Georgian-born violinist Lisa Batiashvili is usually on the move, soloing with orchestras around the world. But since March she’s has been at home with her family in Germany and France. In this TIME IN interview, she talks about the pleasures of re-creating family recipes for her husband and children, playing chamber music with friends, and finding time for yoga and meditation amongst other things.
Growing up with her father, a violinist, and her mother, a pianist, Lisa was surrounded by music in her native country of Georgia, and in Germany where her family moved when she was 12. Lisa began playing violin at 4; at 16, she participated in the Sibelius Competition, an experience that launched her musical career.
Named Musical America’s 2015 Instrumentalist of the Year, she’s earned many other honors, including ECHO Klassik awards, and the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival’s Leonard Bernstein award. She appears with major orchestras and has been artist-in-residence at the New York Philharmonic, the NDR Symphony Orchestra, and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, among others. She is also artistic director of Audi Sommerkonzerte, Ingolstadt from 2019-2021.
In the months since the shutdown, Lisa has enjoyed spending time with her husband, oboist Francois Leleux, her two children, ages 12 and 16, and her cuddly dog Cookie, who she says, “appreciated it a lot to have mommy and daddy and sister and brother all the time around!”
She also found herself connecting with the past, passing on traditions, particularly in the kitchen!
Lisa spoke with me in July 2020 from her leafy backyard in France, where she and the family were spending part of the summer. Things were beginning to open up in parts of Europe, but her schedule of concerts with many orchestras world-wide was still on hold. Here are edited excerpts from out conversation:
Susan Lewis: How have you been doing during this period when so many things have been shut down?
Lisa Batiashvili: Well, we've been a little bit more lucky here in Europe, especially in Germany. The lockdown was not as long and not as painful as in other places. The beginning was quite scary, but at the same time, also important to understand that now we have to change our way of thinking.
For me, I always think that when things like this happen ... you have to just stop and enjoy the moment you are having with the people you love.
During the shutdown, I spent a lot of time with my family, of course. We cooked a lot!
We always cooked, but when we were all at home we cooked even more complicated dishes, which took a lot of time. We did a very special Easter cake, in April, which took eight hours. It was very nice, and we ate it for two weeks!
And it was really a nice experience because it takes me back to my childhood when I was very young. My mom and my grandma would bake it and it would smell like cinnamon, cardamom, and vanilla through the whole night! And in the morning, the cakes were ready. It was a very beautiful ritual in my childhood, so I could finally give it to my children because it was the first time I made it myself.
Susan Lewis: Has there been any particular music that you've turned to? Particular movies that you've watched? I know you also love movies!
Lisa Batiashvili: We watched a lot of movies, yes! I watched old movies again, a lot of French films with Louis de Funes, for example. I'm also watching Charlie Chaplin again, going back to the beginning of the 20th century. And the music, I would say, I had opportunities to perform more chamber music in the last couple of weeks and months.
Here, Lisa and colleagues Lawrence Power (viola), Sebastian Klinger (cello), Matthew McDonald (double bass), and Nino Gvetadze (piano) play fragments from Schubert's Trout Quintet in a concert at Schloss Elmau, in Bavaria, Germany on July 22, 2020:
Usually [during her pre-pandemic schedule], between the concerts with orchestras—there is a bit less time. It’s a really good feeling to be able to invest more time with the chamber music; also to rehearse with the groups in a different way. When everybody's so busy, you barely have enough rehearsals when you bring together different people and you make a chamber music concert.
But now, I had a couple of experiences with proper rehearsal time with people who had no stress. And it just felt very good; it's more rewarding to play together when you have the time to work on things together.
Susan Lewis: Is there anything that you've discovered that you would like to continue after things open up fully again?
Lisa Batiashvili: Yes. I personally get easily stressed by everything I have to do on Monday, whether it's to do with my family, the children, the work, the practice, everything outside. What I discovered during this time was that I have to actually give myself more time for things and not worry about not doing everything in the same minute.
So, I've been actually meditating every morning, at least for 10 or 15 minutes and doing some yoga; somehow it became such a habit. I know that many people do that, but for me personally, now it's a new way to start the day by giving myself the freedom and the calmness to not worry about everything that we have to do in one day, but just to take it step-by-step and also enjoy everything that I'm doing in that moment. I really think that the time of the lockdown was the perfect time to learn all of those things.
Thoughts about the future?
Lisa Batiashvili: Step by step, now, Germany is reopening borders again and reopening concert halls. There is a lot of positive energy coming from musicians, and the orchestras who want to become active as much as possible. ... And it's very important for everyone to understand that the culture and music are even more important than ever before. People need to have this contact with the music, because the music does have a healing power.
Here's Lisa on stage in early July at Audi Sommerkonzerte 2020, where she is artistic director. She performs The Lark, arranged by Stephan Koncz, with the Camerata Salzburg and her husband, Francois Leleux conducting.