Concert Review: Valentina Lisitsa in Taipei

I am working on kind of a two-part post I started last week. Been through a few listenings of each work, and am preparing more thoughts, but there is something else to share firstly.

I was thrilled to buy tickets to see Ms. Valentina Lisitsa here in Taipei in our very own national concert hall. I went ahead and bought better seats. “Second floor” is the first floor of the auditorium, at the same level as the stage, and we were on the 19th row, just left of center, perfect place to see the blurs that were Ms. Lisitsa’s hands as she played (that sounds like such an understatement) the Grieg concerto.

After the Arvo Pärt piece (which was nice, but too long when you’re waiting to see Valentina Lisitsa), the orchestration was changed and lots of people came on stage. The piano was already on stage but not opened up. Techs came out and arranged everything under the dim lighting, and when all the hustle and bustle had ceased, the lights went back up and the conductor came out to anticipatory applause. He stood on the platform as if ready to give the downbeat, but waited. Applause from the front rows started as soon as the stage door opened. Seconds afterward, a huge pinkish poofy dress came into view with Ms. Lisitsa in the middle, huge smile. She bowed and shook hands with the conductor and concertmaster, arranged her stool, for herself in place, dress off the pedals, and gave the conductor a nod. From the downbeat, even the timpani roll seemed mesmerizing, and then there she was, Ms. Valentina Lisitsa hammering out the first bar of the piece with a confidence that filled the auditorium as much as the sound of the piano. The entire piece was fascinating and stirring in a way that no recording will ever be. It was spellbinding, mesmerizing, captivating, and all those other overused buzzwords. Truth be told, it was surreal. I have been to many shows this summer, most of them piano pieces (concerti, recitals, etc.) and am always nervous for the pianist. Although I can’t play the pieces myself, I am often familiar with them, and eager to hear how the performer will interpret it, and anxious for them that it all goes well. In reality, I hadn’t realized this until I experienced how assertive and confident and completely in control Lisitsa was, almost part of the piano. Both cadenzas were mind-blowing. Also props to the orchestra and the substitute conductor. They both were great. Kristjan Järvi got sick or something and so a local conductor stood in. I’ve seen him before and he was quite awesome too.

After the last note, the audience roared. Lisitsa and 鄭 (the conductor) left and came back twice. Then Lisitsa came out again and stood next to the piano. She sat down and just before she began playing, leaned to the audience and asked in her thick, rich Russian accent “fast or slow?” I’m not sure if anyone responded, but she roared into Liszt’s La Campanella. I have watched the video of her encore performance of this piece in Seoul many a time, and it was unreal to see and hear it live. She played it even faster than the video version; it’s such a show off piece but still so beautiful and full of energy.

Stood up, bowed, left, came back, and sat down again to play a Liszt transcription of a Schubert piece. More thunderous applause, stand up, now, smile, left.

Came back. Smile again, sat down. Another piece from the Seoul show: Rachmaninoff Gm prelude, op. 23 #5. I love this one too. Fantastic to hear live. She stood up. The audience (or some of us) stood up, she smiled and left and returned yet again.

The fourth encore was a Chopin nocturne, op. 9 no. 2 with a large helping of Lisitsa embellishments. I could have listened to four more encores.

I would pay twice as much to see her again. The Grieg concerto is, of course a standard in the repertoire, and one I particularly enjoy, so it was beyond thrilling to hear a piece I enjoy as much as this by a performer of this caliber. Spectacular.

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