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Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
#2004585 12/26/12 12:45 PM
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This is no big deal in terms of musical virtuosity on the piano. Valentina Lisitsa would bring that commodity to any piano she chose to play. However, from the perspective of how a classical soloist will be marketed in the 21st century, it might be of interest. The post is long though, so be forewarned.

In 2009 Ms. Lisitsa undertook to jump-start her career as a performing soloist with what she dubbed her Rachmaninoff project. At her own expense she hired Michael Fine (a top-flight recording producer) and the London Symphony Orchestra (a top-level recording orchestra). She chose a Hamburg Steinway D from Gerd Finkenstein's rental stable in Germany, and Finkenstein himself drove that Hamburg D to the Abbey Road studios in London where Lisitsa had booked studio time for three separate recording sessions with the LSO. Finkenstein also cared for the Hamburg during the sessions. The project included all four Rachmaninoff Piano Concertos and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. It wrapped up in early 2010. Three hours of studio time were budgeted for each concerto. The project involved considerable expense and risk to Ms. Lisitsa, but her career as a soloist had clearly stalled and her piano concerto appearances had been limited to regional orchestras that lacked any international recognition.

Early in 2012 after no major record label had taken the bait, Decca bought the entire Rachmaninoff project and began to release the concerto recordings individually in digital download form. Very recently, Decca has decided to issue hard copies of the concertos both in individually priced CD's and in a complete boxed set. All of this makes perfect sense except that in the meantime, Ms. Lisitsa has become the marketing face of Bösendorfer.

These days Ms. Lisitsa’s personal website opens with a video of those long-ago Abbey Road sessions of 2009. The piano is obviously the Finkenstein Hamburg Steinway chosen by her at the time, but the identifying information (the Steinway name and logo as well as the Finkelstein logo) is blocked by a cookie disclaimer at the bottom of the page. Zooming out brings the missing information into view. The same information is completely blocked in another extended shot by a table with a telephone perched on it. Here's the link.

http://www.valentinalisitsa.com/


Earlier this month a new round of promo videos were uploaded onto youtube by Ms. Lisitsa herself. They open with a slick Decca promo that punches up a Decca/Lisitsa album cover in synch with the accents of a familiar Rachmaninoff riff. It's quite effective. This brief promo is followed by new videos of Ms. Lisitsa performing complete Rachmaninoff 3rd concerto solo parts on a shiny Bösendorfer. These are new videos with high production values. I think it's fair to assume that these particular sessions are unrelated to and came well after the LSO recording sessions of three years ago.

Ms. Lisitsa has provided the following intro to these entries…..

If you think this is fun, I can't wait for you to hear the REAL DEAL :-) With Orchestra ! With London Symphony :-)
It is released today in digital. Be the first to hear it !

Amazon US http://tinyurl.com/aakjorf

Amazon UK http://tinyurl.com/bdr9us7

iTunes US https://itunes.apple.com/album/rachmaninov-piano-concerto/id581994251?ign-mpt...

A message in a bottle for anybody who worried it's too fast, please check Rachmaninoff playing his own 3rd Concerto :
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oA0kXDMKiLg
Admittedly he was supposed to know which tempos he wanted for this piece :-)


Touché to all those who like their Rachmaninoff slow and ponderous with plenty of dramatic schlock! grin

Here's a link to the first movement promo. Is there any doubt that this woman can play?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhEpvIpe-6s


Simultaneous with Lisitsa.s new youtube releases, Pieter de Rooij, who documented the LSO sessions in detail as they happened with live performance footage and interviews, has posted a new youtube cobbled together from the LSO sessions three years ago . This video also shows the offensive telephone, but the shot does not block the view of the potentially troublesome Hamburg Steinway.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejoXpcJb5hE

Again, all this is no big deal from the standpoint of piano artistry. No one other than Rachmaninoff himself has recorded his concertos in the light accelerating style of Lisitsa, and she makes concert Hamburg Steinways, practice Hamburg Steinways, concert Bösendorfers, and practice Bösendorfers all sound terrific.

Why this direct-sell pitch is of interest (possibly only to me smile ) is that financially and professionally Ms. Lisitsa is at a crossroads in her career. As youtube's classical version of Justin Bieber, she has not exactly endeared herself to conservative classical recording labels or major performance venues. As the contemporary classical artist who has given most freely (both literally and figuratively) of her material and her thoughts on youtube, facebook, and her own website, and interacted directly with her millions of fans through electronic media, she is unique in the classical music world.. To paraphrase Michael Francis’ comment about the LSO's instnat recognition of her immense talent when they first heard her at Abbey Road studios, “(she knows) how good she really is”. And she cares enough to want you to know that too.

What remains to be seen is how many fans will take her suggestion and spring for a $3.61 download (Amazon US price) or $? for a hard CD or $?? for a boxed set of CD's. None of these items will permit fans to see her in action the way that her free stuff does. The solo youtube videos do allow for that and also have the advantage of allowing all the notes that are customarily buried by the orchestra in a Rachmaninoff concerto to be clearly heard. Ms. Lisitsa (and Decca) will need to get buy-in from the older conservative audiophile set who enjoy collecting and comparing different performances of the most familiar classical works. Will they get enough buy-in to validate the project financially?

The second question is whether the Decca deal and the buzz of some better bookings will get Lisitsa the headliner live bookings that her talent calls for, and finally get her into the snooty big houses with the big orchestras (without her having to put up front money out of pocket). She did get Royal Albert Hall in London not that long ago, and Finkenstein did provide a splendid Bösendorfer for the occasion. Five thousand fans and curiosity seekers opened their wallets and showed up for a solo recital. Decca has bitten on that one as well. And Lisitsa is ready, willing, and supremely able to play the old standards (Winter Wind, slow movement of Moonlight, Rachmaninoff preludes etc.) and even the trite (Für Elise). This is exactly the sort of stuff that the big conservative houses need to feature to keep the subscription patronage rolling. On the other hand, Lisitsa is most definitely a 21st century artist with a bold new streak of self-management and a fan base that, while it is large and dedicated, is not accustomed to shelling out its coin to see her in live performance.. The irony here is that her immense electronic popularity has actually impeded her from being taken seriously by the 20th century establishment. Maybe her new management at IMG will slowly wean her of her generosity of spirit that has made her so accessible for free. But that would be a terrible shame and a tremendous loss, as her up- close-and-personal style is a force that expands interest in acoustic piano music. It might also be ill-advised since electronic media are the future, and the live audience potential for classical music is in decline world-wide, forcing the minority who attend to pay ever-higher prices.

In the simple like/dislike world of youtube and Facebook, Ms. Lisitsa is an unquestioned rock star. It may be a winning strategy for Bösendorfer to catch a ride on that star. In forward-thinking product identity marketing, one trendy and instantly-recognizable Lisitsa may be worth more than the whole Steinway Artist roster,and it could be that the Steinway folks are aware of that. But will the demographics of the Lisitsa fan base at some point come into alignment with the demographics of the $100,000 acoustic piano buyer? Time will tell, and we live in interesting times.



Here is a relatively up-to-date story on how the Rachmaninoff project came about and how it is finally bearing some fruit.

http://m.theglobeandmail.com/arts/m...hmaninoff/article6085979/?service=mobile


Will Johnny Come Marching Home?
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Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
turandot #2004603 12/26/12 01:18 PM
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Thanks for the detailed synopsis.

The linked Globe and Mail article makes me realize that I just missed her appearance here in Toronto, which I would have caught if I had known of it.

Last edited by Sparky McBiff; 12/26/12 01:18 PM.
Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
turandot #2004625 12/26/12 01:51 PM
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That is an interesting story; I had no idea. That said, I don't really pay much attention to Lisitsa. She has, without a doubt, extraordinary pianistic skill... with fingers that might even make Andre-Hamelin envious, but her playing is so darn robotic and unmusical, IMO; some of my friends love her, but I just don't understand the appeal.

Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
turandot #2004635 12/26/12 02:19 PM
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Thank you William for this intriguing and well-researched post. We have to admire the hugely talented Ms Lisitsa's enterprise and determination to thrust her career forward in a situation of increasing belt-tightening by the musical establishment and recording companies.

It seems that there are just about 20-30 of the world's elite concert pianists who have exclusive entrée to the world's best orchestras, concert venues and recording houses. For the rest, it must be among the most challenging and fiercely competitive career choices around.

Kind regards,

Robert.

Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
turandot #2004636 12/26/12 02:23 PM
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>>>>>>But will the demographics of the Lisitsa fan base at some point come into alignment with the demographics of the $100,000 acoustic piano buyer?<<<<<<<

As a fan of her videos (perfect to have on all day in my line of work), AND as a current piano shopper, I think you are asking about me in that last paragraph! So I can report that alignment has definitely occurred.

I have been grand shopping around the country for about two years (see my old threads). One of the striking things that a neophyte learns pretty quickly doing this is that there are other equal or greater pianos in the world besides Steinway and Yamaha. This seems obvious to most seasoned members here (and myself after reading this site for a while) or people involved professionally in music, but I was interested in piano music and pianos for many years before I realized that Steinway wasn't a hands down clear cut "best". They have successfully created that image among the general public and casual piano fans all over the world.

Me a few years ago saw it basically like this: If you are serious and want a really great piano you get a Steinway. Unless you are playing jazz or pop, then you get a Yamaha. If you are pretty serious, but not rich, you get a lower end Yamaha. If you just want or need a piano, and aren't really a pro or serious musician, you get a cheap Asian knock off. That was the extent of it, top to bottom.

Discovering how far from the truth that is is really an awakening, and, in me at least, probably engendered a bit of a reactive anti-Steinway bias. When I play them now, it is pretty clear to me that the sound is not what I want. Years ago, I would have died to get to play a B or D, and to own one was an unthinkable fantasy. Today (and now that I have some financial wherewithal), I am very sure that there are several pianos that I greatly prefer to these.

The only other high-end brand I had ever heard of in those days was Bosendorfer. I knew nothing about them and had never seen or (as far as I knew) heard one.

Seeing Lisitsa play one was a part of my process of realizing the breadth of the high-end piano landscape. In that sense, she and her marketing power have likely influenced my choice to some extent. At the least, it has influenced me to look far and wide, instead of just defaulting to a Steinway (which I have available locally).

When spending this kind of money, no celebrity endorsement would ever carry much weight compared to the sound and feel of the instrument, but of course the mind is complex and we are subject to forces in the culture that we are not aware of. To me, I am playing and feeling and listening to make my choice. But who am I to say that the name on the fallboard plays no role in what I think or feel? Who am I to say that hearing her on youtube talk about her love for Bose and hearing so many hours of beautiful playing come out of her has no effect? I am sure it does.

Independent of all this, I have traveled the east coast and played almost every brand on Fine's performance grade list (Petrof and Sauter have eluded me, alas). Bosendorfer and Grotrian (different as they are) are my current final two (with a little more shopping still to do).

If I end up with a Bosendorfer, will it be because of her? I hardly think so, but again we humans are notoriously unreliable in assessing our own motivations.

I think she is a excellent pianist, but certainly prefer some other classic performances of most of her repertoire (Rubenstein, Arrau, Uchida, etc). Her technique is breathtaking. Her personality (and piano choice!) also adds to her appeal imo. I will not be paying money for any of her recordings, fwiw.


Yamaha CLP-240....and looking
Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
turandot #2004649 12/26/12 03:00 PM
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Fear not, Turandot. We have endured long and windy posts on many subjects, much less worthy of our attention, than Valentina. I enjoyed your post very greatly, and look forward to following the links you provided.

The only time I saw her in person, I forked over cash, and sat a scant 25 feet from the piano--- pretty close range to the thunderbolts--- but delightful if you can take it.

"... Ms. Lisitsa (and Decca) will need to get buy-in from the older conservative audiophile set who enjoy collecting and comparing different performances of the most familiar classical works. Will they get enough buy-in to validate the project financially?..."

I guess you are talking about me, because I hate dressing up in a coat and tie and squeezing into a crowded hall during flu season, where it's impossible to keep my distance from those who inevitably sneeze and wheeze. And, I do value collecting different performances of the same work--- in hardcopy; I've seen too many OS platforms come and go, and too many hard drives go to hard drive heaven. And yes, I am willing to buy the boxed set and pay cash for it; it's an important way to support both performing artists, and my own music education. Not just for the music, either; as you say, the big boys look to such sales to help figure out if an artist is bankable.

"...The irony here is that her immense electronic popularity has actually impeded her from being taken seriously by the 20th century establishment. Maybe her new management at IMG will slowly wean her of her generosity of spirit that has made her so accessible for free. But that would be a terrible shame and a tremendous loss, as her up- close-and-personal style is a force that expands interest in acoustic piano music. It might also be ill-advised since electronic media are the future, and the live audience potential for classical music is in decline world-wide..."

Like I said: neckties, long drives, parking garages, clouds of cologne, bossy docents, old people, flu germs. Valentina is a new thing under the sun. If anyone can break through to a younger audience--- and a new and viable way to get to it--- it is she. But I can't altogether agree that the potential for success with live performances is not there. However, that is a subject for another long and windy post by me, at another time.

"...Her technique is breathtaking. Her personality (and piano choice!) also adds to her appeal imo. I will not be paying money for any of her recordings, fwiw."

Well, as I said: we have endured long and windy posts on many subjects, much less worthy of our attention...



Clef

Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
turandot #2004679 12/26/12 05:07 PM
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although i have been aware of bosendorfer for a long time (perhaps starting with the beatles' abbey road recordings?) i've been forced to 'sit up and take notice' of the beautiful sound coming from the imperial in both lisitsa's and montero's recordings.

Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
turandot #2004696 12/26/12 06:11 PM
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Add another, though late, master of the Bosendorfer, Oscar Peterson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIkQNti8_EU

Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
turandot #2004706 12/26/12 07:46 PM
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To comment on a smaller point of the larger discussion, Valentina chose an instrument for that project, not a brand. Whatever efforts are being made after the fact are to de-emphasize, not to hide.

I have seen photos of Lang Lang playing unidentified instruments with cardboard taped to the side and front to prevent identification even when there is a familiar, distinctive shape. I remember one recent, awkward promotion. Lang Lang is an Audi "Ambassador" and Audi commissioned a Bosendorfer for their 100th anniversary. Lang Lang played the instrument as part of the celebration, but the words "Lang Lang" and "Bosendorfer" somehow never meet in any of the printed coverage. wink
............

There are relatively few models for this new type of music or content distribution. How do you convert an audience into revenue? Specifically, how do you convert an audience built on free content into paying customers? Many musicians have used free content to put pressure on their contract holders. The comedian Louis CK made people notice when he self-financed and then sold his last comedy special direct. Within the larger audience are fans...fans willing to pay for exclusive content.

Over the last 15 years, consumers have shown great willingness to pay for hardware even as they are unwilling to pay for so much content. Of the millions of people who bought iPads (for ~$500) in the last 3 years, I wonder what they spend on digital content?


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Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
turandot #2004725 12/26/12 09:28 PM
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The informal top-down video of the Rach concert clearly shows the phone to be offset at an angle and further from the piano. Did they really "videoshop" the official video to put the phone in a strategic way to cover up the Steinway logo? Had no idea the lengths they go to...

Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
turandot #2004764 12/27/12 12:40 AM
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Valentina Lisitsa is a breath of fresh air in the stuffy realms of concert pianists & orchestras. And while the traditionalists will try to push her out, it will be interesting to see which "wins" - to the general public.

Pipe Organ is going through a similar shake up with the controversial Cameron Carpenter (and a few others). I know that I'd rather sit through Cameron playing an eclectic mix in maybe an overly flamboyant way - than the traditional set who seem to have made an deliberate attempt to perform the most boring music - Messiaen, Buxtehude et al. To empty houses, largely.


Alan from Queensland, Australia (and Clara - my Grotrian Concert & Allen Organ (CF-17a)).
Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
PianoWorksATL #2004765 12/27/12 12:41 AM
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Thanks to all who have posted here. I've enjoyed reading your posts.

Originally Posted by PianoWorksATL
To comment on a smaller point of the larger discussion, Valentina chose an instrument for that project, not a brand. Whatever efforts are being made after the fact are to de-emphasize, not to hide.


Hi Sam,

I always enjoy reading the free content which you offer here to put pressure on the buying public. grin I am just kidding. You're not like that at all.

I just want to say that I am brand-neutral about this. Obviously, Ms. Lisitsa (Valentina to those as lucky as you) chose a piano for the recording project and not a brand. It's a good position for an artist to be in. I'm not sure she's in the same position today. She almost certainly wouldn't be if the makers' roles were reversed. grin

Even more specifically, she chose one of Gerd Finkenstein's fleet of rentals. I have heard that those pianos are all at the top of their game, and as I wrote, he also supplied her a splendid Bösendorfer for the Albert Hall gig.

My instincts tell me that Bosie made a coup when they signed her up. If you can get a charismatic and supremely competent classical pianist with 5o million youtube hits to be the face of your franchise, then why the he11 would you want anyone else? Will the conversion to revenue that you and I wonder about actually take place? I don't know. You might say that the musical performance industry, like Ms. Lisitsa herself, is at a crossroads.

I hope that Ms. Lisitsa, Decca and Bösendorfer all profit from whatever relationships they enter into. I have immense admiration for Ms. Lisitsa as a force to expand the appreciation of classical piano music.

Originally Posted by PianoWorksATL
I have seen photos of Lang Lang playing.....

Unfortunately, so have I...'nuf said.



Will Johnny Come Marching Home?
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Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
turandot #2004845 12/27/12 08:53 AM
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Originally Posted by turandot

I hope that Ms. Lisitsa, Decca and Bösendorfer all profit from whatever relationships they enter into. I have immense admiration for Ms. Lisitsa as a force to expand the appreciation of classical piano music.

Originally Posted by PianoWorksATL
I have seen photos of Lang Lang playing.....

Unfortunately, so have I...'nuf said.

I also wish everyone involved in this all the best. The classical piano world needs a shake up. Now if we could just get Ms Lisitsa to consider 21st century repertoire.

As for Lang Lang the pictures aren't so bad, it's the videos that show his goofy side.


Steve Chandler
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Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
backto_study_piano #2004849 12/27/12 09:05 AM
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I wouldn't compare Cameron Carpenter to Valentina Lisitsa. I'm only 18, yet I found Cameron's playing offensive. And I tend to like Buxtehude, Messiaen, Bach, Widor, Mendelssohn, etc. I don't like hearing revolutionary etude on the pedals sick. Then again, organ recitals in my area are usually giving to full churches, and the members of the local chapter of the AGO tend be purists when it comes to organ playing.

Now for Lisitsa... I love her playing. I love her attention to inner voices, phrasing, her tempi, and her habit of researching a piece inside and out before performing it. I can say that her videos do not do her live playing justice. I do find it sad that she's getting tied up in piano brand drama. I wish artists would stop becoming "artists" for different brands, and just play what they like. Much less red tape, and it would make their lives much less awkward, I would think.


Donald Lee III


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Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
turandot #2004878 12/27/12 10:31 AM
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Turandot,
That was a very interesting and insightful post. Thanks for taking the time to share it with us! smile


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Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
turandot #2004883 12/27/12 10:47 AM
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I'd like to see her on bluray DVD! ..."You know how to whistle don't you Steve,
you just put your lips together and blow" smile

Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
turandot #2005057 12/27/12 04:26 PM
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Turandot!

Long time, no speak. smile

I loved the article and since I wasn't aware of her professional journey, it was a good read. Your summary wasn't half bad, either. wink

In the classical music biz there are quite a number of opinions of this sort of promotion, but my gut tells me that it's becoming more the norm than the exception, and it appears that Ms. Lisitsa was ahead of the curve. Given the ease and accessibility of youtube and mp3 files, maybe the days of the powerful manager as kingmaker are waning...

Thank you for drawing my attention to it - I love looking at what she's doing; coincidentally, I'm in the process of producing something very similar. wink

Open content really helps drive the live engagement for the artist and I can't imagine it's hurting her at all. Most impressive was her willingness to make such a personal financial investment in her recordings. Wow! That's confidence. thumb


Musician, Singer, Teacher, Humorist, Dad...

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Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
beethoven986 #2005069 12/27/12 04:54 PM
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Originally Posted by beethoven986
That is an interesting story; I had no idea. That said, I don't really pay much attention to Lisitsa. She has, without a doubt, extraordinary pianistic skill... with fingers that might even make Andre-Hamelin envious, but her playing is so darn robotic and unmusical, IMO; some of my friends love her, but I just don't understand the appeal.


Have you actually heard her live? I thought the same thing until I heard her live and was blown away.

Last edited by KillerCharlie; 12/27/12 05:01 PM.
Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
turandot #2005281 12/28/12 01:29 AM
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Thanks again to all who have commented.

Originally Posted by Steve Chandler
Now if we could just get Ms Lisitsa to consider 21st century repertoire.]


It's a good thought, but she still has to wade through most of the twentieth century first. Could be that if she establishes herself to her own satisfaction, she'll put a little more risk into her repertoire.


Originally Posted by Bob Newbie

I'd like to see her on bluray DVD


Decca released the Live at Royal Albert Hall on DVD, but no blue-ray format is available AFAIK. Write to Ms. Lisitsa. She was the performer and the video director.Tell her you want blue-ray if you're going to smack down 25 bucks. grin

Originally Posted by Beacon Chris
In the classical music biz there are quite a number of opinions of this sort of promotion, but my gut tells me that it's becoming more the norm than the exception, and it appears that Ms. Lisitsa was ahead of the curve


Hi Chris,

Nice to see that your professional credits now include 'humorist'.

I think she is ahead of the curve. It's not only the releases on youtube. She did a thing last year where she had a webcam on in her house to broadcast her practice over a period of days free to all who wanted to see and hear.

She has commented publicly that she uses youtube to size up the competition as well and research the performance history of a piece.. It's funny about MP3. Audiophiles complain incessantly about the sub-par quality, but I think a trained musician can get a very good sense of a performance from MP3 even if the piano isn't great. The phrasing, the tempi, the attention to interior melodies -- all that comes through. I suppose the sound quality is more critical in your field though.

Finally, Lisitsa's budget of $250k for her Rachmaninoff project, while substantial, had to be spread across the rehearsal and production of 5 major works. Since that came down to only 3 hours per work, she sent her Lisitsa minus orchestra youtubes of the Rachmaninoff stuff to Michael Francis before the sessions so that he could sense what direction she wanted to go. Maybe others have done that, but I'm unaware of it.

Francis commented publicly at the time that it was a huge help both to his conducting and to the orchestra members. He felt he knew her before he actually met her.


Will Johnny Come Marching Home?
The fate of the modern wartime soldier
Re: Valentina Lisitsa and 21st Century Marketing
turandot #2005429 12/28/12 10:39 AM
Joined: Jun 2008
Posts: 2,916
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2000 Post Club Member
Joined: Jun 2008
Posts: 2,916
The classical music field will adapt to changing times, even if it must be dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century.

The fossils that be will knock Lisitsa, be horrified by Yuja Wang and Lang Lang, but so what? There are a lot of young folks on the rise, as always, and the old ways will slowly go away. Some for good, some for bad. So it goes.

Orchestras all over the country are in financial trouble, except for the LA Phil. Why is that? Is it just because of the Hollywood Bowl? Or is it because they are not afraid to program music from the 20th, and even (gasp) 21st centuries?

Over at the Pianist forum, they love to bash Lisitsa and Astanova for being Youtube phenomena. They are missing it.

Nice thread, Turandot.


Gary
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