Pianist Valentina Lisitsa sees more than one musical truth | TribLIVE.com
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Pianist Valentina Lisitsa

There isn’t any single path to success in music. Since Valentina Lisitsa’s spectacular Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra debut in 2010, playing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Manfred Honeck, the Ukrainian pianist has used new and old media to share her artistry.

More than 50 million people have watched her online video of Frederic Chopin’s Etudes. In addition, Decca records has a released a two-CD set of her performing Rachmaninoff’s four Piano Concertos and Paganini Rhapsody with the London Symphony conducted by Michael Francis.

Although she lives in North Carolina with her husband, also a pianist, she now maintains a small apartment in Paris for practicing during months of European concerts.

“We performers, we always say we play exactly as the composer wanted. We claim to read minds, to talk to dead people,” she says with irony. “But, in fact, there is more than one truth and one can look at it so many different ways.”

Yan Pascal Tortelier will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony, with Lisitsa as solo pianist, at concerts May 17 to 19 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The program is Osvald Golijov’s “Siderius,” Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto, Maurice Ravel’s “Rapsodie espagnole” and Edward Elgar’s “In the South.”

Tortelier is always glad to conduct music by Ravel, his favorite composer.

“Everyone has his favorite composer, which is not to say he is the greatest of all. That is a different discussion,” the conductor says. “I feel a special link with Ravel. I can’t explain it. It’s in the blood, or in the soul, … or in the heart. If there is one piece I want to be played after I’m gone, it’s either ‘Mother Goose’ or ‘Valses nobles et sentimentales.’ ”

For his 50th birthday, Tortelier’s mother gave him an autographed letter from Ravel to the French composer and conductor Henri Rabaud, which includes a few indications and corrections about the “Rapsodie espagnole,” which the conductor hasn’t previously conducted with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

“This letter is in my possession, which gives me,” he said with a laugh, “full authority.”

The French conductor also is enthusiastic about concluding the program with Elgar. The English composer is something of a family specialty. His father, the legendary cellist Paul Tortelier, was a noted proponent of Elgar’s Cello Concerto. The conductor led an outstanding performance of Elgar’s Enigma Variations in 2008 at Heinz Hall.

Elgar was inspired to write “In the South” during a vacation to western Italy in 1903. The composer wrote that from his hotel in Alassio he could see “streams, flowers, hills, with distant snow mountains in one direction and the blue Mediterranean in the other.”

Tortelier enjoyed a trip to Alassio at the beginning of May.

“My mother lives near Nice (in France) and is 86. So, I decided to take her out for a day drive through the border to Italy,” he says. “I was happy to go there and find the place where Elgar had his little holiday. I love the coast and going to Italy is a lovely change for a Frenchman — very close and very similar, and yet totally different.”

He says “In the South” is his favorite Elgar and says his reason is very simple, perhaps naive.

“I find it so authentic, so genuine. His inspiration is absolutely on-target. It is certainly more than an overture. You can look at it as a long overture or a short tone poem. It has incredible elan and very different and very evocative moods.”

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or [email protected].

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