Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili is living her dream. In 1995, at age 16, she was the youngest-ever competitor at the Jean Sibelius Competition. She went home with second prize. Earlier this month, she released her first concerto recording.
"Finally my dream has come true," she explains. "Since I first performed the Sibelius concerto with the Finnish Radio Symphony and Sakari Oramo, I really thought I wanted that to be my first orchestral disc. And now, after ten years it's really happened. I'm very excited about this project."
A live recording of the Sibelius violin concerto isn't the only reason to be excited about this new release. It also features the world premiere recording of Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg's violin concerto, composed for Batiashvili.
She first met Lindberg in 1995 after the Sibelius violin competition. "I was introduced to him as one of the most incredible young composers," she recalls, "After that I started listening to his orchestral works. Then he wrote a clarinet concerto. I was so amazed by the piece. I really wanted him to write a violin concerto if possible."
She says, "Six months later, I hear about a commission for the Mostly Mozart Festival, and the commission of a violin concerto, and that Magnus wanted me to play it and to dedicate the concerto to me. It was amazing luck that it all happened at the same time."
The Lindberg piece is haunting and restless. By using a vast array of orchestral colors he breathes a full symphonic sound into this chamber orchestra. It's a very challenging piece not only for Batiashvili, who takes total command of the work, but also for the members of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, many of whom also have solo parts.
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Sixteen minutes into this concerto, Batiashvili launches into an intense solo line that's a real show-stopper. The orchestra re-enters as the string section tremors intensely around the soloist.
There's a lot of tension in this piece. However, Batiashvili says there was very little tension when the composer joined them in the recording studio. "When he was there, he was there more as a listener as opposed to a dogmatic composer," she explains, "His trust was there, and he was happy that it was all happening. It gave me more courage to trust myself as a performer."
A live recording is usually made up of two or three performances. When Batiashvili made this live recording of the Sibelius violin concerto she had only one shot at it. She was nervous, and battling a flu bug that day. Her compelling performance is proof of the healing power of music.
Sibelius wrote this work for his ghostly self. He wanted to be a concert violinist in the worst way. He didn't have the chops for it. Batiashvili has the technical skill, and the sensitivity required to pull off this beautiful work. She has strong instincts about this piece. "I feel that it is very, very emotional, a little bit held back in a way, but really powerful music. He obviously had a lot to say, and lots of despair and love and pride in this concerto."
On her new release, Batiashvili establishes a new tradition with the premiere of Lindberg's violin concerto. With a live performance of Jean Sibelius's violin concerto, she proves she's equally comfortable carrying the torch of Finland's greatest composer.
Batiashvili is living her dreams, and she's inviting us along for the ride. I suggest you take her up on it.