Virtual virtuoso: Valentina Lisitsa to play Rachmaninoff with Toronto Symphony this week

I’ve been thinking about the way that concert performances idealize a work.  Even the most elaborate productions of opera require short-cuts, some sort of suspension of disbelief when fully staged.     The question about concert performances of opera is really a question of virtuality, as we saw in a recent piece in the NY Times by David Belcher.   I grew up listening to opera on vinyl, and later on CDs, only rarely encountering opera on video.  But even a DVD of a live performance is still a kind of virtual performance, because it’s not truly live.   We always watch from the perfect camera angle without the possibility of the head of that tall guy sitting in front of us momentarily blocking our view. And isn’t it funny that singers always manage to hit the high notes: possibly because they only videotape near-perfect performances. Working from an audio recording or a concert performance, our minds complete the visual picture building upon that ideal auditory world.

I have never seen Valentina Lisitsa perform.  Oh sure, I’ve seen her play the piano on youtube.  But is that the same as “seeing” her perform?


I first encountered her playing this Rachmaninoff piece.   The fluidity of her technique is evident in the way her arms move.  Come to think of it I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone –male or female—play a complex piece with bare forearms (Glenn Gould?  Vladimir Horowitz? Perhaps Martha Argerich).  They’re hypnotic, and yes, very beautiful to watch.

You may have heard Valentina Lisitsa compared to Justin Bieber.

  • Not because she’s been arrested
  • Not because she’s been roasted by celebrities
  • Not because he (meaning the Stratford native) plays Rachmaninoff or Liszt

But there are some intriguing points of contact.

  • They’re both musicians who caught the public imagination via the self-publishing realm of youtube
  • They’re both attractive, indeed beauty is surely a factor in their success (as in the meditation upon her forearms)

What’s remarkable –come to think of it—is not her success, but rather the success of others.  Who authorizes a virtuoso, who decides what pianist or singer is worthy of excitement?  I suppose it happens when a Pavarotti’s high C is heard over and over, creating a buzz.  Youtube –for Bieber, for Lisitsa, and for the next phenom to come—shortens that process, allowing the talent to emerge much faster.

Here’s something of Lisitsa I heard just a couple of weeks ago, playing a ferociously difficult piece, a Busoni transcription of Bach.

Valentina Lisitsa will be in town to play Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto with the Toronto Symphony this week, April 8th  & 9th at Roy Thomson Hall in a program also including Mahler’s 5th Symphony.  Live and in person..!

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2 Responses to Virtual virtuoso: Valentina Lisitsa to play Rachmaninoff with Toronto Symphony this week


  2. Pingback: Stewart Goodyear replaces Valentina Lisitsa | barczablog

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