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“A special combination of utterly self-assured virtuosity and real lyricism.” —The Guardian (UK)

Exclusive New York engagement
Valentina Lisitsa, piano

The excitement of 92Y's 2013/14 season begins on Opening Night with internationally renowned pianist Valentina Lisitsa in her New York recital debut.

A YouTube sensation with more than 60 million views, Valentina plays a program voted on by fans—a Lisitsa trademark that has found success at London’s Royal Albert Hall and Berlin's Philharmonie.

VALENTINA IN THE NEWS:  Read this past Sunday’s New York Times profile on Valentina Lisitsa on the “On the Blog” tab above.


Click on any linked musical title in the concert program listing to see a YouTube performance by Valentina Lisitsa.

Video series from British, 2012–2013. Includes interview with Valentina Lisitza by Norman Lebrecht and demos by Valentina of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s “Der Müller und der Bach” (“The Miller and the Brook”).

“I Hate Rachmaninoff”—note: posted April 1, 2013. Valentina Lisitsa discusses her relationship with Rachmaninoff and how his music has been used—and sometimes abused—over the decades.

Valentina Lisitsa performs Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” during her Royal Albert Hall recital, June 19, 2012.

Valentina Lisitsa announces her 92Y recital debut and voting for her program (now over).

On the Blog

(Click the names below to expand info)


Concerto for Piano and YouTube”—Profile of Valentina Lisitsa in The New York Times by Vivien Sweitzer. Here is an excerpt:

Far from destroying classical music, Ms. Lisitsa said, YouTube will create a new audience. “We are perpetually complaining about our audiences being old,” she said.

“They are always dying but never quite die, because there will always be more old people,” she added, referring to a letter that Chopin wrote about one concert at which there were no young people in the audience because it was the start of hunting season.

“Just as kids who initially like bubbly and graduate to fine wine, some people will graduate to the finer elements of classical music via YouTube,” she said.

Special note: The profile mentions Valentina’s video, “I Hate Rachmaninoff.” You can watch that video on the Video & Audio tab above.

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Valentina Lisitsa”—Interview with Valentina Lisitsa on BBC Music magazine’s website by Rebecca Franks, Mar 15, 2013. Here is an excerpt:

How does [YouTube] change your relationship with your audience?

…We are all conditioned to be a polite audience. We are afraid to clap between movements, we are afraid to cough. We always applaud politely. But there was a time when people could break into cheers of excitement, or throw rotten vegetables at a performer. We are searching for this holy grail of interactivity: well give them the rotten tomatoes!

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The Justin Bieber of Classical Piano”—Article in the Wall Street Journal by Anna Russell, Mar 7, 2013. Here is an excerpt:

In 2009, Ms. Lisitsa began recording sessions for the Rachmaninoff concertos. To finance the project, she took out a mortgage on her home to raise the nearly $300,000 it took to hire the London Symphony Orchestra and book recording sessions at Abbey Road Studios. "This is like putting all your money into a software product startup that might pay off big-time or might not," says Joseph W. Polisi, president of New York's Juilliard School.

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The Classical Pianist With 55 Million YouTube Hits”—Article for National Public Radio by Anastasia Tsioulcas, March 14, 2013. Here’s an excerpt:

… Decca sat up and took notice. She was signed to the label in May, and they promptly released her London concert debut—at the Royal Albert Hall, no less—a month later. This week, the august label released her recording of the complete Rachmaninov piano concertos. Measured by traditional standards, scoring a major label contract is, even in 2013, still a brass ring in a classical career.

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Pianist Valentina Lisitsa: interview with the YouTube Star”—Interview in London’s Telegraph newspaper with Valentina Lisitsa by Sophie Wilson soon after DVD release of her Prince Albert Hall recital, Aug 19, 2012. Here is an excerpt:

Searching for inspiration, she started reading about business strategy online. It’s not enough to make the world’s best mousetrap; you also have to advertise it, she learnt. She decided to apply the same principles to her music, to bring it to the masses. So in 2007 she enlisted a student at the University of Miami to film her playing a Rachmaninov étude, nicknamed 'Little Red Riding Hood’, and posted her first ever YouTube video. 'By nowadays’ standards it is low resolution and the hands do not match with the sound, but there was something about it that people liked,’ she says.

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Explore the Music

(Click the names below to expand info.)



Born Semyonovo, Russia, April 1, 1873; died Beverly Hills, March 28, 1943
Prelude in G major, Op. 32, No. 5
Prelude in G-sharp minor, Op. 32, No. 12
Prelude in B minor, Op. 32, No. 10
Prelude in G minor, Op. 23, No. 5
Prelude in E-flat major, Op. 23, No. 6
Prelude in B-flat major, Op. 23, No. 2

Op. 23 Preludes composed in 1903-04; Op. 32 Preludes composed in 1910; 21 minutes

By the age of 40 Sergei Rachmaninoff had established himself as a significant composer as well as a conductor of opera. Happily married, he and his wife lived with their two daughters on a family estate, Ivanovka, about 300 miles southeast of Moscow. There he lived a comfortable life, alternating between time on the road (which he loathed) in concert season and time at home (which he loved) during the rest of the year. His world changed utterly in October 1917. Fleeing the Russian Revolution, Rachmaninoff and his family left their beloved home, never to return.

Not only did Rachmaninoff leave his native land and culture behind, but also his aspirations as a composer and conductor. A practical man, he supported his family as a concert pianist until the end of his life, 26 years later. The fact that he was one of the 20th century’s preeminent pianists—and one of the most admired pianists in the instrument’s history—never erased his sorrow at losing his homeland and being robbed of the time in which to fulfill his promise as a composer.

That promise showed itself early. Eventually composing 24 piano preludes, Rachmaninoff gained fame from his very first effort in the genre, the Prelude in C-sharp minor. Barely out of the Moscow Conservatory, the 19-year-old composed and published that work in 1892, and it became an instant worldwide phenomenon. Its popularity, at first welcome to the young composer, haunted him to the end of his days. “Play IT,” his audience would call out to him at the end of a concert.

By 1903 Rachmaninoff had decided to imitate Chopin, whom he revered, by writing a piano prelude in every major and minor key. He conceived of the genre in dramatic terms: not merely as an occasional piece for the piano, but rather as a statement with purpose, a poem for keyboard, a theatrical curtain-raiser. Completing ten such preludes in 1904, he published them as Op. 23. In 1910 he published the remaining 13 as Op. 32.

Unlike Chopin, who had arranged his 24 Preludes in the sequence of the classic “circle of fifths,” Rachmaninoff did not intend his to be performed as one cohesive cycle. Rather, they are 24 gems that glow with a wide variety of colors and styles. Technically and musically challenging (Rachmaninoff had large hands that could cover a wide span of keys, and a left hand that could do anything), they have nevertheless appeared with regularity on concert programs from the time he first introduced them.

Audiences may not call out “Play IT!” for these preludes, but with their superlative lyricism, lush harmonic textures and captivating dramatic content, they always thrill listeners—and performers, too. Everyone has reason to regret, along with Rachmaninoff himself, that his composing career was eclipsed by the realities of political and economic forces over which he had little control.

The six preludes on this concert amply fulfill Rachmaninoff’s intention, to create mini-dramas for the piano: The sweet insouciance of Op. 32, No. 5; the icy bells of Op. 32, No. 12; the rich tolling and echoing phrases of Op. 32, No. 10; the martial majesty of Op. 23, No 5; the haunting lyricism of Op. 23, No. 6; and the wild bravura of Op. 23, No. 2 add up to a thrilling experience of musical theater.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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SHOSTAKOVICH: Sonata No. 2 in B minor, Op. 61


Born St. Petersburg, September 25, 1906; died Moscow, August 9, 1975
Sonata No. 2 in B minor, Op. 61
Composed in 1943; 26 minutes

Although a prolific composer of chamber music and orchestral, choral and operatic works, Shostakovich composed relatively few pieces for solo piano. Unlike the other three composers on this concert, all of whom achieved renown as virtuoso soloists, Shostakovich used his considerable piano skills in support of composing and teaching. The Sonata No. 1 (1926), 24 Preludes (1932–1933), 24 Preludes and Fugues (1950–1951), and this Sonata No. 2 (1943) form the core of his relatively short works list for piano.

Shostakovich was professor at the Leningrad Conservatory in June 1941when the German army invaded the city, initiating the 900-day horror that became known as the Siege of Leningrad. For some weeks he served as a civilian fire watch while continuing to teach and to compose, but he eventually accepted evacuation orders and spent the ensuing months as a refugee. In spite of the deprivations he—and his fellow citizens—suffered, Shostakovich completed several important compositions, including the monumental Seventh Symphony. While in Kuybïshev (now Samara, in the southeastern part of European Russia), he began composing the Sonata in B minor and completed it in Moscow, where he performed the premiere on June 6, 1943.

The Sonata’s motoric first movement at first disguises the emotional power that Shostakovich poured into this work. Composed in memory of his revered piano professor and mentor, Leonid Nikolayev, who had died suddenly in Tashkent the previous October, the work contains hidden references to himself and to his teacher. It is, ultimately, a work that expresses grief and sorrow.

The Allegretto movement opens with a moto perpetuo, requiring the two hands to trade the rapidly moving figures in alternation with melodic materials that crisply punctuate the flow of 16th notes. These punctuations become more aggressive and soon dominate the mood as angry chord clusters. A recurring melodic figure of a quick downward third is menacing, not jaunty. After a brief return to the rapidly moving 16ths of the beginning, the movement closes with the sharp, angry chords.

The second movement, a melancholy Largo, is a haunted meditation. Nominally in A-flat major, its melody wanders quietly in search of a home. Improvisatorial in style, it seeks, but does not find, rest. It drifts away in silence.

The Moderato final movement comprises a theme and nine variations. The main theme is built around the well-known “DSCH” motif that Shostakovich used so frequently in compositions that were especially close to his heart. (It also appears, for example, in the Violin Concerto No. 1, Cello Concerto No. 1, String Quartet No. 8, and two symphonies, numbers 10 and 15.) “D” stands for the note D, and “SCH” stands for the German nomenclature for the notes E-flat (“ES”), C (“C”), and B-natural (“H”). “D” also stands for “Dmitri,” and “SCH” for “Shostakovich,” in the transliteration from Cyrillic into German (Schostakowitsch). Therefore, the melody, which has the notes D, E-flat, C and B at its heart, and all its nine variations, are intimate and personal expressions of Shostakovich himself. The variations portray many moods, all of them edgy, and the Sonata closes on quiet B-minor chords.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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CHOPIN: Eight Nocturnes


Born Zelazowa Wola, Poland, March 1, 1810; died Paris, October 17, 1849
Nocturne in F minor, Op. 55, No. 1
Nocturne in F major, Op. 15, No. 1
Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 1
Nocturne in F-sharp major, Op. 15, No. 2
Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48, No. 1
Nocturne in D-flat major, Op. 27, No. 2
Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. posth.
Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9, No. 2

Composed in 1830–1843; c. 33 minutes

One can hardly read the words “Chopin Nocturnes” without an accompanying reference to the Irish composer John Field (1782–1837). Between 1814–1835 Field wrote 18 Nocturnes for piano that Chopin admired. However, several other factors paved Chopin’s path toward his own piano Nocturnes.

Chopin was privately (and sometimes, not so privately) critical of most other composers, including even Beethoven, as well as of those contemporaries with whom he had a nominal friendship, such as Liszt, Schumann and Mendelssohn. Bach and Mozart were his models. Chopin was a brilliant pianist, but he abhorred performing for the public, and he retired early from his fledgling concert career. In an era when audiences favored grand symphonic expressions, virtuoso performers and large opera productions, Chopin’s taste ran rather to the music miniature—not wimpy, not vapid, but refined in scale: Bellini, not Berlioz. Just when piano manufacturers were creating instruments capable of expressing wide-ranging, large sounds, Chopin preferred the French Pleyel piano, which was characterized by its subtle sonic textures and light action.

Chopin’s affinity for the counterpoint of Bach’s keyboard works, the clarity of Mozart’s sonata structures and the mellifluous lyricism of Bellini’s opera arias led him to create startling new miniatures suited to his Pleyel piano. Beginning in 1830, and continuing for the next 15 years, Chopin created 21 Nocturnes that gave new insights into the night and its music.

In 1859 an edition of Field’s Nocturnes appeared in print, with an introduction written by its editor, the pianist Franz Liszt. In it, Liszt drew a comparison between the Nocturnes of the two composers:

“Chopin, in his poetic Nocturnes, sang not only the harmonies which are the source of our most ineffable delights, but likewise the restless, agitating bewilderment to which they oft give rise. His flight is loftier, though his wing be more wounded; and his very suaveness grows heartrending, so thinly does it veil his despairing anguish.…Their closer kinship to sorrow than those of Field renders them the more strongly marked; their poetry is more sombre and fascinating; they ravish us more, and are less reposeful ….”

Liszt’s poetic description bears the weight of technical analysis: Field wrote all but three of his 18 in major mode; Chopin wrote ten of his 21 in minor. Field’s Nocturnes tend to follow a simple construction on an ABA, or ABAB pattern; Chopin’s are more varied and complex in style and shape. (When he does use an ABA construction, as in Op. 27, No. 1, Chopin imbues it with high drama.) Field’s melodies are usually accompanied by a simple, flowing left-hand pattern of arpeggiation; Chopin not only set his complicated melodies over more extensive left-hand figurations (as in Op. 27, No. 2), but also integrated the two hands with sophisticated contrapuntal activity.

The Nocturnes of this evening’s program reveal the range of Chopin’s imagination and the depths of his exploration. They range from the simple lyricism of the well-known Op. 9, No. 2, to the grandeur of Op. 48, No. 1. In Op. 15, the fire in the Trio of No. 1 follows the passionate fioritura of No. 2. Within the night of these works, Chopin has created angst alongside its beauty, disquiet amidst its repose and the threat of storms before morning.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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LISZT: Totentanz


Born Raiding, Hungary, October 22, 1811; died Bayreuth, July 31, 1886
Composed in 1839 and 1865; 15 minutes

In ancient tradition Death was a fiddler playing an out-of-tune instrument. His bewitching dance of death—in German “der Totentanz” and in French “Danse macabre”—was all the more insidious for the shrillness of its off-pitch strings. Once caught up in its musical spell, a listener would dance uncontrollably until Death ended the tune forever.

Franz Liszt’s Totentanz was one of several piano works that he wrote on the subject of death. For this piece he chose the ancient Gregorian melody Dies irae (Day of Wrath) to underscore the ominous theme. In his virtuosic paraphrase (i. e., variations, of which there are six) on the tune, Liszt challenges the pianist to explore the outer limits of the instrument, with extremes of sound and tempo that range from tenderly subtle to frantic and cataclysmic.

The Totentanz is reminiscent of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, in which the Dies irae plays a significant role. Liszt would have known that orchestral fantasy well, as it was performed frequently in Paris during the 1830s and ‘40s. Later, when Liszt rearranged his solo Totentanz as a concert work for piano and orchestra, he imitated Berlioz’s instrumental palette to good effect, asking the violinists to play “col legno,” applying the wood of their bows to the strings, in an echo of dancing skeleton bones.

Liszt composed the piano solo piece originally in 1839 and completed it for publication in 1865, dedicating it to the conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow, who was married at that time to Liszt’s daughter Cosima. (She would subsequently divorce him in order to marry Richard Wagner.) Bülow gave the first performance of Totentanz in The Hague on April 15, 1865.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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Artist Bio

Valentina Lisitsa

Valentina Lisitsa is not only the first “YouTube star” of classical music. More importantly, she the first classical artist to have converted her Internet success into a global concert career, performing in the principal venues of Europe, the US, South America and Asia.

The Ukraine-born artist began her musical education in her native city of Kiev at the Lysenko Music School for highly talented children, though she also dreamed of becoming a professional chess player. In 1992 she emigrated to the US, where she and her husband Alexei Kuznetsoff launched a career as two-piano partners. Despite several competition successes and consequent concert engagements, her career ceased to progress, so with a strong sense for innovation and an openness for new ideas, Ms. Lisitsa looked for ways to enlarge her audience.

In 2007 Ms. Lisitsa posted her first video on YouTube: Rachmaninoff’s Etude, Op. 39, No. 6. Despite the low-tech quality of the recording and a sub-standard piano, the click-through rate soared, and more videos followed. Her YouTube channel ( now garners more than 60 million views and 92,000 subscribers.

Over the next several years, Ms. Lisitsa appeared with the Rotterdam and Seoul philharmonics; the Chicago, Pittsburgh and San Francisco symphonies; and the Orchestra Sinfonica Brasileira. Her international stature was secured in June 2012 with a celebrated recital in London’s Royal Albert Hall before an audience of 8,000. There she established what would be come one of her trademarks: listeners voted online in advance of the concert for their preferred program.

This past February Ms. Lisitsa made her Berlin debut in the celebrated Berlin Philharmonie, and her October 19 concert at 92Y marks her New York solo recital debut. Other highlights of her 2013/14 season include engagements in Chicago, Cologne, Munich, Stuttgart, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. She will also appear at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, the Rheingau Music Festival and London's Wigmore Hall.

An exclusive Decca Classics recording artist since 2012, Ms. Lisitsa released her third album for the label, Liszt, earlier this month. The disc includes Hungarian Rhapsody No.12, Ballade No. 2 and several Liszt song transcriptions. Ms. Lisitsa’s first Decca release, Live at the Royal Albert Hall was released in June 2012, and it was followed by the complete piano concertos and the Paganini Rhapsody of Rachmaninoff with the London Symphony and Michael Francis. Last year Ms. Lisitsa earned a 2012 Gramophone Award nomination for her recording with violinist Hilary Hahn of Charles Ives: Four Sonatas for Deutsche Grammophon.

To pre-order Liszt or to order Ms. Lisitsa’s other CDs, visit the 92Y online store on Ms. Lisitsa’s website is

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