Wagner and Lisitsa launch BSO season

Wagner: Die Meistersinger Overture

Wagner: Das Rheingold: Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla

Wagner: Tannhäuser: Grand March

Wagner: Tristan and Isolde: Liebestod

Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No 3 in D minor


THE Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s 2013/14 season at Poole Lighthouse got under way in a thrilling concert featuring Valentina Lisitsa, the Ukraine-born pianist often described as the first “YouTube star” of classical music.

It was announced that the orchestra’s principal conductor, Kirill Karabits, was indisposed, and that the Dutch maestro Jac van Steen would deputise. Before the interval, the calm and smiling van Steen took the orchestra through four pieces by Wagner, in honour of the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth. The familiar overture to Die Meistersinger was taken briskly with gorgeously rich sound from the trombones and tuba. The extract from Das Rheingold was less successful: this was what has been pejoratively described as a “bleeding chunk,” the closing passage of the opera but without the voices. After the Grand March from Tannhäuser, the first half concluded with the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde. Laying his baton aside, van Steen lovingly moulded sumptuous sounds from the BSO string sections.

After the interval, Valentina Lisitsa made her appearance. Born in Kiev, Ukraine (like Karabits) in 1973, Lisitsa moved to the USA in 1991. Her career stalled: she feared she was being dismissed as “just another blonde Russian pianist,” and almost gave up trying to make it as soloist. But in 2007 she posted a set of Chopin Etudes on YouTube which became a viral sensation: her YouTube channel has now posted an incredible 56 million clicks and she has 90,000 followers. She is now established as a first-rank international pianist, with concerts at this year’s Proms, in New York and Chicago.

She had chosen Rachmaninov’s 3rd Piano Concerto. The legendary “Rach 3” has long been recognised as a piece which makes incredible technical demands on a pianist: the 1996 Oscar-winning movie Shine chronicles one pianist’s struggle with it. Lisitsa, an unpretentious, smiling platform presence, became a model of fiercely-focussed concentration once the music started. Her technique is breathtaking, but Rach 3, for all its staggering difficulty, is a piece in which the piano and the orchestra combine rather than compete. There was no flaunting of technique for its own sake; we focussed on the music, not the star.

The audience responded with rapture, and we were rewarded by two encores, from a soloist who seemed almost puzzled by our lavish enthusiasm. The concert was repeated in Bristol and Portsmouth on the next two days.


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