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Youtube’s top pianist: ‘I have no talent for sweating profusely’

Valentina Lisitsa strode onto a London nightclub stage last night and started taking pictures of the audience on her Blackberry. Then she sat down at the keyboard, beneath a couple of giant TV screens, and demonstrated what the pianist has to do in Rachmaninov’s Paganini Variations – which is mostly to sit there looking vaguely interested.

She read back a few audience tweets from her cellphone and tried to identify who was sending them. With 56 million Youtube hits, she works social media like a circusmaster.

This was Val’s first crack at DG’s Yellow Lounge and she proved a natural, quipping back and forth with the crowd, playing a few intense pieces and generally communicating in ways few artists do that it’s fun to be up there on stage, controlling the rhythm. To be a great pianist, she told us, you have to sweat buckets. Same applies to conductors. Val does it dry.

Around 800 people packed into the Fabric floorspace on word of mouth. The only promotion was on social media and people paid £10 to get in. Not many hands shot up when Val asked if anyone had been to a classical recital before. This could be the start of something interesting.


Yellow Lounge - Valentina 2Yellow Lounge - Valentina 3val audience

The heavies took my camera away, so we’ve had to wait a couple of days for official Universal pictures (above).

UPDATE: Here’s unofficial video of her Liszt set from Geoff Cox. Digits at Universal still implanted up the corporate corpus.

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  1. She’s a natural comedienne. She told one audience “I khav ask for ukrrranian filtrrr for microphone but they khav not put.”

  2. Peter Metrinko says:

    I have seen her twice in concert settings where she spoke before playing, and talked to fans afterwards (at a church in Alexandria VA where she goes to work on programs). She is utterly charming — when people talk with her they end up grinning from ear to ear.

  3. Michael Schaffer says:

    Rachmaninov is actually spelled Rachmaninoff. That’s the transliteration of his name that he used consistently all his life, when he published his compositions, in his tours, on his recordings, when he signed his name. It’s also what it says on his grave.

    • Andrew Dalton says:

      Whilst Michael Schaffer is correct in saying that the composer himself used the spelling “Rachmaninoff”, it makes little sense to say that it is “actually spelled Rachmaninoff”. The transliteration of Russian names is determined as much by use and convention and by rules. The name “Rimsky-Korsakov”, for example, ends with the same letters as Rachmaninoff, but nobody today would spell the name “Korsakoff”. Similarly, the names of Tchaikovsky and Chekhov begin with the same letter but it would be eccentric to use either “Chaikovsky” or “Tchekov” today, even though these spellings have been used in the past.

      • But we should respect the composer’s own preference, surely, nonetheless? And the same goes for other Russian musicians who had long careers in the west and made their personal preference abundantly clear – Prokofieff, for example.

        “Rachmaninov” has somehow become a convention (though one UK orchestra went through a phase of spelling it “Rakhmaninov” a few years back, weirdly), but it’s not defensible, any more than if we were all, collectively to decide to start referring to “Gergieff” or “Kyssin”. It’s not about linguistics. It’s about respect for the autonomy of the individual to decide their own identity.

        • The confusion about how to spell Rachmaninoff’s name is the result of the Soviets tampering with the Cyrillic alphabet after they took power.

          To paraphrase Wanda Landowska: “You spell Rachmaninoff’s name your way, I’ll spell it HIS way.”

          And lest I be accused of Anglophobia, I still spell grey with an “e”.

  4. Geoff Cox says:

    I have uploaded my video clip from the evening.

    Valentina is a wonderful pianist and I hope she will be back in London soon!


  5. I love this! A performer after my own heart… I very rarely go to concerts any more (a small business, freelancing career and two small boys, rather than musical lethargy or apathy) but for her I would make a special effort.

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