Lisa Batiashvili
Echoes of Time – and Home

The sound of Shostakovich belongs to Lisa Batiashvili’s earliest memories. During her childhood, she often heard her father’s string quartet rehearse Shostakovich’s music, and at home and in concert his was the sound world which shaped her sense of cultural context. Lisa Batiashvili and her family left their Georgian homeland when she was eleven years old, but the music of Shostakovich travelled with them. Mark Lubotsky, her teacher in Hamburg, was a student of David Oistrakh, for whom Shostakovich wrote his violin concertos, and to the young Lisa Batiashvili, this felt like a direct line to the source. “When my teacher started telling stories about the First Violin Concerto, I completely fell in love with this piece. David Oistrakh had shared very emotional and precise information about every movement. Somehow the piece became symbolic of the time in the Soviet Union, which I had also experienced myself during the first ten years of my life. Musicians during Soviet times were also looking for the freedom that Shostakovich sought through his music. Music was an escape and a symbol of freedom at a time when it was so difficult to function in an incredibly brutal system. When I travelled to Moscow with my parents, we met many people, and I had a strong feeling that this music was a mirror of what they were going through.” So her debut recording for Deutsche Grammophon has Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto at its core. Under the title Echoes of Time, Lisa Batiashvili has assembled a collection of works which all cast light on Soviet Russia.

Her native Georgia is represented through Giya Kancheli’s haunting V & V, a small taste of a sound world which is markedly different from, yet somehow connected to, that of its massive northern neighbour. “Georgian people are actually not at all related to Russians”, explains Lisa Batiashvili. “In terms of climate, Georgia is a southern country, and the people are more like southern Italians or Greeks by nature – very alive, incredibly emotional and spontaneous. You have the mountains and the sea and great weather for eight months of the year. Russia is vast and lonely and full of isolated places, whereas Georgia is compact and everything is kind of burning. Of course, I cannot avoid sounding Georgian when I play. I spent my childhood there, and when you are in Georgia, you feel something very intense. It’s in my genes and in my veins, even if I’ve spent more than 20 years now in Europe.”

In 1994, Lisa Batiashvili and her family moved to Munich, where she stayed for 15 years. Since then she and her oboist husband have moved to France with their children, but the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra still feels like family. “It’s very special to record with them, because during my time in Munich I got to know three quarters of the orchestra personally”, she says. “I have friends in the orchestra and also colleagues with whom I play chamber orchestra. Recording with them was one of the most wonderful personal experiences – quite apart from the fact that this is one of the most fantastic orchestras in the world, with a tradition like few others.”

Through her spectacular win in the Sibelius Competition at the age of 16 and subsequent visits to Finland, Lisa Batiashvili also feels a cultural affinity with conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. “When we began the first rehearsal of the Shostakovich, it already felt as if we had played together millions of times. With Esa-Pekka, everything seems so easy and natural. Everything falls immediately into place. He has amazing intuition.” And this recording also brought the long-awaited chance to work with pianist Hélène Grimaud, for Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel and Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. “We’ve been planning for years to play together. She loves this kind of repertoire. I admire her a lot, not only for her musicianship, but also as a person who is an incredibly serious musician.” While Pärt and Kancheli, like Shostakovich, both felt the weight of Soviet oppression, Rachmaninov’s music expresses a nostalgic yearning for his homeland that Lisa Batiashvili feels fits well with the other works on the recording. It balances the sweetness of Shostakovich’s Lyrical Waltz, written for the piano and arranged for violin and orchestra by her father, with echoes of another age, she says.

Germany, Finland, Georgia, Moscow, France – in the course of our conversation, Lisa Batiashvili has mentioned a surprising number of places which are almost, but not quite, home. “It has happened quite often over the past fifteen years that I was not really sure where I belonged”, she agrees. “Germany felt so different from my own country when I first arrived there. But when I went back to Georgia I found I didn’t understand anymore who I was or where I belonged. And at the same time I didn’t really integrate fully with the German way of life, I felt like a guest everywhere. On the other hand, for musicians it is a huge advantage to be able to make their home wherever they go. I have a French husband now, our children were born in Germany, and I no longer feel uncomfortable about this way of life. When you bring music to the whole world, it is important to have an easy connection to all kinds of people. And then, in the end, you are not really a stranger anywhere anymore.”

Shirley Apthorp