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Lisa Batiashvili on her residency with the Berliner Philharmoniker
The violinist Lisa Batiashvili moves listeners with her deeply felt, richly nuanced playing. She is the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Artist in Residence for the 2023-24 season. In our interview, she talks about her long-standing friendship with the orchestra and about a concert that may turn out to be the high point in her life.
What’s so striking about your violin playing is its expressive intensity and wealth of colours. What are you striving for in creating your sound?
I think of my tone like a voice. Many musicians are of the opinion that beauty of sound is less important than expression. You need that as well. But for me the violin’s sound – like the human voice – reflects the soul of the person making the music. The sound has a lot to do with my own emotions. I want it to encourage a kind of soul-searching in other people and reflection on their own feelings.
This season you’re the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Artist in Residence. How do you view this collaboration?
It’s the fulfilment of a dream for me! This residency is the continuation of a long friendship with the orchestra. It gives me the opportunity, not just for solo appearances in orchestral concerts, but also for realizing chamber projects with the musicians. And I’m greatly looking forward to working with chief conductor Kirill Petrenko for the first time.
You were in your mid-20s when you made your debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Since then you’ve appeared here regularly. What has been your experience of the orchestra?
This orchestra already had an influence on me as a small child. I grew up in the former Soviet Union with recordings of the Berliner Philharmoniker that made a deep impression on me. I longed to appear some day with this orchestra. That seemed a completely unrealistic wish at the time, but then it came true! For me as an artist, it’s a celebration every time I get together with the Berliner Philharmoniker.
During your residency we can hear you in two violin concertos: the Brahms and Szymanowski’s First. The latter isn’t so familiar to us here. What is it about this work that makes it so special for you?
The Szymanowski concerto has an incredible power and a seductive sensibility and sensuality. He wrote it in collaboration with the violinist Paul Kochanski, with whom Szymanowski was apparently in love. I consider the concerto a declaration of love – the expression of feelings that could not be lived out at that time. But they are present in the music and produce a quite special mood.
The Brahms concerto is part of the standard repertoire and has accompanied you throughout your career. How do you keep your curiosity about it alive?
Of course, I’ve played the Brahms concerto often – but never before with the Berliner Philharmoniker. As with all masterpieces, one can discover something new in every performance. That will also be the case when collaborating with the Berliner Philharmoniker. There’s such a great Brahms tradition here, and that comes out in a warm, dark sound and precise articulation. I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the orchestra’s Brahms sound.
You’ll be appearing in a chamber-music programme with the composer and clarinettist Jörg Widmann. What do you admire most about him and his music?
Jörg Widmann and I are old friends. He’s a fantastic clarinettist and a wonderful composer. His music is incredibly varied, yet it has its own unmistakable tonal language. We want to show that contemporary music isn’t always atonal and complicated but can also be accessible and emotional. In our concert we’ll also be introducing Tsotne Zedginidze, a 13-year-old pianist and composer from Georgia. He’s an exceptional talent.
Tsotne Zedginidze is being sponsored by the Lisa Batiashvili Foundation, which you’ve founded to support Georgian artists. What are you aiming to achieve with it?
I want to give something back to my homeland, Georgia, which I left when I was twelve. There are young artists there who have moved me so deeply with their talent that I’d like to support them on their journey. The new generation has such an incredible range of talent and such a great significance for our future in classical music. These young musicians can already do so much at such an early stage, and that’s something I want to encourage. Georgia is a highly developed country artistically, and it has many great artists to offer. To make them as well-known and visible as possible through culture and music, that’s one of the best things we Georgians can do to help our small country.
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Clip: Lisa Batiashvili plays Tchaikovsky's Concerto for Violin. Conductor: Semyon Bychkov
This season the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Europakonzert will also take place in Georgia, with you as soloist. What does this appearance mean for you?
I believe this concert will be the highlight of my life! I am overjoyed that the people of Georgia will be given the opportunity to hear such a great orchestra, so steeped in tradition, performing live in their country. Of course, this concert also has a political significance. Georgia has been fighting for many years to be a part of the European family. Culturally it has long been part of Europe. This concert should make that clear. For Georgia this will presumably be one of the most important cultural moments ever: for the first time such a great orchestra is coming, one of the best in the entire world. That is naturally a big assignment for us. We’re working with a very special team in Georgia, which, despite the challenges, shares this opinion with me: that the Berliner Philharmoniker absolutely must come to Georgia for both cultural and political reasons.
What are you looking forward to most in this residency?
First of all, I’m looking forward to being in Berlin for a longer time and to benefit from the many different things this city has to offer. I’m looking forward to various projects with the Berliner Philharmoniker, people I’ve already made music and been friends with for a long time. It really is like a musical family. Then I’m looking forward to the varied repertoire and to my first collaboration with Kirill Petrenko. And, as I mentioned, up-and-coming musicians are very important to me, so I’m also specially looking forward to my first encounter with the Karajan Academy.