer” (The Sea); and Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.2 with guest artist Philippe Bianconi.

John DeMain conducting 2

Here is a link to a Q&A I posted earlier this week with pianist Philippe Bianconi (below) about the Brahms concerto. It also contains other information and useful links about the entire program, including program notes and ticket prices:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/classical-music-qa-what-makes-brahms-piano-concerto-no-2-so-great-french-pianist-philippe-bianconi-discusses-his-upcoming-performances-of-it-this-weekend-with-the-madison-symphony-orc/

bianconi_philippe

So far, the concert has received critical acclaim – and there is still time to catch it this afternoon.

Here is a link to a review by John W. Barker (below) in Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=41208

John-Barker

And here is a link the review by Greg Hettmansberger (below) for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/October-2013/Madison-Symphony-Program-Suggests-a-New-Normal/

greg hettmansberger mug

UW CLARINET RECITAL

Also, tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Guest Artist series will present clarinetist Michael Norsworthy (below), who will perform a FREE concert of modern and contemporary works.

The program includes “Pastoral” by Elliot Carter;
 Three American Pieces by Lukas Foss; 
nebraska impromptu by Marti Epstein; 
”SchiZm,” by Derek Bermel; “Black Anemones” by Joseph Schwantner;
 and Souvenirs, by Robert Beaser.

Michael Norsworthy

Michael Norsworthy, professor of clarinet at the Boston Conservatory, is one of the most celebrated champions of the modern repertoire. To date, he has given over 125 world premieres with leading contemporary music groups, including Klangforum Wien, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Manhattan Sinfonietta, Fromm Players at Harvard, Boston Musica Viva, Callithumpian Consort in Boston, Ensemble 21 in New York and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. His current discography numbers over 15 releases and can be found on the Albany, Mode, Gasparo, Canteloupe, BMOP/sound, ECM, Nonesuch, Cirrus Music and Cauchemar labels.

YOUTUBE AND PIANIST VALENTINA LISITSA

Finally, speaking of pianists, as I did above, this past week, The New York  Times featured a comprehensive story about the pianist Valentina Lisitsa (below), who has performed in Madison at least three times – twice in solo recitals at Farley’s House of Pianos and once at the Wisconsin Union Theater as the accompanist for violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn.

Lisitsa_Valentina_2

What makes the story so fascinating is how Lisitsa used the popular website YouTube to launch her career the way that pop stars, not classical stars, so often do. From her success on YouTube she even got a contract with a major record company, Decca Records.

Usually, YouTube features videos of performing artists who have already established their careers. But this time, it worked vice-versa. (At the bottom is a YouTube video of Valentina Lisitsa playing a live performance in Seoul , Korea, of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s popular Prelude in G Minor. It has more than 3.5 million hits!)

The story is a terrific testament to the power of new media in the performing arts.

Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/arts/music/valentina-lisitsa-jump-starts-her-career-online.html?_r=0


Classical music news: New media can lead back to old media – just ask pianist Valentina Lisitsa whose superstar status on YouTube has led to her a contract with Decca Classics.

May 31, 2012
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The media world today keeps getting, as Lewis Carroll might say, curiouser and curiouser.

Many authors now are self-publishing their first efforts because electronic books, or e-books, make it easier than ever to do so. And if the e-books sell well enough, old-fashioned publishers pick up the rights to make them into real old-fashioned cloth-and-paper printed books.

But one of the ironies is that the process also works in reverse.

Many creative talents use the so-called “new media” — blogs and the Internet — to gain access to and acceptance by so-called “old media.” Books have grown out of blogs, as have movies, such as the hit film “Julie and Julia.”

It also applies to classical music.

Take the case of pianist Valentina Lisitsa (below) who, to the best of my count, has performed in Madison four times: twice as accompanist to violinist Hilary Hahn and twice in solo recitals at Farley’s House of Pianos.

But the Lisitsa phenomenon — and it really is a phenomenon — started about five years when she started posting her performance (of a Rachmaninoff work) on YouTube.

Since then, as the most popular pianist on YouTube (which has a huge number of current and historic piano videos) she has racked up more than 40 million individual hits or visits, as well as some 52,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel, for her many recordings of favorite works by Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, Rachmaninoff and other composers.

Then last week, one of the classic great “old media” outlets – Decca Records, which belongs to the giant conglomerate Universal – signed her to a contract. It will start with a recording her debut recital at Royal Albert Hall on June 19. A digital version will available later in June and a CD will be released July 3.

Surely, Decca officials figured that so much interest on the Internet suggests that Lisitsa is very bankable and has a good chance of making money for the label.

So it will record her upcoming concert at Royal Albert Hall in London.

And guess what?

The 39-year-old Lisitsa, who was born in Ukraine but lives in the U.S., asked her fans for what program she should play – for what their favorite pieces played her are.

Here is a link to her You Tube Channel:

http://www.youtube.com/user/ValentinaLisitsa

Here is a link to my review of an impressive mostly Liszt recital she played in Madison last summer:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/08/20/classical-music-review-the-ear-gets-more-than-an-earful-of-franz-liszt-and-valentina-lisitsa-and-thinks-of-liberace/

Here are links to stories about her deal with Decca:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/pianist-valentina-lisitsa-signs-to-decca-classics

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/classicalmusic/9288208/Online-piano-star-Valentina-Lisitsa-gets-Albert-Hall-debut.html

http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2012/05/exclusive-youtubes-favourite-pianist-signs-major-label-contract.html

http://www.classical-music.com/news/valentina-lisitsa-decca-classics

And here is a link to her program for the solo recital in Royal Albert Hall (below top shows the unusually shaped exterior, below bottom shows the spacious interior), along with information about tickets, should you want to or be able to attend it:

http://tickets.royalalberthall.com/tickets/valentina-lisitsa/default.aspx

My question is a simple one: Why would you buy a CD if you can hear the same pieces for free on YouTube?

I suppose so you can hear the artist and those works away from a computer or electronic device – at home or in the car or on an iPod.

Whatever the case, you have to assume the dramatic and temperamental, virtuosic and photogenic Lisitsa knows what she is doing.

She seems as gifted in commercial strategy as in classical piano technique and interpretation.

Below is Lisitsa playing one of my favorite Rachmaninoff preludes — in G major — though by no means one of her most popular videos, some of which have almost 3 million hits. I like the tone and the way the video shows her unusual stroking technique of hitting the keys — which seems to allow her never to strain.

Brava, Valentina!


Classical music: Reviews of pianist Lola Astanova don’t sparkle as brightly as her Tiffany jewels. She played Vladimir Horowitz’s concert grand, but she is no Vladimir Horowitz.

January 28, 2012
15 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

You may recall that last weekend, I posted a preview and early review of the concert that the striking looking, 26-year-old, Uzbekistan-born pianist Lola Astanova (below) gave a week ago Thursday.

It was her Carnegie Hall debut, but took place within the unusual context of a gala fundraiser for the American Cancer Society that featured celebrities Donald Trump and Julie Andrews. (What do you think The Donald and The Julie said to The Lola?)

Well, you can look up some of Astanova’s recording on YouTUBE and decide about her playing for yourself.

But in the meantime, here is a sampling of various reviews of her concert that was reported on prominently because of her penchant for cutting-edge, skin-revealing, S&M-like fashion along with some $850,000 of jewelry by Tiffany. (Think she borrowed any of it from Callista Gingrich? Nah, it’s needed too much on the Florida campaign trail to attract the Republican base.)

An admirer of the great flamboyant virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz, for her “Tribute to Horowitz” Astanova also managed to perform her recital on Horowitz’ vintage and souped up Steinway concert grand that has toured the country several times for promotional purposes. (Many years ago, The Ear even got to play some Chopin, Scarlatti and Scriabin on it when it stopped in Madison.)

Her program was also classic Horowitz (below, in a portrait by Richard Avedon): One big work (Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 “Funeral March” – such an fitting choice for an uplifting cancer event, NOT); one medium piece; (Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor); and several smaller works, by Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin.

But the various reviewers seem to agree on this much: Lola Astanova is no Vladimir Horowitz, who also received his share of negative and disparaging reviews as well as raves. Still, bow ties do seem more tasteful, if less sensational, than leather or vinyl. And his paling was truly distinctive, and one of a kind.

Most of the major critics found her playing mediocre, or at least not especially outstanding – nothing faintly comparable to say the playing of that other fashion maven Yuja Wang or Valentina Lisitsa to Jonathan Biss or Jeremy Denk to pick four other very promising young piano talents.

True, some critics allowed more for the unusual nature and laudable goal of the event than others.

But nothing in any of the reviews sounds like a major label will soon sign Lola Astanova (below, after the recital). And I wouldn’t expect to see her soon of PBS’ “Great Performances” or “Live From Lincoln Center.”

But who can tell? The media can be funny about these things.

Anyway, you can read the reviews and decide for yourself.

Here is the review by freelancer Zachary Woolfe (below) for The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/21/arts/music/lola-astanova-in-horowitz-tribute-at-carnegie-hall-review.html

Here is a more positive review:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Concert-Review-Lola-Astanova-at-Carnegie-Hall-2664527.php

Famed for his crankiness and chummyness with celebrities, Brit critic Norman Lebrecht (below) also weighed in. Be sure to read the comments from readers:

http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2012/01/criticising-the-critics-2-how-to-review-a-bling-concert.html

And here is a review that seems to focus on the whole happening as more of a charity event than a musical event:

http://blogcritics.org/music/article/concert-review-lola-astanova-at-carnegie/

So what is your verdict?

Do the reviews makes you sorry you weren’t in the audience to hear Lola Astanova?

Or just as happy that you missed it?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music news: Will Lola Astanova outstrip Yuja Wang as the sexiest pianist? Will Lola or Yuja become The Lady Gaga of Classical Music?

January 21, 2012
33 Comments

ALERT: This week’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” will feature the Kat Trio (the violin, clarinet and piano trio,  below, is in residence this year at Wisconsin Public Radio) in larger works by Milhaud and Menotti as well as smaller works by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Ginastera and others. The concert is free from 12:30 to 2 p.m. and will be broadcast live over WPR. For more information, visit www.thekattrio.net.

By Jacob Stockinger

Is Lola Astanova about to upstage Yuja Wang as The Lady Gaga of Classical Music? (Both women say they admire Lady Gaga.)

Maybe you thought things has calmed down about Yuja Wang and her ruffling some concertgoer’s feathers with her red micro-skirts and her black, thigh-high slit black gown when she performs (below top, at Hollywood Bowl and below bottom, in a photo by Ruby Washington of The New York Times, at her Carnegie Hall debut this fall):

Well, think again.

Along comes the 26-year-old, Uzbekistan-born pianist Lola Astanova, clad in skimpy black and lots of skin, to up the ante on the sexy dress quotient in classical music.

She got quite the photo (below) and write-up preview in The New York Times this past Thursday, the morning before her concert. It all concerns her performing Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin (I don’t know the specific pieces, but she is billing it as an homage to her favorite pianist Vladimir Horowitz, so I expect it will be some of the same famous pieces by those composers that Horowitz often performed.)

You would also have to go pretty far and to extreme excess to top her own website for self-promotion. Here is a link, so you can check out the fashion shows she combines with concerts and her other promotional entries. Curiously, I still don’t see the repertoire listed.

http://www.lolaastanova.com/latest.cfm

Her performance served as her Carnegie Hall debut. But – here is the unusual part — it took place as part of a gala fundraiser the American Cancer Society featuring Donald Trump and Julie Andrews.

Here is a link to the preview story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/19/arts/music/lola-astanova-julie-andrews-and-donald-trump-at-carnegie.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=arts

And here are links to an equally skimpy review:

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/lovely-lola-astanova-wows-crowd-piano-carnegie-hall-article-1.1009125?localLinksEnabled=false

And here is 2010 story with some great vintage quotes about her attitudes:

http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/03/10/tweeting-free-recordings-bare-midriffs-lola-astanova-shakes-up-classical-world/

It is interesting to read about Astanova (below), who sees fashion as an expression and extension of her creativity and artistry, and to learn how her musical training went at Rice University with Jon Kimura Parker and others.

It will also be extremely interesting to see what kind of review she garners at other events — where she may not be wearing $850,000 in jewelry from Tiffany and Company or playing Horowitz’s own special Steinway.

But this much is certain: She sure knows how to attract the media and hype.

Will it help her career?

Maybe it already has – at least a bit. But she will have to sustain with substance, and not just flair. She will have to deliver the goods – and I mean the musical goods.

After all, I suspect that the brouhaha about Yuja Wang would not amount to much if she had failed to make a deep musical impression. But Yuja – who is younger and already records for a major label (Deutsche Grammophon) and has two Grammy nominations to her name — has the real stuff, the unquestionable musical talent to get away with a lot.

We have yet to see if it will be the same for Lola.

One way to judge may be from the plentiful videos she has on YouTUBE, where she seems to be following the path of Valentina Lisitsa (below) to alternative media fame with both mainstream repertoire and unusual pieces. (See just one example, a la Christopher O’Riley and his transcriptions of Radiohead songs, with more than one million hits, at the bottom).

So, who is the better pianist?

Yuja or Lola?

And who is the more striking fashion plate?

Yuja or Lola?

Who will be The Lady Gaga of Classical Music?

Yuja or Lola?

Is there a better way to attract young audiences or garner publicity?

The Ear wants to hear.


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