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Pianist not afraid of poisoned water

EDITOR'S NOTE: Classical pianist Valentina Lisitsa, who was scheduled to perform with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra Friday and Saturday, has canceled due to illness. The concerts will still take place as scheduled.

 

WANT TO GO?

West Virginia Symphony

WHERE: Clay Center

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

TICKETS: $27.50, $40.50, $56.50 and $68.50

INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.theclaycenter.org

NOTE: The symphony is offering a buy-one-get-one-free ticket offer for the concert as part of the Charleston Area Alliance's Back to Business Charlie West campaign. To claim it, purchase tickets at the Clay Center box office or call and mention "Back to Business Charlie West."

 CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A little thing like a chemical disaster won't stop Valentina Lisitsa from performing this weekend with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

The Ukraine-born classical pianist has seen worse.

"My first show in Charleston was in 2001, right after 9/11," she said. "Nothing was flying. Everything was paralyzed."

But the show had to go on, and the symphony was probably eager to introduce its new conductor: Maestro Grant Cooper.

So, Lisitsa, who was living in Miami at the time, and her husband made the drive up from Florida.

"We were there five minutes before the rehearsal," she said. "So, what's a little poisoned water for us?"

She's seen that before, too, growing up in the then Soviet Union, where she said the water could be colorful and smelly.

Lisitsa has come a long way from Kiev, where she attended the Lysenko Music School and the Kiev Conservatory before coming to America in 1991, but she remembered what it was like living under communism.

"The musicians lived behind the Iron Curtain, too," she said. "Sure, some of the artists could travel, but usually, just the big names, and even they were selected to travel not just by their musical ability, but also how correct, politically, they were."

Lisitsa came to the U.S. as a student, and in time, her career flourished. These days, she performs all over the world, but is particularly proud of the audience she's cultivated on social media and through sites like YouTube.

"It's where the young people are," she said.

Classical performers and concert hall owners, Lisitsa explained, always worry about the music dying out because their audiences tend to be older.

"It is the same thing they've worried about for the last 200 years," she said. "Chopin did a concert in Edinburgh, Scotland, and he wrote in a letter that the only people in the audience were the old people with the white hair."

Two centuries later, the audience looks about the same, she added.

"The audience is old, but they never die," she joked.

There isn't much of a difference between classical performers and indie musicians. Both try to reach new people and some of Lisitsa's YouTube videos have been seen millions of times.

The pianist is pretty certain it's not her usual concert hall audience who is doing all the clicking.

Young people, she said, have a voracious appetite for music.

"This generation listens to more music than any other generation ever," she said. "The music is constantly with us. It's on our phones. It's in the stores. It's everywhere."

Music is music to a lot of them, and they don't seem particularly picky. Lisitsa thinks the young explore different types of music, including classical music -- more so now, maybe, because classical isn't taught as much in public schools.

"It's like broccoli," she said. "If somebody tells you it's good for you, there's a natural resistance."

Since there's no one telling them they have to like it, they can make up their own minds.

Lisitsa said that classical music, like wine, is an acquired taste.

"Nobody teaches you how to drink wine in school," she said. "It's a self-taught skill."

Lisitsa said, young people start off with drinking whatever they can get their hands on, whatever will get them drunk fast -- or at the very least, just whatever happens to taste good at the time.

"It's the same with music," she said. "They start with whatever gets their blood boiling, whatever knocks them off their feet. It takes time to get a sense of classical music, but some of the kids who now listen to rap or metal, they'll listen to classical music, too."

"It's a trickle," she acknowledged. "But it's a steady trickle."

For the shows this weekend, Lisitsa said she'd be playing meaty classical fare. The program includes Sibelius' Symphony No. 1 and Brahms' Concerto No. 1 for Piano.

"It's the kind of music to make you forget everything," she said. "Even the poisonous water."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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