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Gerald Carpenter: Music Academy Welcomes Pianist Valentina Lisitsa

She will open her weekend residency with a recital at 8 p.m. Friday in Hahn Hall

Grants from the Samuel B. and Margaret C. Mosher Foundation have enabled the Music Academy of the West to inaugurate the new Mosher Guest Artist program this summer, providing for the residencies of four stellar guest artists during the festival.

Pianist Valentina Lisitsa
Pianist Valentina Lisitsa

The residencies will include public masterclasses, performances and private interactions with academy fellows.

The first of these Mosher guest artists will be the dazzling Ukranian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa, who will be in residence at the academy this Friday through Monday. Rather than conclude her residency with a recital, Lisitsa will begin with one — at 8 p.m. Friday in Hahn Hall.

The program will include Wolfgang Mozart’s Fantasia in C-Minor, K.475; Seven Nocturnes by Frédéric Chopin (in F-Minor, Opus 55, No. 1; in F-Major, Opus 15, No. 1; in C#-Minor, Opus 27, No. 1; in F#-Minor, Opus 15, No. 2; in C-Minor, Opus 48, No. 1; in Db-Major, Opus 27, No. 2; in Eb-Major, Opus 9, No. 2); Leopold Godowsky’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on J. Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus”; six songs by Franz Schubert, transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt (“Gute nacht,” “Das Madchens Klage,” “Der Doppelgänger,” “Der Erlkönig,” “Der Müller und der Bach,” and “Ständchen”); Schubert’s Impromptu Bb-Major, Opus 142, No. 3; and Franz Liszt’s Totentanz.

The Mozart Fantasia and the Chopin Nocturnes we may safely and confidently anticipate, without a word in the way of introduction. Lisitsa’s reputation precedes her, and many of the Chopin pieces, at least, can be heard and watched on YouTube, with her performing them. With Godowsky, the concert gets interesting, being already beautiful.

Godowsky (1870-1938) was one of the most celebrated pianists of his time. Ferruccio Busoni said that he and Godowsky were the only composers to have added anything of significance to keyboard writing since Liszt. He was a composer of considerable merit and originality, but he is chiefly remembered for his playing, and for his transcriptions of works by other composers — chief among them the 53 Studies on Chopin’s Études (1894-1914), which have the reputation of being among the most difficult piano works ever written, and only a few pianists have ventured to perform any of them.

Of his original compositions, he himself favored the Passacaglia (1928), based on a theme from the first bars of Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony, which no less a pianist than Vladimir Horowitz said was “unplayable” — he said it would require six hands to perform the work. So, I think you get a feel for the kind of pyrotechnics we will witness when Lisitsa sits down at the piano.

The Schubert transcriptions remind us that Liszt was not only a very great composer and a pianist of legendary proficiency and charisma, he was also one of the biggest fans of the music of his contemporaries and masters. His transcriptions and opera paraphrases for pianoforte alone cover every notable composer of his time — from Daniel Auber and Ludwig van Beethoven to Richard Wagner and Ben Weber — and are, for the most part, unbelievably thrilling at the same time that they remain remarkably true to the spirit of the original. His own Totentanz is his transcription for solo piano of a work he originally composed for piano and orchestra and is itself a “Paraphrase” based on the Gregorian plainchant melody “Dies Irae.”

Tickets to Lisitsa are $40 and can be purchased at the door, by calling 805.969.8787 or by clicking here to order online.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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