Sunday Classics (international concert series 2018-19) with Russian Philharmonic of Novosibirsk and YouTube’s classical music star Valentina Lisitsa at the Usher Hall brought the sounds of some of Russia’s best loved composers to life on a sunny spring afternoon in Edinburgh to the obvious delight of a well-attended concert.
Our musical programme for the afternoon with Thomas Sanderling (Conductor) and Valentina Lisitsa (Piano) featured three well known works, and many people who would say that they do not know “classical music” would recognise at least parts of the music in this programme –
Rimsky-Korsakov - Capriccio espagnol
Rachmaninov - Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) (orchestrated by Maurice Ravel) (1922)
Probably the best known work to many people of a certain age (and the work that I will start with) will of course be Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition due to the 1971 live performance album release by progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Originally composed for solo piano by Mussorgsky in response to the work of his friend, artist and architect Viktor Hartman, this work is literally as its title indicated the composer’s response to “Pictures at an Exhibition” (many of which have long vanished from public view).
Oddly enough, the original work for solo piano is not performed anywhere as often as the arguably more popular version orchestrated by Ravel to celebrate the work’s 50th anniversary, and it is this version which the Russian Philharmonic of Novosibirsk brought to life in all its colour, moods and textures. For some reason, there are always elements in this work that for me evoke the sounds of working men’s “brass bands”, and I can just imagine colliery bands in working towns all over the country being just at home with the “brass sections” of this music – perhaps that is part of this orchestration’s enduring appeal. At another level, this work is of course now one of classical music’s major piano works. Whatever your entry point into this “exhibition” it does not matter; all that really matters is the music.
A bright and sunny spring afternoon in Edinburgh after a few days of cold and rain, seemed to be perfectly complemented with the opening work for this concert, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol, but it was probably the second performance work and Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini performed by YouTube’s classical music star Valentina Lisitsa that many people in the audience had probably come out to hear today. Many composers over the years have worked with variations on some of Rachmaninov’s themes and many will probably recognise elements of the theme tune for the long running television arts programme “The South Bank Show” here.
What is there to say about Valentina Lisitsa that has not been said before? Little to be honest and here, as on YouTube it was her musical talents that did the talking for her. To label Valentina Lisitsa as a YouTube star does in some way label her talents with other social media stars who have built impressive social media followings on little talent, but here the talent existed long before the YouTube videos. What Valentina Lisitsa has done here (and what intrigues me the most about her) is identify this social media video sharing channel as a platform not only to highlight her talents, but to use it as a promotional tool to expand her audience far beyond the reach of any concert hall audience capacity and swiftly build up an impressive following – 346,000 subscribers, and 147 million views with an average of 75,000 views per day. Valentina Lisitsa is the first true “social media” star of the classical music world, but with many eyes upon her, many others will be hoping to emulate her success in developing this market-place.
To develop this on-line presence, you of course have to have the talent to back it all up when people do come out to see you perform live, and Valentina Lisitsa can do this with ease, but perhaps the most vivid thing I took away from me after this concert was her obvious joy at performing music that she so obviously loves to play.
To put the finishing touches on a fine afternoon of music, our encore was one of my favourite works, “Adage du Pas de deux” from Tchaikovsky’s music for “The Nutcracker” ballet.
Overall, a well selected programme of music with so much music here being so widely known that many people who think they do not know classical music would recognise it very quickly when hearing it performed.
Review by Tom King