Theater & Arts

Stars align to bring acclaimed pianist Eliso Virsaladze to Fresno concert hall

You might think that Eliso Virsaladze — described by the great Ukrainian musician Sviatoslav Richter as “perhaps the greatest woman pianist of our time” — would be giving an extensive concert tour when she visits the United States.

But opportunities are limited this time to hear the 73-year-old Virsaladze, who was born in the Republic of Georgia, in the old Soviet Union, and now lives in Moscow. Virsaladze just performed in Los Angeles, where her daughter lives, and will play at just one other venue: Fresno State’s Concert Hall as part of the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series. The concert is 8 p.m. Friday, April 17.

“It will be my first time to Fresno,” Virsaladze says. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Her varied program includes works by Mozart, Liszt and Schumann. (Don’t ask her if Schumann is her favorite composer — she doesn’t have favorites — but Richter called her “an unforgettable Schumannist. … Can one imagine a more beautiful Schumann?”) She enjoys putting together programs that allow for interesting contrasts between composers, she says.

She made her first big splash on the world stage in 1962, at age 20, winning a third prize in the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. She went on in 1966 to win first prize in the Schumann Competition in Germany. In 1989 she received her country’s highest artistic honor: People’s Artist of the USSR.

The pianist, who speaks in the confident, unpretentious tones of a gentle but firm grandmother, is as busy as ever more than 50 years after entering the profession. She divides her time between performing and teaching, which is tough because both are so time-consuming. She teaches at the Moscow Conservatory and in Florence.

“I have even more students than I had before,” she says. “And I have less concerts than before.”

Andreas Werz, artistic director of Keyboard Concerts, was almost giddy when he landed Virsaladze for the Fresno concert. He approached her agent years ago on an earlier tour of hers and wasn’t able to make it work. This time, the stars aligned.

There’s a personal connection for Werz as well. In 1983 he attended a summer workshop for students in Tours, France, and he got the chance to sit in on her master classes and attend a concert. He still basks in the memory.

“It was just stunning what she was able to do,” he says.