Saturday, December 22, 2012

The End of the World Concert -- Valentina Lisitsa

Last night Adam and I had the wonderful privilege of hearing Valentina Lisitsa in concert, here at the Old Theater in Oriental.
Ms. Lisitsa is a lovely woman, personable and unaffected on stage, chatty and fun. She and her husband live in New Bern -- why, I cannot guess. It's a beautiful town, but most world class performers don't choose a small city on the edge of nowhere, to call home. Somehow, at some point, the people who run the Pamlico Arts Council and the Old Theater, got her to come perform here, in our intimate little venue, for a handful of people (163, a sold-out crowd). Evidently she does this regularly. She was phenomenal.
Here's her wikipedia page.
She's a Youtube sensation, but don't let that fool you; this pianist is extremely gifted.
I got the feeling she drifted down from one of her practice sessions in her flowy, knee-length deep-purple dress, wandered onto our stage, and simply continued her practicing with us. The program listed no schedule of pieces to be played. It said simply, "The concert may include selections by Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff."  What a friendly, casual approach! She can play all of that, and much more, but she'll play what she feels like at the time.

In the end, she played the following pieces, although she was not specific. She said things like, "I'll start with a bit of Bach and then some Schubert," or, "I'll play seven or eight Chopin Nocturnes for you. Then I'll look out and see if anybody's still sitting there." 

Bach -- a minor prelude, I think. Don't know which one.
Schubert -- a long piece, a Liszt transcription, someone said. It's name? I don't know.
Schubert's Ave Maria, lovely for Christmas
She said that the above three pieces were dedicated to the families of the children killed one week ago in Connecticut. Of these, the long Schubert piece was my favorite.
To end the first half of the concert, she played Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata. Below is a video of her playing the third movement of it. In concert is was blazing fast -- even more impressive. I love Youtube, but somehow it simply cannot capture the intensity and excitement that live performance gives.

The end of the Beethoven was my favorite section of the concert. I think.
The second half began with the Chopin Nocturnes. I adore Chopin. I play more Chopin than any other composer. She led us gently with her liquid hands, through a nighttime forest of wonder. The noctures drift you into a half-sleep, and the room was awash in magic, fairies and elves, moonlight, incantations of alternating minor and major. I also noticed a tendency in her playing of Chopin that I do myself. It's automatic, somehow. There's a delay that you make, when executing the left and right hands, in Chopin. It's subtle, but consistent, especially in the drowsy nocturnes. It gives the impression of music that is not quite in alignment with itself, just as the mind is wandering in sleep. I don't know -- it's hard to explain. But it was exciting to hear her do something with Chopin that I also do (much, much more imperfectly). She played eight nocturnes, including my recent favorite in C# minor, Opus 27, #1. I love that piece. She also played one of his posthumous nocturnes, and the famous and delightful E-flat major nocturne.  By the time she and Chopin were done with us, we were all jelly in our seats, limp and drugged with music.
To wake us up, and finish the concert with an "End of the World" theme (She'd been joking about the Mayan silliness all evening), she played Liszt's Totentanz. Here she is, playing it on Youtube. It is fast, huge, and bombastic. Afterward, she apologized to  the "Little Piano -- it will be all right, Little Piano!"  Poor thing! It's just a Kawai baby grand, and really not up to such antics!

The Liszt alone was a fabulous experience.
We applauded and applauded, and she played more Chopin for us as an encore. I recognized it, but did not know which piece it was. There are advantages to having a definitive program :)

Ms. Lisitsa is tall. Her hand position is always utterly relaxed -- the position my college professor tried in vain for me to have! Her fingers are long and her playing style is so liquid, so flowing. If you watch the videos, you see it immediately. That's why she's so shockingly fast. She has an icy, brisk precision. She's also very powerful when need be, but she never seems to pound on the keys, nor does she bounce in her seat or distract the audience with ridiculous body gyrations. She hovers over the keys, intent on and thoroughly in communion with the music. Her memory must be astounding. Adam, of course, wondered if she still plays chess.

You can subscribe to her Youtube channel and see much of her work there. If you ever have the chance to hear her play in person -- jump at the chance! She's delightful, funny, unassuming, and brilliant in person.  Here's one more, just for fun!

1 comment:

  1. OH M.K., what a delight this must have been! I'll have to make a special trip to town so I can use library bandwidth to see all these videos. I adore Chopin, he was Dave's favorite, and am sure to be envious of your evening.
    As an aside, a one time friend used to live on Avenue A in New Bern; it's a lovely little town.

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