Georgian piano virtuoso teams up with Mehta

Khatia Buniatishvili and maestro Zubin Mehta to share the IPO stage.

KHATIA BUNIATISHVILI and Zubin Mehta will collaborate on Mozart Piano Concerto no. 20, in D minor: ‘Music is something that is very free.’ (photo credit: ODED ENTEMAN/GAVIN EVANS)
KHATIA BUNIATISHVILI and Zubin Mehta will collaborate on Mozart Piano Concerto no. 20, in D minor: ‘Music is something that is very free.’
In a meeting of musical minds, superstar pianist Khatia Buniatishvili will share the stage with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for 12 concerts, appearing in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem between January 9 until 23. A pianist whose virtuosity, inner fire and musical integrity have raised her to professional heights, she has won impressive competitions and played upon almost every important stage in Europe and worldwide.
Born in Soviet Georgia in 1987, Buniatishvili’s mother introduced her to piano at the age of three. At the age of six, she gave her first concert with the Tbilisi Chamber Orchestra. She compares her early beginning to taking small children and putting them in water. “The children love it and have the ability to easily learn to swim,” she reflects. “However, if you wait until later in life, they are afraid. For me, playing on stage and with an orchestra is like being in an ocean in which I can swim.”
“My mother is my closest friend. She taught me and my sister, Gvantsa (who is also a fine pianist), music. Not the just the notes, but first played the pieces for us with feeling.  That was a powerful emotion, and we still play together.”
Khatia advanced rapidly and later studied in Tbilisi with Tengiz Amirejibi, and in Vienna  with Oleg Maisenberg. Nevertheless, she hates the term “child prodigy,” and says that virtuosity for its own sake does not appeal to her. What does? What gives life meaning?  Integrity, and expressing the composer’s soul and intent to the best of her ability.
Buniatishvili grew up during a period of chaos in her country, Georgia, as the Soviet Union collapsed. She points out that due to this, she knows the price of freedom, and understands the meaning of independence. From her parents and family, she learned to cope and “stand tall in life.”
“My mother would sew beautiful dresses for me and my sister from material she salvaged from scraps. As children, we saw her creativity in the midst of difficult conditions.”
Buniatishvili firmly believes humanity is at the center of all arts. Her values ring out strong in her choice of social activist projects for which she performs at events and supports, such as women’s rights, action against violation of human rights, for victims of  terrorist attacks, and Syrian refugees.
Buniatishvili was chosen as Musician of the Year by TFI, Europe’s most viewed TV channel, in 2016. She was awarded the ECH Klassik Award by the German Music Industry Association in 2016, and toured Georgia with Zubin Mehta and the IPO in 2017 and the 2018 Festival of Classical Music held in Tsinandali.
She was chosen by Zubin Mehta as soloist to play Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1  with the IPO in 2016. The concert was dedicated to his 80th birthday. She remarks that she and Mehta have known each other for a long time, and performed many concerts together. They are very open with each other during rehearsal, as well as musically together during concert.
There are conductors and places that Buniatishvili does not play with or in. She mentions as example Valery Gergiev, whom she calls one of Putin’s top supporters and propagandists. “Music is something that is very free,” she writes on one of her sites on the Internet. “As a performer, you have the ability to think about things yourself, and come to your own conclusions about interpretation.”
There are music critics who do not agree with her interpretations and often untraditional approach. She counters with the view that concerts are about sharing music and understanding the audience, not pleasing the critics. “Truth cannot be heard in the traditional interpretations of the piece but only in the composer’s score.”
“I never listen first to interpretations by other artists,” she points out. When she opens the score of a piece, she says that “it is as if I were the first person doing it – as if the music was written for me.”
She is open to new music making experiences.  The Georgian Journal calls her the “Beyoncé of Piano” for her teamwork with Coldplay, the British rock band formed in London in 1996. In 2015, she collaborated on their album A Head Full of Dreams playing and improvising on the track entitled “Kaleidoscope.” In a letter to the band’s leader, Chris Martin, she writes, “When two music universes open to each other and create, it could never be called ‘crossover.’ It could only be called ‘music making’.”
Buniatishvili will perform Mozart Piano Concerto no. 20, in D minor with Mehta and the IPO for the upcoming concerts. Her connection to Mozart goes back to childhood when her mother would play Mozart’s Requiem in the evening before sleep.
“Within it,” she explains, “is every human emotion, as well as the power to bring out (both in listener and performer) every human emotion. This is genius.”
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