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Valentina Lisitsa plays all night long and posts her recital right here

When I left the Royal Albert Hall after Valentina Lisitsa’s extraordinary debut recital, she was just getting geared up for the real night’s work.

There were four encores and some patching to be re-record where audience enthusiasm had smudged an ending. The record is supposed to be on e-release from Decca before the night’s out and Val was so high on adrenalin that it would have taken four burly London policemen to drag her away from a piano.

The hall was not full – about 60 percent by my reckoning, not bad for a night when England were playing Ukraine and the fate of nations hung in the balance. Those 60 percent were far from being the white heads that one sees in a regular piano recital. Many were in their 30s, some came as families and all, without exception, observed the decorum of a cathedral throughout the performance, never applauding between movements, only at the end of sets.

After a C minor Mozart fantasy that failed to ignite, youtube’s top-rated pianist filled the first half with Liszt transcriptions of three Schubert songs and Beethoven’s failsafe Moonlight Sonata.

The second half was bedrock Lisitsa – Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Chopin, ending with a Liszt Totentanz that would have rattled windows across Hyde Park. Two suspended screens left over from the Dalai Lama’s morning meeting gave a closeup of fingerings and a suggestion of how Val shaped a piece. Vast as the Albert Hall is, this was an intimate recital of unalloyed individuality. No other pianist plays like this and none has such easy rapport with her public.

She has introduced on youtube a different form of artist-public communication and is seems that she is succeeding bin carrying that over to the concert hall. Valentina Lisitsa is a mould-breaking artist. Before I have finished writing, she has already posted the unedited recital on youtube right here. Performance begins  20 minutes in:

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  1. I watched live here from NY this afternoon. I thought YouTube did a pretty amazing job with the production. The sweeping tracking shots and overhead angles really showed off the whole event well. I did wonder how apparent the cameras were to people in the hall or if they could be blocked out.

    • The cameras were fairly unobtrusive from where I sat, Brian. The overhead screens, I was told were an afterthought. Someone saw them after the Dalai Lama meeting and said ‘what’ll it cost to hire them for another half-day?’

      • More-or-less. An afterthought that was thought of a month or two ago, but, yes, the question was exactly that. And the answer is a lot more than you might think!
        I thought they worked well, too, and have advocated the use of such in classical concerts for years. Most of a younger generation is used to consuming music on TV or online; or at pop/rock festivals/concerts, where there are big screens so you can see what’s going on, so why not give them what they want to see?

        We think the hall was over 3,000 full; an incredible audience for a solo piano recital.
        (RAH seats c.4,000 without the debenture boxes, c.5k with them, so an audience for solo piano on a Tuesday night of 60% of capacity, or 75% of available tickets, which is absolutley wonderful!)

        • Wanderer says:

          “Why not give them what they want to see?”

          Why? Nobody needs video screens. They actually distract from the listening experience. If they were there anyway and somebody thought about just using them, that’s fine for the exceptional case.

          But our sensory bandwidth is limited, our concentration requires focus. Big screens with unruly shifting and jumping images are counterproductive to perception of music for those who go to a concert for the unrepeatable live experience of music.

          What I actually would like to see is more concerts, where the lighting is reduced to the absolute minimum (light on stands only, for musicians to read music and conductor to see their faces) and a visual atmosphere is created, that stimulates listening, not discourages it like these video screens do.

          • Richard Gammons says:

            For those seated in the choir like myself, it was a godsend having the screens – without them it might just as well have been experienced with the lights out. Valentina was invisible behind the piano – I suspect that for those many others in the audience who were too far away or whose eyesight is not as keen as ‘wanderer’s’, they were also very helpful. If too much light is an issue then perhaps powerful dark glasses might prove beneficial.

            Valentina’s performance was for me a revelation and, for at least one other in the audience, sat next to me, it brought real tears of emotion – It seems to me this is what great performance is primarily about – Many are highly articulate and technically superb but if they can’t take you to another place then part of the composers intent is missing.

          • Sir:

            I completely agree with “Wanderer”. We should not be homogenising all musical experiences to suit the couch potato method of listening, even if that were what people actually desire at a live performance.

          • Wanderer says:

            @Richard: That’s all understandable, once you perform music in a space too big to support it’s immediate experience naturally. Then you start broadcasting, even inside.
            My argument was in reply to the Gentleman above, who advocates to improve on an art form by catering to those in the audience who appreciate it the least (and need more incentives to “have fun”) than to those who appreciate it the most.
            I’m too lazy to write an essay now, but in short that attitude leads to a certain death, to Jackie Evancho, André Rieux and the late Lang Lang.
            Good night.

          • Petros Linardos says:

            I totally agree with Wanderer.

            I would also add that while I would totally love to take my young children to a Lisitsa recital – and they would love it, too- I would never ever want to take them to one with large screens. Enough with screens. They are everywhere.

      • Wanderer says:

        Did you hear the cameras clicking very loud(minute 28 ff) for many minutes, WTF?, not even blimped cameras. Full shutter noise for minutes for hundreds to hear. Who allowed that? Well, she obviously did. I imagine a Barenboim or even Svjatoslav Richter being confronted with this, clash of cultures, or more precisely of culture with anti-culture. This is not a concert, this is a PR event clearly.

        • Wanderer says:

          or a Pollini, these camera men would be dead by now ;)

        • If you listen to her introduction, she clearly asks the audience to use the first piece as a “warm up” to admit latecomers, take photographs, settle down, and that “the recital really starts with the Mozart”.
          In doing so, she gave herself a chance to play in to the audience and the hall, and to get all the noise out of the way. Preferable, I suggest, to fewer camera clicks spread throughout the concert – after this first piece, there were none.

          • Wanderer says:

            Sorry, I stand corrected, I skipped the intro where she explained the proceedings, I always do that and go straight for the music. ;)

  2. Nice post Norman, thanks for this. We absolutely love YoutubeLIVE and have to say that the Google people we know really are keen to share as many concerts and cultural broadcasts as possible. It`s great news all round that they simplify the means to broadcast content live online. Exciting stuff with lots of easy to use platforms there like Ustream, Facebook live streams, Google+ Hangouts and the like to share wonderful content with the world!

  3. When in Rachmaninoff’s G-minor prelude Valentina threads together the phrasing in the middle (1:53:17), allowing what’s there to have it’s say, the interweaving melodies playing together mellifluously, you know she’s been there. You know that she knows what it’s like to have lost all hope and then find that there’s something in life beyond loss that brings things together. And that’s something that helps all of us, and it’s something you can trust.

  4. Geoff Cox says:


    I heard 2 encores, not 4!

    Also the audience were out of step with what Valentina seemed to want re applause. For example there was applause after the G Minor prelude when Valentina wished to continue ..

    I do wish people would wait for the end of a section but that then depends on what you call a section! To move from Mozart to Schubert-Liszt without a break is perhaps slightly odd but personally I would rather no applause until the end of the first half and then at the end of the recital ..

    The RFH audience can be really annoying by applauding at the end of each of the first two movements of a piano concerto ..

  5. I have seen screens used to show close ups of the pianists hands many times before – it is a good way for those not used to going to concerts to be entertained – mainly for classical recitals on cruise ships etc. These performers also have a good rapport with their audience, so nothing new here really.

    • Wanderer says:

      Interesting, where I live I have never seen it for classical concerts, and I have not heard from anyone to want them. I personally find the idea a bit strange. But then I do not watch TV either…

  6. Wanderer says:

    … the sound quality of the recording could be better. Sounds as if one was sitting inside the piano almost. Out of proportion to a degree, where it works against the music. Video guys telling the sound guys to hide the mics from the cameras I guess, would be the tail wagging the dog again.

    • Hate to point it out, but it’s a visual production, not an audio broadcast.
      I found the sound on my system to be rather good. Further away from the piano means more audience noise, and more fan noise (even now the fans from electrical equipment are on the loud side)

      • Wanderer says:

        I don’t think so. Which fans are there in proximity of the piano?
        The sound was like you are standing very close to the piano or bend even your head inside of it. Would you take that position, when you listen to a piano naturally? And of course you distort the timbre of all the registers, if you are so close that you cant pick up a good blend of the lid reflections, floor reflections as well which shape the classical piano sound. There are many concert recordings (with TV) in comparable settings that sound much better. Take Volodos in Vienna for instance etc. etc.

        And what do you mean “it is a visual production”? That’s simply impossible. This is not a catwalk filming. Please help yourself and switch off the sound for a minute while you watch the picture only. Then you do it the other way around and listen to sound only without picture.
        Everybody will now realize, that the visuals are simply additional information to the sound, since the pictures alone carry no artistic meaning at all, while the sound contains all the music and doesn’t even need the picture to work for a transmission. The picture is just a bonus on top of the core content, which is 99% in the sound.

        • RE Fans – you may not think so, but I am certain…
          Turn up the volume or pop decent headphones on, and you will find you can hear the fan noise very clearly on the broadcast. It isn’t too disturbing, but it could and would easily become so if any louder.

          The noise is the cumulative effect of vast numbers of fans across a modern lighting rig such as slung above the stage at RAH with all it’s moving head lanterns, the distant projectors, and more. The hall is a quieter place when these are switched off, I can tell you from experience.

          That said, I don’t find the broadcast sound too close at all. I rather like the intimacy and detail, and find there is plenty of space where required. It’s very good, frankly; perhaps there we have to agree to disagree! I am not fond of the distance typical of a BBC concert broadcast, finding that clarity and image detail are lost, and audience noise often an issue; and as I say, it’s clear that any more distance would result in a more obtrusive noise floor in any case.

          • Wanderer says:

            I agree that in the second half, the sound was “within limits”, too close for my taste but within the acceptable range, a matter of taste. In the first half it was too dry and close, not acceptable even if you like it close. Tempo doesn’t make sense and phrasing falls apart into singular tone bits, if the sonic balance between direct and diffuse sound does not give enough sustain and blend. Also the middle and lower registers of the piano sound not good in the first half, a bit better in the second half.
            Since you apparently were there, can you tell us where the microphones were positioned?

          • Slung pair around 10′ high and 5′ or 6′ back (plenty distant enough)
            Pair at the tail end, fairly conventional.
            Other slung mics in what looks like a surround array, further back in the hall.
            But who knows exactly what was used!

      • Wanderer says:

        …but the sound was better in the second half.

  7. (From my 27″ Mac and fast connection 4000 miles away) I saw an event where different interests converged amazingly well. Take a fine hall that doesn’t really host solo piano recitals, add an audience of mixed experience, add a film crew, an internet giant set to broadcast, Decca poised to capture a newly signed artist of broad appeal, photographers and critics there to report on the spectacle….

    This became something new. How do you best experience something grand with private emotion? I enjoy sharing it.

    I saw some flaws and try to listen to the criticisms from others fairly, but awe washes over them all by what was accomplished. With all that was different, to what standard do I measure?

    Valentina has given and will give many more intimate concerts devoted purely to the experience of the ticket holders. There will be newcomers in the audience that stumbled across a posting online and took an interest. And where will that interest take them next?

    It’s exciting for me. I will watch the concert again in its finished form. I will listen to the recording. I will remember that I participated: building up all morning while waiting for the concert, seeing her walk out on stage excited and full of nervous energy, clasping my hands while the audience applauded, gasping at the interrupted encore, and smiling at her success. Even if was only live streaming video.

  8. @Wanderer I believe in your neck of the woods a Dutch electronics company sponsored the provision of screen and “keyboard cam” for the orchestra’s piano recital series, back when it was in the town hall. Some artists opted out, but it went on for, I think, at least a couple of seasons.

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