Batiashvili, Sibelius, and the BSO
Saturday, February 25, 2023
Lisa Batiashvili is the soloist in Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, and Andris Nelsons leads the BSO in William Grant Still's tribute to the Finnish composer, as well as a Symphonic Fantasy on Richard Strauss's opera "The Woman Without a Shadow," in an encore broadcast on CRB.
Andris Nelsons, conductor
Lisa Batiashvili, violin
STILL Threnody: In Memory of Jan Sibelius
STRAUSS Symphonic Fantasy on Die Frau ohne Schatten
SIBELIUS Violin Concerto
This concert was originally broadcast on October 16, 2021 and is no longer available on demand.
Hear a conversation with Lisa Batiashvili and CRB's Brian McCreath with the audio player above, and read the transcript below.
Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath from WCB at Symphony Hall with Lisa Batiashvili. Lisa, it's so good to have you back, and we missed having you here during the pandemic. Thanks for being here with me to take a little time to talk today.
Lisa Batiashvili Thank you, and I'm so glad myself to be back. Finally, after a very long break due to the pandemic that I've been missing, coming back to United States and it's fantastic to be back, especially here.
Brian McCreath Is this your first time in the United States since the pandemic began?
Lisa Batiashvili Exactly. That's my first time. It was a very long kind of longing for it. And now finally, we are here.
Brian McCreath Well, the last time we talked, you were here to play Szymanowski's First Concerto, and I remember at that time, that was a kind of new concerto for you. You had only just really been playing it for maybe the year before or something like that. This time, it's a very different story. The Sibelius concerto is one that you've played for a long time. Many people think of you when they think of the Sibelius concerto. But I wonder if you could just give me the nutshell of why that is. What is your history with the Sibelius concerto?
Lisa Batiashvili Well, my history with the Sibelius concerto started with the Sibelius Competition in 1995. I was 16 years old, and I learned this concerto to perform it in the finals in case I would be in the finals. So I actually ended up being in the finals with a very, at the time, very young, new kind of face conductor Sakari Oramo, who now, of course, everybody knows these days. And it was the first time I played it with the orchestra, and it was amazing because suddenly, well, I had the right person to share it with and the right orchestra, the Finnish Radio Orchestra. So this piece became one of the most important works of my life. And since then, of course, I've been traveling everywhere with it. And of course, many, many years passed and many different experiences. I've made two recordings of it. One, it was my first ever recording on Sony, with Sakari and the Finnish Radio [Orchestra], and many years later, with Maestro Daniel Barenboim on Deutsche Grammophon. So, and I must say, I've also played this piece with the Boston Symphony at the Tanglewood Festival. That was also many years ago. So now for the first time in this hall.
Brian McCreath Right, right. And yet, the way that you tell that story, it's almost by happenstance. It's almost on the level of coincidence that you were you were training for a competition. So of course, you learned this concerto. But tell me about your bond with it more personally and more musically over the years, because I think there could be an alternate reality where you played it for the competition and then just let it drop and didn't really get back to it. But you've held on to this concerto. As you say, recorded it twice, played it a ton of times. What is it about this concerto that keeps a hold on you?
Lisa Batiashvili Probably the reason why I really felt close to it right in the beginning [is] because of the fact that I played it in the home country of the composer. And I got to know Finland so well around that time when I started practicing that concerto. I think it did make a difference, and it became kind of so clear to me what the music was about because of the communication with that country and the people and the culture, which is so special. It's a very small country, but with incredible, big musical talent. And also the nature of the concerto. I just felt very close.
You know, some things that you can't really explain with words. Sometimes you have a special bond to a certain kind of music because it speaks to you, and you feel like you are expressing yourself through the music. And it actually kind of helps you to bring all your emotions to the audience. And there are other works that don't do that, and you kind of have a more intellectual attitude to that. And luckily, Sibelius has been the piece that, with the right partners, because that is always also the the thing, that you need the people on the stage who also understand it similarly, as you. It doesn't have to be exactly the same, but they have to also give you some sort of energy back so that you make something out of it. So, yeah, after many years, it still is a very exciting piece for me.
Brian McCreath And do you ever think about or at any point has the story of Sibelius himself, with this concerto - this is sort of like story of a failed violinist who sort of pours himself into this one masterpiece for the instrument, one concerto masterpiece anyway - and does that ever enter your mind? Or is it something that's in deep background for you as you play the piece?
Lisa Batiashvili Yes, of course. I mean, I have even heard the original version of this concerto, which has been recorded by Leonidas Kavakos, but I also heard it live once with him. And it's amazing because there are so many incredible moments of the concerto that has been cut out for the revised version, with the two cadenzas - we have only one big cadenza. And you can, of course, feel the incredible emotion behind that because of the instrument itself. I think he wanted to show everything that is possible on this instrument, maybe also to kind of make everybody work a lot and practice hard, all the other violinists because he wasn't the top violinist, but I think he was very passionate. And certainly the third movement is one of the technically most difficult concertos, and especially if you go back to those times, I think that it must have been a real nightmare for the first and the second person who played it, to actually understand the technique of it. Because some of the things in the last movement, technically, are so not... Like, you really don't find these kind of things in any other pieces the way you play the chords, for example, in the last movement. It's so specific for this concerto. So it's something that probably, as usual, one should probably practice without thinking too much about the difficulties, but just to get through as if it was a very natural thing. And just at some point, it helps if you learn this piece not too late in the times of, you know, when you're still a student.
Brian McCreath Well, to that end, I kind of wondered, as I was listening to you in the rehearsal just now, I was thinking, "Gosh, Lisa has had this deep, long history with this piece," and I'm thinking, "What would Lisa say to the 16-year-old Lisa, who's about to do this in a competition, about this piece?" Is there anything you would sort of impart to your younger self that you kind of understand now more about this concerto that you maybe didn't before?
Lisa Batiashvili Oh no, I think everybody has to make his own experience. I would be very careful giving advice to people who are so different from me, you know? And I think it's very important to actually accept in the beginning of learning a masterpiece like Sibelius that things are not perfect and perfection is not the technical perfection that I think, especially in this concerto, it's all about how you understand the depth and the strength of the piece. And then with the experience that, the stage experience, I think you can also learn a lot technically. But it's also, I think in general, what I think is important is to always emphasize the lightness and the joyfulness because we are so often serious about everything and every single concerto. But in every great concerto there is a joke as well. And this lightness and kind of this attitude of, leggiero attitude is something that even in this concerto is not to forget.
Brian McCreath Your most recent CD is called "City Lights." And I'm interested in how you put this together. As I understand it, everything in this CD, it's a lot of short things, very, very cinematically related, not everything necessarily is related to movies, but a lot of it does. And tell me about where this idea came from, that you would collect pieces that resonate with particular important geographical locations, cities that have been important to you. Where did this idea come from?
Lisa Batiashvili Well, it came from a conversation with a friend of mine who actually became one of the most important parts of this album, Nicholas Rachveli, a Georgian friend who is a conductor, arranger, composer, and he has arranged a lot of the works on this album. And we were listening to music by Charlie Chaplin, and that was the first moment where I understood I would love to play this music. I would so much love to play, but I don't want to repeat something that someone has done. And then he said, "Why don't we pick like four or five best themes of Chaplin and make one work out of it?" And he started working on that. When I first heard - and that's actually the opening of my album - I felt that this would become the project of my life somehow. You know, of course, I've done so many recordings with the most fantastic conductors and orchestras, but this was something else. I think that this was all music and tunes that I've always loved as a child and dreamt of and also Morricone, for example, Marlene Dietrich. And then suddenly we understood that it was so, kind of, evident and logical to connect them to the cities that have been important in my life for different reasons. Because that's also part of my geographical life somehow, these cities, because we travel a lot. And then somehow, step-by-step, we kind of completed this project, which took about 18 months. It was a very, very thought-through and kind of complicated thing to put together. But I'm so happy because, even though the tunes are very popular, I think they still sound different because the arrangements have been done really for me and for that recording. I think that this recording is for everybody, like for children, for people who love classical music, but not necessarily, and of course, those who will remember their youth, when they hear this tune, special tunes from the movies,
Brian McCreath I was interested that, in reading about it, that apparently Charlie Chaplin was really popular when you were a child in the Republic of Georgia. And that sounds so interesting to me, Charlie Chaplin of all people being a really popular presence.
Lisa Batiashvili Well, we are a small country, but we are quite cultivated. So Charlie Chaplin, but not only that, I mean, for example, in Georgia, people adored watching French movies and Italian movies like Louis de Funès, Alain Delon, and all this. That was so popular, much more popular than in Germany, because when I moved to Germany, I was a kid. I suddenly realized that the German people didn't really watch French movies as much as Georgian people did, so it's actually quite surprising, you wouldn't expect, but Georgia has very, very close ties to this the cinema of Europe and also music, of course, music, different kinds of music we adore. And so Charlie Chaplin was something that even in the Soviet times, we used to watch a lot at home.
Brian McCreath That's really interesting to me. I find it totally fascinating. But speaking of Georgia, you've recently founded the Lisa Batiashvili Foundation, and this is to support musicians in Georgia. I find that very interesting, too, that it's not sort of a worldwide thing. You're really specifically looking at your homeland, your native land, although now you are in Germany and have been since, as you say, your childhood. And I'm interested in where you saw that need, what is going on in Georgia, where you felt the need to step in to support young musicians?
Lisa Batiashvili Well, I felt an incredible talent. I saw and I heard myself in the recent years, young people who had such strong kind of ties to music in different ways. And not only instrumentalists, but that there are some incredible young composers, singers, jazz musicians. And there is a bunch of these kids who are so intuitive and instinctively talented and can do incredible things on their instruments. But they have, of course, nobody who will be able to support them to actually also find their way in the musical business. Because it's just such a long and complicated road to go, especially when you're 12, 13 years old, but even 19, 20. So, exactly one year ago, I came up with this idea that, actually, if I wanted and I really felt the need to want to support these young people, then it had to have some kind of structure. So this foundation is for the really most gifted kids because there are a lot of them. But we need to hand-pick some of them who actually we want to help for studies, for masterclasses, for the concerts, for different kinds of needs because each individual has an individual need as well. And so this is one of the most beautiful and most rewarding things that I can do at this stage of my life, especially during the pandemic. I realized that, first of all, I could use this time to do that. And then secondly, I want to give hope to the young generation, that it's still worth being a musician, and we have to continue and there are still, you know, things that count in the life of a musician. And now I'm here in Boston, and I realize that now we are kicking off this season everywhere, we are back on stage.
Brian McCreath Well, just one more question about the foundation and specifically about Georgian musicians. You've never lost your connection to Georgian music. You've played lots of things. Your father has arranged some really, really cool pieces that you've played from time to time and recorded. Is there a way that you can characterize what a Georgian musician brings to anything that they're playing, as opposed to someone from somewhere else? I mean, I'm a trumpet player, so I think of French trumpet playing being very distinctive, as compared to English trumpet playing or German. What is it that Georgian musicians bring to their art?
Lisa Batiashvili I think there is some sort of incredible, intense and intuitive connection to music and natural connection to music. Also, there is so much soul behind it, because I think that when - you have to go through Georgia just to see how this country is constructed, how the people are with each other, with guests and how is the food and the nature, the wine and everything. There is so much energy. And when I actually hear those kids, I feel that I'm going back to my childhood. I feel myself somehow, and I know that if I hadn't had the right people around me and my parents going at the right moment to Germany to bring me to this music school, then things would have been very different. So it's the moment of understanding what the need is for the artists in that moment. But there is, of course, a big emotional connection.
Brian McCreath Well, then I can't think of anyone better to support these people than yourself with that experience, you know, being born in Georgia and spending your formative years there. Lisa Batiashvili, thank you so much. I'm so glad you're back. It's lovely to hear you in Sibelius, and thanks for taking some time to talk with me.
Lisa Batiashvili Thanks a lot and see you soon.