Valentina Lisitsa (Ukrainian: Валентина Лисиця, translit. Valentyna Lysytsya; born 25 March 1973) is a Ukrainian-American virtuoso pianist who used to reside in North Carolina before moving to Canada, and then to France.
Lisitsa is among the most frequently viewed pianists on YouTube – particularly of her recordings of Romantic Era virtuosa piano composers, including Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Lisitsa independently launched her career on social media, without initially signing with a tour promoter or record company.
Life and career
Lisitsa was born in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1973. She started playing the piano at the age of three, performing her first solo recital at the age of four. She is of Russian and Polish descent.
Despite her early disposition to music, her dream at that point was to become a professional chess player. Lisitsa attended the Lysenko music school and, later, Kiev Conservatory, where she and her future husband, Alexei Kuznetsoff, studied under Dr. Ludmilla Tsvierko. It was when Lisitsa met Kuznetsoff that she began to take music more seriously. In 1991, they won the first prize in The Murray Dranoff Two Piano Competition in Miami, Florida. That same year, they moved to the United States to further their careers as concert pianists. In 1992 the couple married. Their New York debut was at the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center in 1995.
Lisitsa posted her first YouTube video in 2007. Her set of Chopin etudes reached the number-one slot on Amazon's classical video recordings, and became the most-viewed online set of Chopin etudes on YouTube.
Furthering her career, Lisitsa and her husband put their life savings in recording a CD of Rachmaninov concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra in 2010. In the spring of 2012, before her Royal Albert Hall debut, Lisitsa was signed on to Decca Records, who later released her Rachmaninov CD set. By mid-2012 she had nearly 50 million views on her YouTube videos.
Lisitsa has performed in various venues around the world, including Carnegie Hall, David Geffen Hall, Benaroya Hall, Musikverein and Royal Albert Hall. She is well known for her online recitals and practicing streams. She has also collaborated with violinist Hilary Hahn for various recital engagements.
Lisitsa has received criticism for her opposition to the Ukrainian government and support of pro-Russian separatists since the 2014 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine and the ensuing armed conflict. In April 2015 the Toronto Symphony Orchestra cancelled concerts with Lisitsa citing her "provocative" online remarks on her Twitter account; the orchestra initially did not specify which tweets or other commentary it believed crossed a line. Later, on 8 April 2015, the CEO of Toronto Symphony, Jeff Melanson provided a PDF document of seven pages listing the most "offensive" tweets. Melanson alleged that the document would "help people understand why we made this decision, and understand as well how this is not a free speech issue, but rather an issue of someone practicing very intolerant and offensive expression through Twitter."
In response, the Toronto Star newspaper criticized the orchestra's decision in an editorial, noting that, "Lisitsa was not invited to Toronto to discuss her provocative political views. She was scheduled to play the piano. And second, banning a musician for expressing “opinions that some believe to be offensive” shows an utter failure to grasp the concept of free speech." Lisitsa said that the orchestra threatened her if she spoke about the cancellation.
According to Paul Grod, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress: "Ms. Lisitsa has been engaged in a long campaign on social media belittling, insulting and disparaging the people of Ukraine as they face direct military aggression at the hands of the Russian Federation". Grod elaborated that "Most disturbing are Ms. Lisitsa's false allegations that the government of Ukraine is "Nazi", and stating that the Government of Ukraine is setting up 'filtration camps.'" The New Jersey-based Ukrainian Weekly has described her postings as "anti-Ukraine hate speech." In response she commented that "satire and hyperbole [are] the best literary tools to combat the lies".
On 22 June 2015, marking the 74th anniversary of the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Lisitsa gave an open-air concert in Donetsk city in commemoration of the defenders, and in a speech she expressed support for the people living in Donbass region in their "anti-fascist war".
In late August 2015, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines decided to remove Lisitsa's recordings from the in-flight entertainment program following a complaint by a passenger named Inna Thorn, who was incensed by Lisitsa's elation at the shooting down of MH17 Malaysian airliner over Eastern Ukraine
Lisitsa has recorded six CDs for Audiofon Records, including three solo CDs and two discs of duets with her husband Alexei Kuznetsoff; a Gold CD for CiscoMusic label with cellist DeRosa; a duet recital on VAI label with violinist Ida Haendel; and DVDs of Frédéric Chopin's 24 Études and Schubert-Liszt Schwanengesang.
Her recording of the four sonatas for violin and piano by composer Charles Ives, made with Hilary Hahn, was released in October 2011 on Deutsche Grammophon label. Her album Valentina Lisitsa Live at the Royal Albert Hall (based on her debut performance at that venue 19 June 2012) was released 2 July 2012.
Lisitsa has recorded several projects with music by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin and Ludwig van Beethoven. Her complete album of Rachmaninoff concertos was released in October 2012 by Decca Records. An album of Liszt works was released in October 2013 on Decca label in 2 formats – CD and 12" LP which was cut unedited from analog tape. An even more recent album comprises a number of works of the composer and pianist Philip Glass.