Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Sonata No. 1 Pianist – Valentina Lisitsa

I recently received a thoughtful email from a friend of mine, Elizabeth Middleton.  A pianist and composer with eight CD’s of her own music to her credit, Elizabeth wrote in part:

I am beginning to wonder whether there is so much mediocre or just plain bad music being created that people’s ability to hear is being corrupted.  It’s so sad that music education has gone by the wayside in public schools and that most classical radio stations have disappeared.  Yet, with YouTube, MySpace music profiles, Rhapsody, iTunes and other websites, there are numerous ways for people to discover and listen to good music, of different genres, on the internet.

Sergei Rachmaninoff

This video, and the one that follows, are striking examples of the great discoveries that can be found on two of the venues mentioned by Elizabeth: YouTube and classical radio.  I had never heard of Valentina Lisitsa before I discovered her on YouTube, and had never heard Rachmaninoff’s first piano sonata until I watched this video.

The first sonata is more expansive than the second, and more romantic in character.  When I first heard it, I was struck at once by its scope and power, as well as its technical demands.  I was also overjoyed to find that, even after 45 years of listening to Rachmaninoff’s music, there are still new masterpieces to discover.

This recording was made in December 2009 in Hanover, Germany.

Published in: on December 28, 2009 at 7:14 am  Comments (3)  
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Enjoy the music!


Published in: on December 28, 2009 at 7:11 am  Leave a Comment  

The Lighter Side of Lola

Lola Astanova is one of the very few classical musicians today who has publicly embraced pop music.  In fact, she has written piano transcriptions of three popular songs, and posted videos of all of them on YouTube.  No one but a classically trained pianist could have written or played these arrangements – they all bristle with technical difficulties – but in each case, Lola has remained true to the spirit of the original.

Concerning the first video, Lola writes on her website,  “Several months ago, while dancing to Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop The Music” in the club, I thought that it would be fun to turn it into a virtuoso piano piece.  So a couple of nights at the keyboard later, I came up with my version of it.  I haven’t done anything like that before, and it was a bit of a challenge to capture the original rhythmic pattern on the piano.  But I gave it a good try.”

When she recorded the following transcription of Madonna’s “Music”, Lola gave us some fascinating insights into the differences between pop and classical music.  Here are a few of the highlights:

“Having been both surprised and amused by the comment, ‘This does not sound like the original,’ that some people posted to my ‘Don’t Stop The Music’ video, this time I decided to give a fair upfront warning: my arrangement is NOT supposed to be the exact repetition of the original song!  For my taste, playing a pop song such as ‘Music’ note for note would be among the most boring, unoriginal and unpleasant things to hear, and I would never waste your attention or my time on such tediousness.  With that said, my arrangement is, in fact, very closely linked with the original (though, I’ll admit that connecting all the dots may require some musical prowess).  So here are a few trivia points about my ‘Music’…

“Pop music and classical music are two polar opposites in the sense that while the richness and variety of electronic sounds allow pop compositions to easily dwell on the same motif over and over again, in classical – it’s all about developing and growing your musical idea.  Additionally, the sound of a single instrument (like the piano) is very “thin” compared to the multitude of electronic sounds in a pop song.  For these reasons, taking a bare pop theme and playing it on the piano unchanged would be utterly ridiculous.  As the original song offered little melodic material, I had to sneak in new motifs (that were still derived from the original) in order to give my ‘Music’ some shape and texture.”

Finally, in the spirit of the holidays, Lola composed the following arrangement of “Jingle Bells”.  In this, as in all of these pieces, I hear the clear influence of Franz Liszt, who wrote hundreds of piano transcriptions himself, and who – like Lola – introduced music written for other instruments to a new and vastly wider audience.

In closing, I cannot do better than to echo the comment posted by Steven Mento after the interview with Lola featured on this blog in October: “Brava! Thank you for your extraordinary part in keeping the pianist-composer legacy alive in the 21st century!”

Published in: on December 23, 2009 at 12:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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