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Eurostar’s phantom pianist is…. Valentina Lisitsa

We’ve told you before about the forecourt piano at Eurostar’s London terminal. Last night, commuters rushing for the 2000 shuttle to Paris barely noticed that the player at the keyboard was a world-class concert star, on her way home from a Lebrecht Encounter.

The indifference of the passing public tends to confirm the truth of the Joshua Bell busker experiment: take a great musician out of the concert environment and the world just rushes by.

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  1. Mark Stratford says:

    When Paul McCartney busked at the now demolished Broad St Station (I think in the early 80s) apparently countless people just passed him and his minders without noticing.

  2. SergioM says:

    I argue that you could take any musician, outside of Beyonce and Rihanna, and put them outside their concert environment and they wouldn’t be recognized either. Especially any popular country and western musician. Would anyone recognize them if they were performing in a subway station?

  3. Timon Wapenaar says:

    Maybe if she’d chosen something a little less schlocky, a little more “the only way a human could play like this is if they had signed a contract with Satan”… Afraid the X-factor has ruined the performing arts for everyone who doesn’t own a sequined costume and/or smoke machine.

  4. She’s a very fine pianist but maybe does not yet have great face or name recognition with the general traveling public, and dressed like a bag lady playing on an out of tune upright in not one of her better performances, was perhaps more geared to getting her a job with the CIA clandestine unit. I assume the guy filming was similarly low key so that the passersby did not think it was out of the normal. Now, if she had worn a concert dress and been playing on a concert grand probably a few more heads would have turned, but I suppose that proves your point.

    • I didn’t mean to be too flippant. She really is a marvelous pianist, and I look forward to hearing much much more over the years.

  5. James Brinton says:

    Truly, truly, I was born on the wrong continent. Send culture…

  6. I don’t find this the least bit surprising. First of all, even a well-known classical musician is likely to be known by only a small percentage of people passing through such a space. Even a pop star, minus costume, makeup, entourage, etc., might go unrecognized (though I would find it surprising for Paul McCartney to be unrecognized anywhere, unless 1) he’s in disguise or 2) people can’t believe it could be him). And the quality of the person’s playing might not make it obvious, either; the difference between a highly accomplished pianist who can’t get a gig and globe-trotting superstar isn’t necessarily that big.

    • Random Person says:

      It is possible to get quite a crowd if you’re a major star at the peak of your success.

    • Martin Locher says:

      That’s true. I made that experience myself when talking to a rock singer who’s very famous in Switzerland. I sat close to him on a pretty empty stand in a football stadium, boring game, so we started talking. Seeing his face in a magazine or on television, it wouldn’t take me a second to identify him. But out of context in another environment , I didn’t.

      Same guy at a large open-air festival his band played on as well, he just mixed with the crowd standing at a bar having a drink. He knows where to get the good stuff :-) Normal guy who just enjoys being totally normal.

      I would think most well-known people are as this gentleman. This thought it backed by this little episode:

      A Swiss actor went shopping in a local small supermarket and took something out of a shelf. Another person comes and takes the same thing saying: “If you buy this, then it must be good.” The actor just shook his head thinking how stupid someone must be to buy something just because a star buys it.

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      A lot of truth in this post. People just don’t expect to see famous performers in mundane environments, so don’t make the connection. Good point concerning famous and lesser-known virtuosi, too; fame’s a lottery at a certain level, though one must applaud VL for her skill in promoting her talent.

      As for those two Sergio mentioned, I’m happy to say I’d recognise neither if they came up and handed me their cards.

  7. “take a great musician out of the concert environment and the world just rushes by.”

    Are you not already giving the answer why this is happening? In a concert environment, the audience chooses to listen. At Eurostar’s London Terminal, people – by definition – rush to catch their train. It has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the performing musician at all. Nice promo action, of course.

  8. Several people noticed and looked at her… but this is an airport. Personally, I can’t recall the last time I was walking down the concourse of an airport and had time to stop for an impromptu concert. It did look like several of the people who were standing around were listening and enjoying though.

    This experiment might be better conducted somewhere where people are not on a strict deadline to be somewhere.

  9. Anyone know the edition of this arrangement and where one can find the sheet music?

  10. Dr. Marc Villeger says:

    And every time, O miracle, we get a HD YouTube account of the impromptu encounter. Really…

  11. It always helps to have an entourage.

    I had an opportunity to sneak into a Vladimir Horowitz rehearsal at Orchestra Hall. It was amazing experience that I heard more than saw, of course, as I was peeking up from behind a seat in the balcony, trying not to attract the attention of guards seated at the corners of the stage, glaring outward.

    Later that afternoon Horowitz came out of the stage door and stood waiting for a limo to pick him up. He was a small man, dressed in unmatched stripes and plaids, who would probably have gone quite unnoticed just about anywhere, were it not for the guards and the limo…

  12. A “true busker”, not just someone doing a stunt or experimenting to see if his (her) “fame” extends beyond the concert hall, has no problem accepting the fact that most people will just pass by without interest or acknowledgement. He (she) plays for the love of the art, for the small monetary return, for the many adventures that come from meeting people, from recognition by a few genuine music lovers.
    The attitudes of these musicians in the Joshua Bell mode resemble those of a monk who opens his eyes every five minutes to see if anyone is observing him praying.

    • Timon Wapenaar says:

      I’ve just upvoted you.

    • Dr. Marc Villeger says:

      Notwithstanding the subliminal (or not so) PR message that marketers and broadcasters love to plaster these days, that classical music is finally going to the “street” to meet “ordinary people”, a welcome democratization process in the 21th century and other canards they call progressive, mostly smoke screens allowing them to sell their pet artists and projects and spew guilt on anyone doubting their sincerity… ;-)

      It is not the fact Valentina decided to play the offered piano for fun but the fact it had to be instrumentalized as a PR, world star etc…

      • What PR? She filmed it herself and posted it on her Facebook page, where I spotted it. Who ‘instrumentalised’ it?

      • Timon Wapenaar says:

        And on the other hand, what do we say about all the pianists who pass the instrument (and there must be quite a few), but don’t stop to play? Should we be surprised if, in an era of mass-produced musical charlatans, we become wary of stars who do – especially if they film themselves in the act? There is one way to take the wind out of the PR machine’s sails: a mass campaign of impromptu street performances by an overwhelming number of the world’s brightest musicians. Any PR-engineered events would be simply washed away by the tide.

  13. Robcat2075 says:

    Everything has a time and place. A train station that people go for the purpose of leaving for somewhere else isn’t a fair venue for a music performance that one must stay, not leave, to experience.

  14. Francis Stevenson says:

    I thought it was charming, and thoroughly applaud the idea of leaving pianos about the place. Why shouldn’t she post it up? There’s a busker in Frankfurt who has a smallish grand piano on a trailer, I just wish he was a more accomplished performer.

  15. If you’d like to hear what it should really sound like (Lazar Berman live — unfortunately, the video is a little ahead of the audio, and the sound quality is also pretty mediocre — but he can really “sing” at the piano, which is what this kind of music is all about):

    After listening to his performance, I think you might agree that it was probably a poor choice of repertoire to play in a busy train terminal. There is a reason why this kind of music should be enjoyed in proper surroundings.

  16. Svetlana says:

an ArtsJournal blog