The art of being difficult: behind the scenes of Lisitsa’s cancelled Oakville concerts




Article by: Arts Against Aggression

Life is often messy, and the messiness of Valentina Lisitsa’s professional life seems to be on par with the best Hollywood examples. Her May 8 Oakville concert, which was cancelled last week, was the fourth Greater Toronto cancellation in a month, which doesn’t bode well for Lisitsa, regardless of specific reasons behind the cancellation.

We know that the first news of the cancellation of the Oakville concert came on Saturday, May 2, at 10:21am in a tweet from the organizer of the concert – Les Holdway, a Cambridge-area property developer. However, a subsequent article in the Slipped Disk on May 4 claimed that the concerts were cancelled a day before (Friday) by Valentina Lisitsa herself. As proof, the article offered an edited email from Lisitsa to Holdway, which was full of stern words, but missed some key items. In particular, the header of the email was missing, making it impossible to be sure when it was sent. It is hard to believe that Lisitsa waited 3 days to announce the cancellation to her fans – she is normally quicker than that. At least one key item was completely cut out of the email as well. Lisitsa’s big interview in Paris on May 2 also didn’t mention the cancellation.

We managed to get in touch with Les Holdway to hear his side of the story. The falling out between Lisitsa and Holdway happened because of mistrust leading to unreasonable demands, particularly from Lisitsa’s husband-promoter Alexei Kuznetsoff, whom Holdway describes as “unstable.” Lisitsa’s camp got very nervous about the charities that were meant to benefit from the fundraiser. They suspected that either Holdway personally, or one of his businesses, would be able to keep the surplus money from the fundraiser. ‎‎ That was puzzling to Holdway, who knew that hundreds of nonprofits operate in Canada legally, file their T1044 returns under a trust number or a business number assigned to them by the Canada Revenue Agency.

Les Holdway is a director of two nonprofit organizations, which were the official reason for the concerts. One is very new – the Canadian Journalists Defence Fund was incorporated on March 9 (i.e. before Lisitsa had the TSO problem). The other one – the Noah’s Ark Wetlands Foundation – has existed since at least 2003, was a registered charity but lost that prestigious status in 2013 due to non-filing and now exists as a regular nonprofit organization, not able to issue tax receipts for charitable donations. Both organization operate legally and are able to raise funds for their causes.

Kuznetsoff started calling all suppliers trying to check if the Holdway’s payments were received. In one situation, the cheque was still in the mail, but Kuznetsoff got agitated and ranted to Holdway about this. Holdway suggested emailing him copies of certified cheques, but Kuznetsoff said all those invoices are a part of a “conspiracy of lies.” When asked if he believed all suppliers were in on it, Kuznetsoff said “yes.”

In order to deflect the suspicions about the charities, Kuznetsoff demanded to change the purpose of the fundraiser concerts from supporting general causes of the Holdway’s two funds to specifically covering legal costs of Ruslan Kotsaba, a Ukrainian journalist who was arrested for dodging the draft (and being public and vocal about it). Per Holdway, it was difficult for him to accept, because covering legal costs is not among permitted activities of the Canadian Journalists Defence Fund (nor the Wetlands Foundation), so this would require a change in the charter of at least one fund.

Holdway did not have much co-operation from Lisitsa and her group. In one bizarre example, they expected to have a pre-production meeting a month ago. Lisitsa was a no-show, and Holdway’s messages were not returned for another day or so. Finally, Kuznetsoff called to apologize and offered some vague explanations. In another case, Holdway planned to recoup some of the costs by filming the event, but Lisitsa requested that Holdway not hire any lighting or sound camera men because Kuznetsoff is capable of doing everything. About a week after that, Kuznetsoff said that Holdway couldn’t record the concert because Holdway didn’t have permission from DECCA, but he (Kuznetsoff) would be able to film. Why Holdway was not informed about that problem earlier is a mystery. Holdway decided not to film.

The venue of the Oakville concerts was quite large, and Holdway had reservations about having two concerts, but Lisitsa was confident in successful ticket sales. In fact, she claimed to be able to arrange for block ticket sales through her contacts in the Russian expat community, so that the concerts would be “sold out” within 1-2 days. And the only reason that she hadn’t pulled the strings just yet was because of her lingering doubts about Holdway’s charities. This implied a remarkable level of control and discipline in that Russian expat community. At the same time, Lisitsa and Kuznetsoff pushed Holdway to place more ads and deliver more ticket sales.

Block sales never materialized. There was just one inquiry and it did not come from Lisitsa. After the first weekend of Ticketmaster sales, Holdway knew the response was not that great, and the second concert on May 9 had to be cancelled. A “scheduling problem” was the cover suggested by Lisitsa.

The grand piano from Steinway was indeed promised, but it was not really free. While Holdway was not required to pay a rental fee, he was still on the hook for insurance, tune-up, transportation and storage. In view of slow ticket sales, Holdway decided to take not a 9-foot concert grand but a smaller 7-foot grand, bringing the cost down to about $1,000 a night. That was perceived by Lisitsa as an insult.

Holdway says that the charities extended about $12-14k in prepayments. None of that is technically refundable, but Holdway hopes $8-10k would be returned. Paradoxically, those harassing calls, which Kuznetsoff made to the suppliers, made them more sympathetic to Holdway in terms of issuing refunds.

Ticket sales was not great. Holdway sold about 250 tickets by Apr 30 and expected to reach 400-500 in the last week. Holdway thought the charities would be able to at least break even on the May 8 concert. When this news was given to Kuznetsoff, he got very excited. Unfortunately for Holdway, Lisitsa’s camp now felt safe enough to demand that Holdway give up financial control. Kuznetsoff said that the “fake charities” would get nothing, because the invoices they had paid were also “fake.” He gave Holdway the weekend to consider the ultimatum.

So in the end, Holdway had to cut his losses. After 6 weeks of long 16-hour work days, he is left with a financial loss to his charity funds, and perhaps a sober thought that he shouldn’t have gotten himself involved with Lisitsa in the first place.

For more information about the Valentina Lisitsa scandal, please visit Valentina Lisitsa Performance 
CORRECTION. The CJDF articles of incorporation were signed by Les Holdway on March 9, but formally deposited with the corporations branch of CRA only in late April, after a review by the Charities Directorate. The charities returns for the Wetlands Foundation were filed, twice, but rejected due to what Holdway believes was a clerical error. Holdway continues his attempts to rectify the error and restore the registered charity status for the foundation.


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  • Dirk Smith

    Adios katsap.

  • Evelyn Myketa Livingston

    I think they all got exactly what they deserved …

    • Oxen

      No one can take you seriously with that kind of low life bias.

      • Evelyn Myketa Livingston

        Oxen, it must be so satisfying for you to rise above the riff raff here! I wonder why you dont go where youd be more appreciated but im pretty sure youre doing your job as lame and predictable as it is.

  • Czech Friend

    Canada is a democratic country with a strong sense of human rights protection, it is safe across the pond and therefore should stand in the forefront against Putin’s criminal regime in Russia.

    Be as uncompromising as you can, Canadians. We in Europe are counting on you too.

    • Czech Friend

      I didn’t ship anything and anyone, poor Ivan.

      Why don’t you go back to Russia? The suffering in decadent West must be unbearable for such a noble Putin-loving man…

  • puttypants

    It’s obvious to me that this husband and wife team are paid Putin trolls.

  • disqus_aJpixObjG7

    Send this or similar email to the Calgary Philharmonic directors, just copy and paste

    [email protected]


    Ms Ann
    Lewis Luppino CEO and president of the Calgary Philharmonic, Calgary Canada

    Ms Heather
    Slater, spokesperson et al.

    Directors of the Calgary Philharmonic,

    Your dismissive, disdainful and ill-considered decision to
    engage the ethnic Russian Valentina Lisitsa (who holds a Ukrainian passport) is
    indeed shocking and insulting- not just to the entire Ukrainian people but to
    all people, especially to people of culture. It is unworthy and disillusioning.
    The Calgary Philharmonic really must consider making a worthy decision and
    statement (by a senior member) to repair this blemish on its dignity.

    Valentina Lisitsa is an artist who takes an ACTIVIST,
    PUBLIC position that supports the invasion of sovereign independent
    states, military
    aggression, neo-fascism, neo-nazism, anti-Semitism, racism, ethnic and
    cultural cleansing, torture, murder of news correspondents and homosexuals as
    well as mass bloodshed against innocent civilians as is occurring in East
    Ukraine and Crimea.

    She should be led to know specifically by you and your
    team, Madam Lewis-Luppino, that she and her ilk cannot then hide from
    responsibility behind their art. Nor has any cultural institution such as
    the Calgary Philharmonic the right to hide such persons behind its skirts.

    fomenting of genocide goes beyond any semblance of mere “opinion” or “free

    Do you not
    understand that Ms Lisitsa is indeed an alleged criminal? Hate speech advocating ethnic and racial
    hatred and genocide is criminalized by the UN charter and the laws of all
    Western civilized nations including those of Canada.

    Ms Lewis-Luppino have no right to flout
    Canadian law and the moral compass of all Canadians by supporting such
    activity. You need to take an unequivocal stand.

    It is
    utterly mind-boggling that the Calgary Philharmonic cannot understand the
    difference between political discourse and a call to racial hatred and
    genocide. Please come to your senses and stand up for art, culture and truth.

    Ms. Lisitsa has made her choice and should bear the consequences
    as persona non-grata. It is important that this self-admitted racist and
    neo-fascist not be allowed to perform anywhere in the West, which she so
    fervently hates and fights against with the lethal weapon of lies, libel and
    propaganda, aimed against the very nations which nurtured her, viz. Ukraine and
    the West.

    Lisitsa’s active participation as a war propagandist in
    Russia’s invasion of the West is anathema to all cultured, democratic and
    morally oriented people. Such an individual has no place on the stage of the CPO.

    Please address this important issue consequently and
    morally. In the name of art, culture and humanity cancel any performance of an unrepentant,
    unapologetic Lisitsa.

    Bravo for the Toronto Symphony who contrary to
    other cowardly

    institutions such as the CPO et al stands for right and truth and does not

    tolerate slease- Neo fascists who are personally perpetrators of mass murder.



    Your name

    • Dmitry Smelansky

      you can also tweet her at @ceocpo

      • disqus_aJpixObjG7

        thanks Dmitry!

    • mercantilist

      Why not just support an referendum for independence in Eastern Ukraine? This seem like a civilized path. Canada followed this path in dealing with Quebec separation movement. The UK too this path with regard to Scot independence and even EU membership.

      • disqus_aJpixObjG7

        Wow! Just amazing! Incredible! Time to stop sucking your thumb! Get some data into your brain! Time to wake up from rose garden kindergarten! Referendums can never be held in areas that have been invaded by brutal genocidal foreign troops and their rapist pillaging mass-murdering proxies. They have already held their so-called “referendums” in Crimea and Donbas at the point of a gun and a knife at the throat. Anyone even heard speaking Ukrainian there is murdered today…
        Try building your “civilized path” among uncivilized invading russian racist drunken rapists looters & mass murderers.
        You still have never lived, never experienced any reality, know zero about the world- time perhaps to leave mommy’s arms…

  • Vlad Pufagtinenko

    All Russians are “unstable”

    • Vlad Pufagtinenko

      can u buy their music in Moscow Comrade?

  • mercantilist

    Hopefully, all of these side shows do not mean that Lisista will no longer appear in the Americas. Her self promotion has been a big factor in a rise. Her visibility and controversy now threatens it. She had built a big following in Canada. Her support for the eastward leaning Ukrainians should be allowed. A reasonable principle is that residents of a geographical area should have a major say in which country has sovereignty over the area. In Canada this principle was followed in the referendum over Quebec independence. – mostly such matters have been decided by military power.