She was born in a family of musicians (with a violinist father and a pianist mother), and began her musical training when she was two years old. In 1991, at 12 years old, due to the tense political situation in her home country, she left Georgia and settled in Germany. In 1995, she won a prize in the International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition as the youngest-ever competitor. Now an Artist-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic and NDR Sinfonieorchester Hamburg, Lisa records exclusively for Deutsche Grammophon, and her most recent release is an album featuring works by J. S. and C. P. E. Bach. Earlier recordings include Brahms’ Violin Concerto with the Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann (also available on DVD), and Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No.1 with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Batiashvili is one of the very few classical musicians who do not keep their political views under wraps. In September 2014 she was invited to perform with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra led by Valery Gergiev – a Russian conductor who is an active supporter of Vladimir Putin and his international policies (in 2008 he endorsed Russia's involvement in the conflict with Georgia over the separation of South Ossetia and last year he signed a letter in support of the annexation of Crimea). Although she did perform with the orchestra, she had a token of defiance up her sleeve. As an encore for solo violin she prepared a piece composed by Igor Loboda, Requiem for Ukraine, which she performed after the concert.
Filip Lech: Is this your first time working with a project like I, CULTURE Orchestra?
Lisa Batiashvili: Yes!
Young musicians from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Poland, and Ukraine come together in I, CULTURE Orchestra. We are neighbours but, sometimes, we know too little about our cultures. How can we change that? Is music is a field from which we can start making changes?
Absolutely. I think music IS the language that brings peoples and nations together more than any other language. Working, traveling and performing together will certainly bring the participants of the I, CULTURE Orchestra closer, as they will get to know each other’s personalities better and better each day… This is the best basis for friendship between all these countries on the highest cultural level.
I guess that today we will not find an orchestra that is homogeneous or ethnically uniform– orchestras are like a modern metropolis. But in a metropolis, every step you take, you encounter social tensions, problems arising from cultural differences. As a listener, it seems to me that the world of classical music tends to flee from these problems – not many artists have the courage to express their views, like you did in your performance of ‘’Requiem for Ukraine’’ by Igor Loboda. Why do a lot of musicians try to escape the world around them?
I suppose that if my background was different, I might have reacted differently to these situations as well. But I was raised in a country – Georgia – that went through an enormous political change in my childhood. Then, at the age of 12, I moved to Europe, where I saw democracy, civil rights, freedom and great culture, and realized what a long way my homeland would have to go to achieve some of it. At the same time, I was confronted with the differences between the mentalities of my country of birth and my new home, Germany. So my mind was always busy trying to understand all this and to identify myself between Europe and the Caucasus. Now, when history is sort of repeating itself, and my memories of the Soviet empire are awoken through the behaviour of today’s Russian politics towards the other Eastern European countries and former Soviet republics, I have no other way than to react.
“Culture has a lot of power,” you said during an interview in New York. “It’s about having a positive or negative influence on the world.” What sort of power, in your opinion, is there in I, CULTURE Orchestra?
It is a very important and courageous initiative. The Poles once again prove their determination to build bridges with other countries that have to take a step forward. Music students from the participating countries usually do not have the privilege to work in Europe at that age, playing at the highest level in the great concert halls. I am convinced that I, CULTURE will have a strong influence on the development of the musical societies of these countries and their future.
You play a lot of Georgian music. What are the elements which you consider unique or special?
Georgian music is part of the Georgian lifestyle in general, and creates in me a deep connection with my childhood. This is why I play it. I want people around the world to know about it and hear how pure, authentic, special and human this music is.
While preparing for the interview, I was fascinated by what you have to say about the music you are performing. Can you say something about the piece you are going to play with ICO, Sulkhan Tsintsadze’s Miniatures?
Well, I think Sulkhan Tsintsadze’s Miniatures – which indeed are not played very often – are a great example of the Georgian music and lifestyle mentioned above. And I would say that Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 is quite well-known to classical concert goers around the world at this point, but even so, with this repertoire I, CULTURE is representing the culture of Eastern Europe. We all have our history, and usually orchestras want to play music by Beethoven or Brahms, but this specific project is actually telling its own story and that’s wonderful. Prokofiev’s first violin concerto is one of my favourite works in the entire violin repertoire. It is real, miraculous, magical and theatrical music, describing the most dreamy and colourful part of the 20th Century.