It can be no surprise to New York Philharmonic audiences that Music Director Alan Gilbert chose Lisa Batiashvili to be this year's Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in- Residence. Since her debut with the Orchestra, in 2005 under previous Music Director, the late Lorin Maazel, she has appeared here steadily. Yet, with only a few exceptions, Gilbert has kept her pretty much to himself since he arrived at the Philharmonic.
Alan Gilbert expresses his delight at performing with someone whom he is proud to call both colleague and friend: "Lisa is one of the greatest violinists around today, and I feel so close to her both musically and personally that there are no limitations when we perform. She is the kind of musician I most admire: while being technically and tonally perfect, she also manages to be unbelievably honest, and as passionate as anyone could wish for."
As for Batiashvili, this position is her dream-job. "Every year I try to do something new with the Philharmonic because this is the orchestra that can play anything," she says lovingly. "Now I have the opportunity to delve through a whole year's worth of music with them. And it is so in tune with Alan's programming : incredibly courageous, yet somehow it always turns out right."
Her residency begins October 9 _11 and 14 with Brahms's Violin Concerto, conducted by Alan Gilbert. "It is incredibly difficult technically," Batiashvili explains, "but also the most emotionally exposed. Lots of big emotions declared in a Germanic way; the second movement especially has such a grand expression of love. I've been studying this concerto since my student days in Munich, but only two years ago, while I was recording it with the Dresden Staatskapelle and Christian Thielemann, did I finally get that insight that made it right! The Brahms Violin Concerto is a piece that one plays until the end of one's life."
Lisa Batiashvili's life began in 1979 in Tbilisi, Georgia, more than a decade prior to the fall of the Soviet Union. Both of her parents were musicians, her mother a pianist and her father a violinist with the Georgian State Quartet and a teacher at Tbilisi's Central School of Music (and her first instructor). When, in 1991, the political situation in Georgia became precarious, the Batiashvili family fled to Germany, which remains Lisa's home today. She studied with Mark Lubotski, then Ana Chumachenko, and by age 16 she rose to international attention when she received second prize playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto in the Sibelius Competition in Helsinki. She was the youngest competitor ever to win : more astounding, considering that she had never previously played the piece with orchestra!
Today Batiashvili's calendar is full of prestigious engagements with the world's great orchestras and conductors, and recitals on the world's great concert stages. And she is a consummate chamber musician; that side of her has led to regular public appearances with her husband, oboist Fran‹ois Leleux, at the world's major music festivals. Composers find her inspirational. And she is a muse, giving World Premieres of several works recently, among them Magnus Lindberg's Violin Concerto at the Mostly Mozart Festival. Meanwhile, her Deutsche Grammophon recordings add rapidly to her growing acclaim.
While she has been an artist-in-residence with other orchestras, the New York Philharmonic offers her a unique opportunity. Take the Barber Violin Concerto, which she will perform February 5 _7: "For me this is the quintessential American violin concerto so I wanted to play it here, with this great American orchestra. There is something unconsciously quite 'correct' that happens when people play music to which they have indigenous, national ties. Like the first time I heard the Philharmonic play Bernstein," she recalls, "it became impossible to imagine any other orchestra playing that music."
Lisa Batiashvili considers the concerts on April 8 _11 a gift to her and her husband, who joins her on them, from composer Thierry Escaich: the U.S. Premiere of a double concerto for violin and oboe, cocommissioned by the Philharmonic, that shares a program with J.S. Bach's concerto for the same combination. "I am very excited to see this new concerto," the violinist says, "because, other than the Bach, there isn't much repertoire for us to play together. We play the Bach all the time, and this new concerto was inspired by it. Escaich used motives from Bach's concerto in his music, so it will be very nice to play these works on the same program to show the connection."
Many components combine for the cocktail that ultimately produces Lisa Batiashvili's sound; a whole library of varied tones that she can summon at will that sound natural; a maniacal sense of rhythmic structure; a bowing arm with the grace and power of a dancer. The Lisa cocktail has a more complex recipe. "Because of my life situation I speak six languages," she says. "This has made it incredibly easy for me to communicate in my profession.
"But," she adds, now serious, "I want to expand upon the musical experience to influence the attitude and emotion of the people. My own birthplace, Georgia, is still having political troubles. I want to encourage and share my music with people as it has brought me great luck." She continues: "I have been working with the music school where I first studied: getting them instruments, playing benefits, whatever I can. The greatest thing about being successful is being able to choose the project and the colleagues. At the moment, that is where I find myself and I cannot imagine anything nicer than this."
Robin Tabachnik is a New York _based arts and culture journalist who writes frequently for Playbill, Town & Country, and IN New York magazine.