On 6 June, the Georgian pianist and mdw alumna Khatia Buniatishvili will perform live at the mdw’s bicentennial ceremony in the Golden Hall of the Vienna Musikverein. Buniatishvili sat down recently with mdw Magazine to talk about memories from childhood and her student days – and about being compared with pop stars.
It’s not just the mdw that has something to celebrate in 2017. Khatia Buniatishvili will be celebrating a special birthday of her own: in June of this year, she’ll be turning 30. Despite her relative youth, this exceptional young pianist can already look back on an outstandingly successful career, numerous honours, and five released albums. She gave her orchestral debut as a soloist at the young age of six, and since she was ten years old, she’s been giving concerts worldwide. “Early on, I got a taste of what real discipline is—and of how a human being can develop their imaginary world amidst a schedule that’s busy and difficult both mentally and physically. That period of my life made who I am today.” Her mother was quick to recognise her talent and introduce her to the world of music, something for which she’s now very thankful. Her mother also showed her that, alongside musicality, making music requires both a sense of responsibility and freedom. It was at a competition in Tbilisi that the young pianist eventually got to know Oleg Maisenberg, who convinced her to come to Vienna and study with him at the mdw. She arrived in Vienna full of enthusiasm, she remembers, and went on to become a very good student. “I wanted to absorb everything I could, and the university had virtually unlimited knowledge on offer.” It was during this period that she first came to feel like an independent person standing on her own two feet. She has only praise for Oleg Maisenberg, from whom she learned an incredible amount and whom she describes as a magnificent musician of unlimited imagination and depth: “Every lesson was a work of art and remains deeply engraved in my memory.”
Buniatishvili, who now lives in Paris, won the 2012 ECHO Klassik award in the Up-and-Coming Artist category for her debut album Franz Liszt, and in 2016, she followed up with an ECHO Klassik in the Solo Recording of the Year category for her fourth album Kaleidoscope (with pieces by Mussorgsky, Ravel, and Stravinsky). The repertoire on each of her five albums so far has gone hand in hand with the respective phases of life and emotional states she’s been in. She says she does this in order to be forthright with the composer, the audience, and herself. Music critics are fond of comparing her with pop stars like Katy Perry or Beyoncé, but Buniatishvili pays no heed to such comparisons. She does allow, however, that it may be because a young, not necessarily classical music-loving audience has taken an interest in her and, as a consequence, become interested in classical music for the first time. But might it also be due to her expressive and emotional body language onstage? “I usually just forget that the audience is there. I also forget my own ego. The audience’s energy and my own energy combine, and something positively magical happens: I feel like I’ve become immaterial.”
For young musicians, this young but seasoned pro does have a few suggestions: one has to work hard but also enjoy the spontaneity of life and the music itself. One needs to respect other opinions and feel responsible to the composer, to other people, to the music, and to the world, but at the same time remain free and true to oneself. “You have to discover your own voice – and yourself – in music, in art, and in life,” concludes Buniatishvili. On 6 June, mdw students will have an opportunity to experience this virtuoso pianist live. Her appearance at the mdw Bicentennial Commemoration Ceremony and Concert means a lot, she says. So despite the fact that it had originally clashed with her schedule, she managed to make it possible: “It’s a great honour.”
- Livestream of the ceremonial act: www.mdw.ac.at/mdwmediathek