Bach & Beyond

Lisa Batiashvili is promoting Escaich concerto for violin and oboe
These days, among the array of young soloists clamoring for public attention, an increasing number of superstars, like violinist Lisa Batiashvili, are making a priority of finding meaning and stability in their lives while maintaining a competitive technical edge and exploring new musical horizons.

On the heels of the release of her transcendent new Bach CD for the Deutsche Grammophon label, Batiashvili will be taking on a grueling schedule of concertos, including the Tchaikovsky with Barenboim, the Sibelius with Pappano, the Barber with Zinman, and the Shostakovich with Nézet-Séguin.

This winter, she was scheduled to kick off several recitals with pianist Paul Lewis (and violist Laurence Power, cellist Bjorg Lewis, and double cassist Alois Posch) starting December 22 at London’s Wigmore Hall before before moving on to Philadelphia, Princeton, Toronto, Boston, and New York. Note: the Wigmore date was cancelled due to illness.

Batiashvili, newly named 2015 Musical America Instrumentalist of the Year, has also embarked on a campaign to save the violin and oboe concerto genre.

She and husband François Leleux (principal oboist in the Bavarian RSO) are touring as far afield as New York on programs featuring Bach’s iconic Concerto in C minor, BWV 1060, and a brand-new Concerto for violin and oboe by French composer Thierry Escaich.

Unfortunately for her fans, Batiashvili is cutting down on summer festivals this year—she will appear only at Verbier, in July.

During a phone interview from Munich, Germany, where she lives with her husband and two children, aged six and ten, she explains, “Chamber-music festivals are just not child friendly.” I caught up with Batiashvili the night before she was to leave at six in the morning for Hamburg, where she would be playing Bach, Sulkhan Tsintsadze, and Tchaikovsky with the strings of the North German Radio Symphony.

When I asked Batiashvili about her next recording, she laughed and said it’s a secret because the repertoire had not been not 100 percent set yet, which she added “was normal these days because recording plans depend on last-minute decisions on the business side coupled with artist availabilities.”

How can you play so many different big concertos during the season?


Maybe I’m over disciplined because I want to be 100 percent well prepared—I want to be sure that I’m ready. It becomes problematic when the repertoire becomes too different like this season; I planned without paying too much attention. In fact, the Tchaikovsky is a new piece for me—I had kept it unplayed until the time was right. There’s also the new double concerto by Thierry Escaich, and lots of chamber music I had not played before.

Do you have a process for reviewing concertos you’ve played many times before?

For works I know very well, it doesn’t take too much time to review; I know which places are critical and where to focus my time and attention. It’s funny, though: Live performances are things of the moment.

The concert experience is so fragile, if something changes in your head, the hall, or your little finger, it could turn into a completely different experience from your performance the night before of the same piece in the same hall with the same orchestra. That’s what makes live performances special.

What can you tell me about Thierry Escaich’s new violin and oboe concerto?

We just saw the music a few days ago and will be performing it for the first time in a couple of weeks. It’s quite difficult—20 minutes long, very virtuosic, with some Bach themes in it. Basically it’s dedicated to Bach, and so it’s interesting to do it on the same program with the famous Bach Double Concerto in C minor.


How did the commission come about?

We had heard Thierry’s music, and my husband had worked a lot with him, and we thought he could handle the challenge of writing for two instruments of such different sound character, the oboe narrower and louder, the violin broader and softer.

Now that François and I have been together for ten years, we thought there are so many works for oboe and flute, why not for oboe and violin? We could give a chance to new music, and be part of something new ourselves.

Why did you decide to record Bach?

We all think about Bach at some point, and the record company believed Bach would be a nice choice. I had played a lot of Bach at home with my husband, so I recorded works I felt particularly close to, putting the violin in different roles, the  soprano line in the “Erbarme dich” aria, for example. I wanted to avoid a very conventional recital.


How did you approach stylistic issues on your new Bach CD?

For me, the challenge was to get all the historical information I could, but not become too dogmatic about using it. I wanted to make the playing as natural and contemporary as possible, not 17th century because I don’t believe we have to sound like it’s in Baroque times.

What has chamber music meant to you?

Chamber music has always been important to me.

My father played in a string quartet for 50 years [he was second violin in the legendary Georgian State String Quartet], so I was basically raised on the music of the quartet repertoire. Knowing and playing that repertoire is very important when you play solo recitals and concertos; it keeps you flexible and alive. Also, the repertoire is so interesting.