Ukrainian-born pianist hopes internet success translates to sales

In an interesting, but poorly titled article, the Wall Street Journal tells a story of talent and determination.  Said title, The Justin Bieber of Classical Piano, makes one think of a performer dependent upon packaging and preteens to sell recordings.  In reality, it’s a story of a well-trained musician struggling to be heard above the din of the internet.

Pianist Valentina Lisitsa came to the United States at the age of 19-years-old, most likely expecting that this would be the best point from which to launch her career.  Lisitsa and Alexei Kuznetsoff, to whom she would soon be married, won a two-piano competition in Miami.  

That was followed by her New York debut at the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center in 1995.  A series of events followed which soon had her questioning her desire to have a performance career.  When her manager died, she began to look at herself as, in her words, “just another blonde Russian pianist.”

Valentina Lisitsa decided to get a government job in Washington D.C.  During the interview, however, she was talked out of it by a telephone operator at the center where she was putting in her application.

With the help of her husband, she self-produced a DVD of 24 Chopin Preludes, which she offered on Amazon, but discovered that people kept taking the clips and posting them on You Tube.  At that point she made the “crazy decision” to post all of them on her own YouTube channel.  All of a sudden, sales of her DVD shot up.  A classical music internet star was born.

You can watch her practice on a live streaming video and see clips of her preparing for concerts.  Now, her internet fame has resulted in a performance at Albert Hall in London.  The sold-out performance was streamed live on You Tube to “viewing numbers more typical of rock or pop events.”  

Her biggest risk, however, has been her latest recording.  She began trying to raise nearly $300,000, which included mortgaging her home, in order to hire the London Symphony and begin recording the Rachmaninoff Piano Concertos.

Now, Decca has decided to release Lisitsa’s Rachmaninoff recording.  As you can imagine, social media is playing a big role in the promotion.  A Twitter campaign #HereComesRach is in full swing.  A spokesman for the company says it’s a bit of a gamble, since so much of her music is available on You Tube, but they don’t want to restrict the connection with her fans, which is the very reason they even have a recording to release.

Time will tell whether the melding of the online world with record sales will work.  In the meantime, music lovers the world over continue to enjoy Lisitsa’s recordings and her chutzpah.

Read more: The Justin Bieber of Classical Piano (Wall Street Journal)