What Valentina Lisitsa did next

What Valentina Lisitsa did next


norman lebrecht

February 23, 2018

The US- based Ukrainian pianist, who jeopardised her career with outspoken approval of Putin’s invasion of her homeland, is now working with the American composer Stephen Limbaugh.

Ring any bells?

Limbaugh, who bills himself ‘the greatest pianist in the world’, is a cousin of the rightwing radio shlock-jock Rush Limbaugh. He gets plugs on the Rush show.

His music is simplistic, nationalist, static, background bar-room stuff. Try half an hour of it here. Almost 19,000 listeners have done so already and many find it uplifting.

Even more disturbing is how easily Putinist aggression now sits with Trumpist braggardry.





  • SVM says:

    The proxy wars raging in the Ukraine cannot be reduced to a simplistic narrative of so-called “Putinist aggression”. The post-Maidan Ukrainian government, from which the Crimea seceded in a democratic referendum, is replete with neo-Nazis (e.g.: the Azov batallion) and thugs armed with NATO-supplied weapons, who have been undermining the attempts at a peace process brokered by France, Germany, and Russia. So, can we please desist from this McCarthyist vituperation of Lisitsa, who knows more about these political issues than us?

    • Christopher Culver says:

      Does she know more about these political issues than us? She moved to the USA in 1991, she has missed out on the whole last two decades plus in Ukraine. Meanwhile, people who actually stayed in Kiev the whole time – including many ethnic Russians like Lisitsa – are telling the world that the country has not been “taken over by Nazis” or whatever. Why trust a long-departed expat over them?

      • Robert Hairgrove says:

        @Christopher Culver: You said: “Why trust a long-departed expat over them?”

        Indeed … and an expat, one of who’s parents is Russian?

      • Oresta Cybriwsky says:

        In spite of the fact that I just don’t like her, and that she’s pro-Putin, she’s still Ukrainian and not Russian.

    • Gregor Tassie says:

      I am beginning to think this website is a troll factory for the US campaign against Putin, Valentina Lisitsa is a superb musician and she’s perfectly in her rights to defend Ukrainians against a fascist regime in Kiev, her music-making brings people together for peace.

      • Pianofortissimo says:

        Agree, a superb musician, it is lamentable that she has played a lot of Nyman and now this Limbaugh thing, surely to make a living.sandro.rossitti@bredband.net

      • Kurt Schneider says:

        She is as fine a pianist as was the great Elly Nee.

        • Kurt Schneider says:

          Sorry, Elly Ney

        • Robert Hairgrove says:

          Of course, it is a matter of opinion whether Mme. Ney was a “great pianist” or not … Compared with other artists of her generation, I believe that the more favourable opinions are founded more upon her “posture” towards the prevailing political climate rather than upon her pianistic and musical artistry (Edwin Fischer, Wilhelm Backhaus, or Arthur Rubinstein, for example, are some counter-examples).

          There are also other pianists of that time who “blew with the wind”, as it were, but actually were great artists, although they might have harboured somewhat unsavory political opinions: Walter Gieseking or Alfred Cortot, for example.

        • Robert Hairgrove says:

          (Sind Sie eigentlich überhaupt Deutscher? Der Fehler “Nee” anstatt “Ney” würde kaum einem “echt fühlenden Deutschen” passieren, oder?

          Oder sind Sie vielleicht eher doch noch so ein Putin-Troll??)

          • Kurt Schneider says:

            Bin eigentlich kein Deutscher, wohne aber in Deutschland. Der Name Nee war eine Idee meines Spellcheckers…

    • Kurt Schneider says:

      Funny thing but this aggression to which you refer is a template that has been practiced elsewhere, thank Georgia, Syria & Co…

  • Petros Linardos says:

    [Lisitsa] previously resided in North Carolina before moving to Canada, and then to France. – Wikipedia

  • Alex Davies says:

    I gave up on the Millennial Suite after less than 5 minutes. Is anybody able to explain to me in what way this music is nationalistic? Nationalism in music tends to make me think of Chopin, Smetana, or Sibelius. This piece sounds to me like something any reasonably good music student could improvise while earning a few dollars playing piano for background noise in a cocktail lounge.

  • NN says:

    Her career is only based on the myth that she is one of the most frequently viewed pianists on YouTube. However, I have heard that her husband has simply manipulated her click rates in order to start the ball rolling. Not a surprise at all, I suppose. Ukraine has a big hacker scene.

    • Alex Davies says:

      I don’t like her, but I have to admit that she’s a talented musician. Do you really believe that an artist of Hilary Hahn’s calibre would have performed and recorded with somebody whose career is based only on manipulated YouTube click rates?

  • Vaquero357 says:

    How have I never heard – or heard OF – “the greatest pianist in the world”? Holy smokes! Been asleep at the wheel on that one apparently. Guess Argerich, Ax, Watts, Ohlsson, Paremski, Brendel (OK, he’s retired now but still…), Hough, Pollini, even Lang Lang and Wang – and a whole bunch of other big keyboard talents – are quaking in their shoes at having their reputations eclipsed by Mr Greatest!

    Oh yeah, Valentina – she *is* a heckuva pianist, though way more dramatic than introspective. Don’t care about her YouTube status; I heard her before that and have continued to enjoy her performances since then.

    When it comes to her stance on the Ukraine……”clarity of logic” is not the phrase that comes to mind. I she hasn’t lived there in a long time, but one would assume she’s in contact with family and friends. I don’t really get what goes on in that country, though my ex-girlfriend was half-Ukrainian and half-Russian and she is totally on the “Ukraine should be part of Russia” side.

    • Kurt Schneider says:

      When I was in Ukraine for a concert tour in 2014, virtually everyone spoke out against the Russian-fomented aggression in the east of the country.

  • Dan P. says:

    Well, this music is certainly evocative. I can hear the cocktail glasses clinking with every chord.. Ugh!! Aare people so bereft of music to listen to that they would turn to this, except maybe in an elevator or shopping mall? I would not go to a bar featuring this stuff. That one would volunteer playing this dreck says all too much about the player.

  • Robert Hairgrove says:

    Disclaimer: I don’t think very highly of V. Lisitsa’s piano playing. All of the political commentary left behind in the wake of her various tweets (or Facebook postings) fits in, at least for me, in my perception of her artistry.

    But I find it very interesting to observe the change in tone of commentary here since her Rachmaninoff concerto recordings were reviewed here, shortly after they were issued. Have people started to “see the light”? (or “darkness”, in this case?)

    How much connect/disconnect should there be between artistic performance and political manifestations? The same could be asked about many other performers, of course, either voluntary or unvoluntary.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    How are her buttocks?

    There are things more important than how she plays.

    • Cyril Blair says:

      Presumably they join her torso to her legs, as is the case with most people. So she could hardly survive without them.

  • almaviva says:

    I guess she’ll play this next at Putin’s re-election party … in 2036!

  • John Borstlap says:

    We locked him up in the library to prevent further infuriating commentary on this sensitive subject.


  • Mr. Lebrecht certainly spends an inordinate amount of time creating ex-post facto rules as to which combinations of performers are allowed to collaborate with certain composers at certain geographic locations. I think it would be better if Mr. Lebrecht were to simply publish a matrix showing what combinations are acceptable and don’t violate his rules. That way, performers could just check his matrix and avoid violating his rules. As a result, Mr. Lebrecht wouldn’t have to write another article saying “Valentina did THIS, then Valentina did THAT…”.

    To ensure that the rules are applied equally to everyone in the future, Mr. Lebrecht could distribute his rules to music teachers so that his rules get inoculated in students’ minds at an early age.

  • Nattie Roman says:

    It tuns out that Ms. Valentina was correct in warning the west about the corrupt Ukraine government, the one in place after the US help dispose of the pre-Maidan government. What was she right about> It is corrupt and incompetent. Ukraine has the lowest sense of well being in Europe, and in fact ranks below many African nations. Its economy has gotten steadily worse in three years. A recent poll there found no politician with a higher than 20% rating. And the Nazis. For a group with such a low popularity it has support in the one place it counts – in the government. Anti-semitism is on the rise, and Ms. Valentina has been warning us about that for three years now. Read what these important newspapers say: https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5076191,00.html https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/11/opinion/what-ukraines-jews-fear.html?partner=IFTTT&_r=1&mtrref=t.co&assetType=opinion&mtrref=undefined&gwh=7FE322ABB27B57CF969C491E8DAFB9AE&gwt=pay&assetType=opinion https://www.algemeiner.com/2017/04/21/antisemitic-hate-crimes-thrive-in-ukraine/ http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/defence-watch/why-deny-the-ukrainian-nazi-connection

    Mr. Lebrecht knows next to nothing about Russian foreign relations with NATO. In short, NATO (and the US) gave Russia firm assurances that NATO would not expand if Russia would let German reunification happen. http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/newly-declassified-documents-gorbachev-told-nato-wouldnt-23629 You owe her an apology.

    • Kurt Schneider says:

      And did not Russia sign the Budapest Declaration – and a number of other treaties – which guaranteed Ukraine’s sovereignty within its prevailing borders – which included Crimea?

  • Chris Case says:

    People who do not do their own conscientious research into matters find themselves unwittingly parrotting whatever is the cionsensus narrative perpetrated by the media they subliminally and incritically absorb. If they are in America, they will voice the corporatocracy’s preferred perspective and thereby assist it in obscuring truth in the interests of international corporations. Mr. Lebrecht clearoly exemplifies this phenomenon. He would do well to confine his opining to matters to which he has paid intense and critical attention, such as Yuja Wang’s wardrobe…

  • Lewis Kelday says:

    On 4th March Valentina’s old friends (I speak for ourselves) – who were with her when she was starting out over 10 years ago – will watch her play the Rach 3 with the Russian State Philharmonic Orchestra in the Usher Hall. This is one of her sold out or nearly sold out venues on this tour. Her popularity is real, and is well deserved. Until her Myspace became too big for me to handle I witnessed from the very start day in day out the solid reality of her rapidly expanding fan base from over the world. Musicians were asking “..is this really you, please assure me it is !”. Val with her characteristic humour was quick to assure them. Alexei did not inflate her hits on Youtube because there was no need and I can testify that the burgeoning volume of activity on her Myspace was well in line with her clicks ratings. It was quite a relief to me when she was signed to Decca and more professional auspices were deployed.

    Yes I am devoted to Valentina, to her artistic mission and I can accept this being pointed out to me. I can however testify as to the real reasons for Valentina’s success – ability, dedication, hard work and the utmost self-discipline and persistence cemented by the cohesiveness in their partnership. We shared many a disappointment with them as we met up in London, Brussels or wherever, watched her concerts and among us appraised their entire struggle such as we did in the London bar with Val & Al after her Rachmaninov recordings at Abbey road. This is the side that her detractors haven’t seen – risk taking, keeping their nerve despite no real sign of a change for the better, and this went on for years. The relentless rise of her fan base one day reached a critical mass and she was propelled into a new zone but this was no easy or quick win. They had invested everything they had materially and emotionally. True to the Valentina I know, the first thing she did at the start of her massive Royal Albert Hall debut in 2012 was to tell the audience how we’d helped then she yelled out my name, something I hadn’t anticipated. They both remember only too well the reality of their attempts to build a future since they moved to the US.

    I respect free speech but prefer to keep such a person’s political views and affiliations in a separate compartment from their standing as a performer. This used to be a forum for discussion of musical topics but now I am disappointed by the turn it has taken, especially recently. I have to agree with OLYMPIA PIANIST’s remarks above – I find the whole thing unseemly and unfitting for any real patron of the Arts.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      I think we have heard enough from this Putin troll.

    • Lewis Kelday says:

      Hi Nick thanks for those insights & you have sparked off a number of great memories here. From your remarks I refer to the endorsement of one’s peers – whether one likes it or not, your peers know you as you are. Seldom does the individual have such a well informed and objective perspective on oneself. I witnessed a reaction of peers to Valentina – at Abbey road studio – the whole London Symphony Orchestra. To start with they had hardly heard of her. The explosion hadn’t yet happened, she was just another client. As the Rach 2 started (Michael Fine producing) the look on their faces was more than enough. I could see players craning to look at her hands as they absolutely flew, she was so at home and her playing was so well informed, so expert, so not lacking in any way. There were some rather bemused and surprised expressions right from the start. During the lunch break I listened to members of the orchestra in the queue at the studio food bar. In front of me was asked, “Lisitsa – is she known ??” I heard the reply “She soon will be !”. Val’s own words to us often before had referred tongue in cheek to “Just another blond Russian pianist”. To the orchestra maybe that was their first impression but not after she started to play ! Their reaction was spontaneous and plain to see. Val recorded all but the Rach 3 over that weekend and we watched most of it. It was immersion in total joy of music with Valentina absolutely in her element, playing her heart out. She capered after difficult passages, turning back and grinning at us in punching-the-air mode so much as to say “How about that then !?”. There are YouTube videos of those sessions out there and now if you find them you will now know who she was signalling up above her in the balcony. She was in her element – doing what she was born to do and revelling in every moment. Once the Rach 2 was in the bag Michael Fine joked – “Oh well, how about the 3 now ?”. Val feigned obedience and commenced playing it. The orchestra tittered & shared the joke.

      Then there was the Rach 3 recording itself, on another date and by then we had invited a new piano-interested friend to witness it. When Michael Fine once again introduced “Lisitsa” the Orchestra stood up and cheered and clapped. Once again the endorsement of peers. And as the work proceeded said friend commented on Val’s professionalism. It was plain for all to see. She is a true collaborator and this made for a huge synergy with orchestra and producer.

      Of course we are delighted and look forward to watching Val continue to live her dream in the Usher Hall as she has done in other places, this time with the Russian State Philharmonic ! Not so many years back she would have been most “I wish” about such a vision ! Only today Alexei emailed me a link that includes Valentina in the most inspiring (non Hollywood) female role models on the Ranker site along with people such as Marie Curie, the Williams sisters, Princess Di – again that is merely endorsement from those of us who sometimes like a say – the voting public. Regards, Lewis.

      • Lewis Kelday says:

        Yes Nick & I wondered what he meant by that. I see no evidence that you are a troll of any sort let alone a Putin Troll. I do see that you have defended Valentina’s right to an opinion and I am willing to bet you would defend Norman Lebrecht’s right to an opinion also. I once saw a wise professor being interviewed on TV in the 1970s, his view on a topic being very firm in one direction but far from personally attacking his opponent he stated politely, “That is a view I respect but don’t share.”. He went on to explain why. That, to me, is the civilised way to deal with differences of opinion as distinct from mounting personal attacks and especially character assassinations on those whose views differ from one’s own. In the UK we live in a truly great democracy and we must never allow personal enmity to erode that. It is so valuable, a system in which Fluck and Law broadcasted their hilarious “Spitting Image” puppets, in which impressionists and cartoonists poke fun at people in power and the subjects of these jibes laugh along with the rest of us. Naturally when I see anyone attempting to tear Valentina down on a personal level even to the extent of discouraging interest in her as a performer I take a very dim view. I know she has been outspoken but simply don’t know enough about these matters to form an impression of my own. I do know Valentina as a person and she is a combination of sheer brain box with complex sense of humour and she certainly does like to form little bombshells out of words but I can see for example that her (cited by Val) use of “hyperbole” (exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally) & other devices could be misconstrued – you must surely agree that in the media even the most plain to understand direct remarks are often misrepresented to the point that there is almost a national disease in that respect. People are forever being made to state the true context of quotations and reword the misquotes to their original form. If you are on FB please simply lodge a friend request on mine (imaginatively named Lewis Kelday) and there we can chat without fear of personal attack. You will also see a newspaper article I tagged regarding my (limited but very enthusiastic) role I played with Val & Al and once again I point out that it was Valentina herself who recently asked the journalist to extract the details from me – Valentina is like that, and she never forgets her roots ! Regards, Lewis.

  • Paul Wiebe says:

    I have only in the last year or so become aware of and enjoyed VL’s youtube piano performances – especially her Beethoven, Bach, Chopin. She is without question a great pianist. But in the meantime, I have become a little concerned with her attitudes towards the Ukrainian people and her political stances around the recent issues regarding Ukraine. However, probably wrongly, I was able to let that not interfere with my admiration for her music. Now that I have learned that she is playing the “music” of Rush Limbaugh’s Trump-loving, fascist nephew, I have decided to never again tune in to her performances. (Similarly, I would never view an exhibition of Hitler’s paintings, even if he had been a great artist (which he obviously wasn’t). This is a very sad matter for me because I admire Valentina’s brilliant and passionate music-making so deeply. Why do you embrace such vulgar and stupid political stances, Valentina?

  • olivier bolton says:

    I applaud you Valentina, of course because you are a rare breed authentic and with a personality, a pianist hors pair unique and sensitive, but also for the courage of your opinions, surrounded by a world wrought in hypocrisy…If Music be the food of Love, play on…

  • Jane says:

    Her political affiliations are a shame because she is very talented. However, since she has aligned herself with Putin and Trump, I personally have no interest in hearing her play anymore. I heard her play live before and she was absolutely incredible and I bought her CD. She is due to play here locally in Florida again too. However, if I went, I’d just look at her and think of the Russian thug and our American thug and it would ruin the performance for me. No thank you.

  • Ondine Hasson-Duphil says:

    Really trashy “music,” that of Stephen Limbaugh, quite simply, musiquette, or “musak….” Why is Lisitsa doing this? Maybe she is paid very well for this. As to her political opinions, what do we do? Do we stop listening to Wagner, because he was anti-semitic? Do we ban recordings of conductors who worked in Germany during WWII? One may agree, or condemn someone’s political views, but perhaps, recognizing, and appreciating someone’s talent has to be kept separate, as Barenboim did when he conducted Wagner’s music in Israel.

  • Ondine Hasson-Duphil says:

    In general though, I think musicians should leave politics to historians, scholars, and professional political analysts, who have dedicated their lives to the serious study of this field. It is disappointing that musicians such as Lisitsa use, and exploit their “celebrity” status to engage publicly in what amounts to nothing more than amateurish political commentary, and historical interpretation. It is as if someone who knows nothing about music decided to become a music critic, and an expert in the matter! I think Valentina Lisitsa is a very interesting musician, with original musical ideas, and I love the way she plays Prokofiev, Schumann, and others (btw, she should not tackle the French repertoire, such as Ravel, which she clearly does not understand). Music is her field of expertise, not politics! I do wonder, if in the age of the internet, and the hunger that many have for “celebrity” status, if her political interests are not simply a way to attract attention to herself, a sort of publicity stunt, just as Khatia Buniatishvili or Yuja Wang do with their wardrobes! All theatrics! What are we in for next: pianists doing acrobats while playing their instrument on the piano bench? Violinists doing the hoola-hoop while playing Paganini? It is not for nothing that Gidon Kremer left Verbier saying that he was fed up with the “circus!” (On a last note: Limbaugh seems to be very proud that he and his cousin never went, or finished college: in their particular case, it certainly shows, and they missed out on a little in-depth learning… Both are nothing more than unsophisticated noise, lacking in finesse….)