Valentina Lisitsa plays in Canada tonight – at the Russian embassy

Valentina Lisitsa plays in Canada tonight – at the Russian embassy


norman lebrecht

June 02, 2015

The repercussions of her banning by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra are taking ever stranger turns.

The US-based pianist, an outspoken opponent of the Ukrainian government, will perform in Ottawa tonight in a recital at the Russian Embassy to mark the 175th anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s birth. The embasy describes the event as ‘strictly non-political’.

Be that as it may, it aligns Lisitsa all the more inextricably with the Putin political machine.

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  • SVM says:

    It is not uncommon for professional musicians to perform at embassies the world over, irrespective of politics or nationality. Classical music is an art that, quite rightly, transcends national boundaries and the diplomatic tensions of the day.

    Mr Lebrecht appears to be implicitly suggesting that musicians should boycott the embassies of certain nations on criteria that are not elucidated — by the same logic, does anybody who performs at a US embassy ipso facto become ‘aligned’ with its perfidious and destructive military-industrial complex and mass surveillance programme? Perhaps Mr Lebrecht would care to enlighten us with a whitelist of acceptable embassies?

    • Karen says:

      Very well said, SVM !

    • Adrian Bryttan says:

      For those who feel Lisitsa is an innocent playing at the Russian embassy, consider her interview for Sputnik News (
      announcing she will hold a concert in occupied Donetsk in Ukraine later this month. She declares she doesn’t care about the quality of the piano and welcomes performing outdoors on the main square for all her fans etc etc…
      Doubtless there will be many opportunities for photo-ops with outlawed terrorists (like Anna Netrebko posing with Oleg Tsarov). Ms. Lisitsa is already promising to post videos on YouTube. She of course wants the world to view her as a hero performing for the embattled troops within the walls of a modern Leningrad, but is this merely a public relations gambit calculated to turbo charge her sputtering career?

  • Peter says:

    Please stop the unfounded vitriolic propaganda against Russia. You might not like Putin and their current policies, neither do I, but Russia is a full and normal member of the international community.
    Attempts to paint it as an outlaw, are between funny and ridiculous, looking at what is actually happening in the world right now and the driving forces behind it. There is certainly more respect for world peace and international law in Russia than in the US and the UK.

    • Musicmatters says:

      Chechnya, Ukraine, Crimea – oh yeah: international law & world peace are Russia’s priorities!

    • William Safford says:

      There’s a significant difference in actions between the U.S. and Russia.

      The U.S. invaded a country — Iraq — that had no role in the 9/11 attacks on our soil.

      Russia invaded a country — Ukraine — without even that level of non-provocation.

      Russia even seized territory that it had willfully and deliberately given to Ukraine, in violation of a treaty that Russia signed to guarantee Ukrainian sovereignty in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear arsenal.

      Other nuclear-armed countries will look askance in the future at requests to relinquish voluntarily their nuclear arsenals — as they should, based on the historical precedent set by Russia’s invasion and seizure of Crimea.

      And where does one lonely pianist stand on all of this? I have no idea; I do not follow her.

      • Peter says:

        It’s not as simple. Before the predominantly Russian eastern parts of Ukraine started their secession, Ukraine was “invaded” if you want, not militarily but under cover and with billions of US $, by the US, questionable opposition figures were dragged into office etc.
        You should get your chain of causality right. Had the US not used the opportunity to drive their agenda of isolation Russia further, none of the consequences would have happened. That’s what rational minded people who know, make out of the events. Forget about the propaganda press – on all sides – though.

        Also you conveniently forget about the Kosovo scenario. There it was under comparable inner conflicts the interest of the US to have a part of a country secede from the mainland… guess what, nobody in the US admin cares about international law… only about the interest of the US plutocracy.

        • William Safford says:

          So, let’s see if I have this straight.

          You wrote: “Ukraine was ‘invaded’ if you want, not militarily but under cover and with billions of US $”

          First of all, since when is economic trade congruent with invasion? It is not as if Ukraine is a banana republic — although it could become one under Russian hegemony.

          So, going with your argument, Russia felt that it could not compete economically with the U.S. and the EU, so it felt justified to invade (militarily, not “economically”) a neighboring sovereign country for *economic* reasons.

          Got it.

          That’s a bit like if Mexico and the U.S. competed for trade with Canada, the U.S. was winning, so Mexico invaded and annexed Texas and sent undercover troops with “plausible deniability” into New Mexico and Arizona to try to destabilize them. (Assuming Mexico were both powerful enough to pull this off and so inclined, which it isn’t.)

          All of this, again, in violation of the treaty that Russia signed to guarantee the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine in return for the divestiture of the latter’s nuclear weapons, thus removing its deterrent capabilities.

          As for Kosovo, last I checked, the U.S. didn’t compete economically for trade with another country, then petulantly invade the former Yugoslavia.

          Your narrative bears little relation to reality, just as Putin continues to lie to the international community in his ersatz claims to justification for his actions — to the point that he has made the reporting of deaths of Russian troops a state secret, to cover the dirty fact that Russian troops are both fighting and dying in Ukraine.

          The world is watching. Putin and the Russian government cannot hide behind its lies.

  • tess says:

    Well, as far as I know she is an American citizen.
    Her tweets weren’t pro- Russian; she merely described an entire nation ( Ukrainians) as pigs feces and posted Holocaust pictures with the thought Ukrainians were in need of strong medicine and then screamed free speech. But her fingers move so very fast! And quite accurately. And she records very artistic interpretations of Michael Nyman. Well….that’s about it.

    • william osborne says:

      Ms. Lisitsa is Ukrainian. She did not describe all Ukrainians as pig feces. Her statements have been inappropriate and have probably harmed the cause of ethnic Russians in the conflict, but the specious attacks on her and the censorship she has faced are just as bad. Personally, I view the attacks on her as far worse because they are not just an artist spouting off in anger, but originate and are promoted by our government and cultural establishment.

      Those interested a well-documented study of how the USA has exploited art and artists for its own propaganda and brain-washing, Francis Stonor Saunder’s book, “Who Paid the Piper?: CIA and the Cultural Cold War” is an excellent read, and something of a page turner too. I highly recommend it. It provides many insights about the rise of post war modernism in the USA, and how it was massively and secretly promoted by the US government to control and depoliticize American leftist intellectuals during the 50s and 60s. Combined with the HUAC purges, the American intellectual landscape was strongly altered, and in ways that deeply influenced the society we live in today.

      We should remember these propensities when reading about artists like Lisitsa and Dudamel, both of whom discomfort the American political and financial establishment.
      If nothing else, books like Saunder’s and others help us remember that the governments on both sides attempt to bias and corrupt our perspectives.

      A detailed review of Stonor’s book can be found here:

      It can be ordered here:

      • tess says:

        Thanks for your insightful comment! I guess you are absolutely right: every system, or if you want to call it ‘regime’ has produced artists and has waved them around in order to show off the regime’s power and potential ( along with other things). Her comments and Toronto Symphony’s subsequent reaction have been discussed at lenght so I’m not going to go there any more.
        An interesting question can be raised from recent events: who is exactly her fan base? Her career was revived thanks to thousands, millions of views on Youtube. But, after seeing the comments of her supporters, and the sheer level of their language I think we have the right to ask ourselves: who is exactly her fan base?Who are these people ? How do they actually translate into ticket sales, and moreover: are those clicks actual people who visit actual concert halls ?

        • william osborne says:

          Certainly her abilities explain most of her fans. Her heartfelt, if misguided, political comments are fairly innocuous in their superficiality, but her playing is the rarest of human miracles, as this video shows:

          Combined with her technique is genuinely deep musical thought. It would be a tragedy if gifts like hers were neglected because of some silly tweets.

          • tess says:

            I don’t completely agree with you on that. I do feel her performances of Rach were very nice – even deep. However, this recording of Beethoven:

            tells me that, combined with her superficiality there is in fact no genuinely deep musical thought. This lack of depth combined with her technique makes a tragedy where music is neglected.

          • william osborne says:

            We see in these comments a strong correlation between aesthetic and political views obviously motivated by bias. Another reason everyone should be able to offer their opinions without being silenced.

        • Geoff Cox says:

          re who actually goes to Valentina’s concerts – in 2012 I would say the Albert Hall was over 2/3 full and more recently any of her concerts in the UK are very well if not sold out so there’s no problem in the UK !

      • Stephen Owades says:

        She was born in Ukraine, but she is indeed an American citizen, although she lives in France. If she shared your dislike of America’s attitude toward the arts, I doubt she would have chosen to apply for American citizenship.

        • william osborne says:

          Or perhaps she does share a critical view of American support for the arts, and that’s why she lives in France. She prefers a more cultured environment….

          • Mark Morrison says:

            You mean the more cultured environment of France where being obviously Jewish can put one in great and even mortal danger? Where many many French were only to happy to collaborate with Nazis, including one very highly esteemed pianist/teacher? Yeah, sure, that’s my idea of culture!

          • william osborne says:

            Many more Jewish people were killed in the WTC attacks than all those killed in France since WWII.

      • JayPee says:

        Mr. Osborne, would you defend her if instead of writing about Ukrainians, she wrote about Jews? or gays?

        “Her posts on Twitter repeatedly call Ukrainians Nazis and depicts them as a population of idiots and the insane; one purports to illustrate the leadership’s faces with a photograph of pigs’ testicles. The feed also has some racism and overtones of anti-Semitism thrown in for good measure.”

        The fact that she was invited by the Russian Embassy confirms that she is now Russia’s official mascot.

        She should read Klaus Mann’s ‘Mephisto’.

        • william osborne says:

          No, I wouldn’t feel the same. Her comments about the conflict have a very different character, politically biased but not racist or homophobic. She is Ukrainian herself.

        • william osborne says:

          BTW, I read all of Lisitsa’s tweets. Midgette misrepresents them and slanders Lisitsa with careful calculation. Her article is one of the most vulgar hatchet jobs I’ve ever read. I don’t particularly support Lisitsa’s views, but I am deeply repulsed by journalistic manipulation and deceit like Midgette’s article.

  • Milka says:

    Music might indeed transcend all boundaries, but one thinks that for the russians it has
    always been a propaganda tool in trying to prove they are a civilized nation .
    The russians never had a non political event in their history.Maybe to-night they
    might read out the new Putin banned from russia list while the piano player performs.
    But whatever goes on to-night celebrating Tchaikovsky 175th, it will be a gay event
    with I am sure plenty of vodka,hope they use the good Polish vodka not the russian dreck .

    • tess says:

      LOL to that. Indeed, Russians have an eternal complex of having a huge territory and being seemingly very rich although their nation is in fact starving. Periodically they try to cure their complex with art, space walks and minor invasions. More often they cure their feelings of inferiority by drinking gallons of (dreck) vodka and possibly antifreeze. Then they go and celebrate victory day. But here we go, with stereotypes. I wonder how they cope with the possible gayness of their artists since it is not cool to be gay over there.

  • Glenn Murray says:

    A Ukrainian piano-player in a Russian embassy in 2015 – that is the definition of “non-political”.

    • V.Lind says:

      Ukrainian-born. She’s an ethnic Russian (with some Polish). The ideal figure for the Russian Embassy: she is what they claim they are in this fight for.

      No wonder Canada-Russia diplomatic relations are at such a low ebb.

      • Peter says:

        “Ethnic Russian” no such thing exists. Russia, Ukraine, Poland, these are nations, languages, not ethnicities.
        Ethnically these are people all from the same ethnicity basically.

        • Robert Hairgrove says:

          Peter does have a point: Has anybody thought about what it would mean to say, someone is “ethnically Swiss”? Or “ethnically Belgian”? Or “ethnically Austrian”?

  • V.Lind says:

    Nonsense. If I had been born in Japan because my family had moved there for whatever reason, I would not be ethnically Japanese — I would still be British. Have you ever heard of Sudetenland?

    • Peter says:

      You might want to educate yourself first, what ethnicity actually is.
      Hint: it is in no way related to the passport one holds or the language one speaks.

    • Peter says:

      British is no etnicity either. It’s a nation, nothing else.

      • V.Lind says:

        Well, I didn’t get specific aabout myself, but I have an ethnicity and it is not Japanese.

        But, if you prefer, she (VL) is of Russian descent. That is where her allegiances lie. And all those factions in former Soviet republics have a lot of issues when it comes to Russian or something else. She has picked sides — spectacularly vulgarly, to put it charitably — and it is not the side of the Ukrainians. This latest stunt is just her further reinforcing her loyalties. And I would be interested in what they are paying her. The Russian Embassy in Ottawa was notoriously short of cash in recent decades.

        • Peter says:

          The problem with Sudetenland, Ukraine, Israel, or similar places of unrest is actually, that people think – like you – that they are divided by ethnicities, when in fact they are all the same people, only divided by what was taught to them after their birth.

  • Milka says:

    Still think it would make for a delightful evening her playing and some russian apparatchik
    reciting the 89 names of people banned from russia for negative opinions of Putin .
    How come Harper didn’t make the list …..? not good enough ????
    Has Peter got it wrong ……………

  • Mark Morrison says:

    Pure BS, Peter, and you know it.

    • Peter says:

      What specifically is “pure BS”? Everything that goes against your preconceived little world view?

  • Allan Reichbart says:

    While the Russians may not be politically correct to our naive canadian eyes, they have excellent musical taste. Lisitsa is a treasure. I am ecstatic for the Calgary Philharmonic who put music ahead of politics. See you Saturday in Calgary

  • Milka says:

    “may not be politically correct to our naive Canadian eyes ” ?Reichbart must be
    referring to the select group of Canadians who suffer from myopia . Ain’t so
    sure of russian excellent musical taste if Lisitsa is dragged forth as an example .
    The Calgary Philharmonic are a fine group of players probably one step up from a community orchestra and are only too grateful for whatever” dubious star” comes to play
    in “cowtown ” as the city is affectionately known throughout Canada , it gives
    them a sense of” culture” .