Lise de la Salle at Ravinia / by Doyle Armbrust

A T-shirt at Pitchfork Fest read, I LISTEN TO BANDS THAT DON’T EVEN EXIST YET. The nostalgia-fearing indie audience embraces the unknown, meaning many groups’ careers are over before a second album. Classical-music prodigies often suffer a similar fate. But 21-year-old pianist Lise de la Salle has avoided the perils of childhood stardom by eschewing hubris and displaying reverence for her pianistic predecessors.

“I’m very young, but I’d like to play what Richter and Horowitz and Gould have already played so well,” she tells us by phone while on tour in Prague. “I find those artists so much better than me.” The young Frenchwoman’s story is also happily devoid of stage mothering; as a very determined four-year-old, she simply informed her teacher, “I will be a pianist.”

De la Salle makes her Ravinia debut as a result of a reception-dinner conversation with music director James Conlon after they shared a stage in Paris. “Two weeks later, he invited me to Aspen and Ravinia, maybe two of the most important festivals in America,” she says, sounding sincerely astonished.

That follows appearances at Lincoln Center and the Concertgebouw, a series of critically acclaimed recordings on the French independent label Naïve and a six-page spread in Vanity Fair.

Interestingly, the CSO has invited two other fine pianists, Olga Kern and Joyce Yang, to complement de la Salle’s Prokofiev Concerto No. 1 with the first concerti of Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff, respectively. It’s an inspired grouping of pieces, but ultimately, Wednesday’s concert offers a unique opportunity to witness an early chapter of a career that will go the distance.

- Doyle Armbrust

published in Time Out Chicago on July 27th, 2009