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Valentina Lisitsa: Chasing Pianos And YouTube Fans

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Born in Kiev a little more than 40 years ago, Valentina Lisitsa came to America in the early '90s to work as a concert pianist. She rode a wave of acclaim, recording the Rachmaninoff Piano Concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra, but soon realized she was "just another blonde, female Russian pianist." Looking for a new audience, Lisitsa turned to YouTube around the time of its 2007 inception, with "just me and my piano and nothing else." Seventy million views and a record deal later, she found them.

For her new album, Chasing Pianos, Lisitsa turned to British composer Michael Nyman, a former critic who coined the term "minimalism," often used to describe the works of Philip Glass. The album largely culls from his score for the 1993 Jane Campion film The Piano. It's a far cry from the ornate pieces of Rachmaninoff, but "you have to express so many emotions, and to touch human hearts with so few notes," she tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "This was an exciting challenge for me."

But with so much available to watch and hear free, what's the point of recording and selling music? For Lisitsa, it's an "investment in the future." Her YouTube channel has helped her book concerts all over the world, while also providing opportunities for those without the financial means to experience classical music. The hope there is that, when circumstances change, those same people will attend a performance.

"Classical music — just music in general — it's a social kind of event," Lisitsa says. "This is the center of any music event, because nothing compares to the magic when you're on stage as a pianist and your audience basically transcends time and will go to a different dimension altogether."

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