Valentina Lisitsa wearing the St.George's ribbon, which has been adopted as a symbol of the Russian-instigated hybrid war in Ukraine
In the age when fame can be created overnight on Youtube and reputations ruined also overnight on Twitter, it would be not be reasonable to expect that the April 6 story of Valentina Lisitsa’s cancelled concert at the Roy Thomson Hall just ended then and there. It didn’t. Everything surrounding Valentina Lisitsa seems to have an element of internet soap opera.
First, there were several unsuccessful attempts to find her a venue in Toronto. Then on April 24 came the news about two upcoming concerts in Oakville. It was packaged as a fundraiser for two charities — the Noah’s Ark Wetlands Foundation and the Canadian Journalists Defence Fund. Both were represented by a Cambridge-area property developer Les Holdway, who is a director of both charities.
No one ever heard of the journalists defence fund, and the only time it was mentioned was on Les Holdway’s Twitter feed (@LesHoldway), who announced the creation of the fund on March 9, 2015. The Wetlands Foundation did exist (895162113RR0001), but its charitable status was revoked by CRA in 2013 for non-filing of returns. The returns for 2004-2010 are all blank (no activity), and the last active year we know about was 2003, when the charity collected a grand total of $1,040.00. The blog of the foundation was not updated since 2010.
For musicians who defended Lisitsa on the musicality-above-politics grounds, the dates of the concerts (May 8 and May 9) should have given a pause. It is no secret, that the pro-Putin activists use WWII celebrations as a rallying opportunity.
The venue of the concerts was The Meeting House — a modern, evangelist-style church, whose largest hall has 1,700 seats. This is a lot, even for Valentina Lisitsa. To put things into perspective, the Roy Thompson Hall has about 2,600 seats, and when Vladimir Spivakov and the Moscow Virtuosi gave a single concert in May 2014, it was only about 60% full, which is about 1,500 sold tickets (and some of them were discounted). The Meeting House did not know that Lisitsa was to perform until after the rental agreements with the two charities were signed.
The thing with Internet is — if something is available for free (as Lisitsa’s Youtube clips), it is difficult to start charging a price. This proved to be the case here. On April 29, Les Holdway announced through an interview with Michael Vincent that the two charities agreed to merge the fundraisers, cancelling the May 9 concert. On a good authority, we can say that the cancellation of the May 9 concert was primarily due to poor ticket sales. Youtube fame does not easily convert into dollars and cents, even for a charity cause.
That article mentioned that Steinway Toronto was going to donate a grand piano for the concert. People who are familiar with that brand and what it stands for were much surprised. After checking the facts, it turned out that the claim was not true — Steinway did not donate the piano, as the only person who has the authority to approve such donations didn’t know about this. The interviewer (Michael Vincent) confirmed that that is exactly what he heard from Les Holdway — that the piano will be provided free of charge. We leave it to readers to speculate who was misleading whom here.
And finally, yesterday, on May 2, Les Holdway cancelled the May 8 concert through his Twitter feed as well, citing “community concern” and the fact that this event is no longer about music alone. All his tweets about Lisitsa and the promised grand piano were deleted. Given that there is no visible connection between him and the Valentina Lisitsa’s support groups, I tend to think that Les Holdway didn’t realize what he is getting into. For example, the idea to give the concerts on May 8 and 9 could not have come from him. It must have been suggested by someone more concerned about political vindication than the art itself. People who really cared about Valentina Lisitsa’s musical career should have waited until she retracted some of her offensive tweets, and then attempt to rebuild her reputation on a musical, not political foundation. Sadly, Valentina Lisitsa is not apologetic. Perhaps she knows that it is easier to claim persecution than to compete with thousands of talented and motivated competitors.