Interview by Esther Basha (MGBH)
A recent recipient of prestigious UNESCO Award Artists for Peace, the beautiful Elisso Bolkvadze (MGBH) juggles her busy life of an internationally recognized piano performer, organizer of Batumi Music Fest, Director of Lyra Charitable Foundation for young musicians and Co-Director of Michel Sogny’s (MGBH) SOS Talents Foundation. Does she have time to stop and smell the roses? We caught Ms. Bolkvadze during one of her rare quiet moments for a feature interview.
PPM: Please, tell our readers how you grew up. Who introduced you to music? Who were/are your parents? Did you grandparents play any instruments?
EB: I was born and raised as the only child in a family of intellectuals, where poetry and literature was highly cherished.Both of my parents were very enlightened. My mom worked as an editor of an academic journal, where she was translating world literature to Georgian language. My dad was an editor of humor magazine – “Niangi” (Crocodile), founded in 1931. It was quite an acclaimed edition during the Soviet period, well known for its satire and high quality literature work. I am really blessed and proud to be a daughter of my parents. Neither my parents nor my grandparents played any instruments or where related to the music industry. I was fascinated by music and singing since early age, so my mother decided to take me to music classes. My mother is still alive, while my beloved father has passed away.
PPM: When did you know that you wanted to become a professional pianist?
EB: I, actually, never aimed to become a professional pianist. I just had this enormous love and desire towards music that led me to where I am now.
PPM: Is there one single person that had a profound effect on your life, career, life views?
EB: Yes, there are two people who truly influenced my life and career. Firstly, my dear father, who was a great role model for me his entire life. Secondly, Michel Sogny (MGBH), whom I met in Paris in 1995 during the Marguerite Long competition. He is an exemplary professor, philosopher, writer, musician, and composer. He is also the founder of a unique approach to piano learning, which I highly support. His method is simple, motivating, and makes piano learning enjoyable.
PPM: Do you have a family of your own?
EB: No, unfortunately, I don’t have a family of my own as of yet.
PPM: From your interviews that I have read so far, I could tell that you are very a grounded person. What helps you stay grounded?
EB: I am flattered and happy if I came across as a grounded person. That is a compliment for me. Probably, modesty is the outcome of my upbringing. My career achievements never effected my personality, as since early age I had defined beliefs and vision. Success is good, but it never had an impact on my character.
PPM: What is the biggest difference of being an artist in the Soviet Union vs. in the post- Soviet space?
EB: There are both positive and negative sides of being an artist in the Soviet Union. In my opinion, the positive side was being managed under one system, which functioned on its own. Artists did not have to struggle individually to achieve exposure and recognition. The system was centralized. The negative side was that this very centralized management had a total power. The leaders of the system would decide who was allowed perform during festivals and concerts. At present, we have to take care of ourselves. We have to work hard and be creative to be distinguished. We need to develop on our own to realize our potential.
PPM: In what ways do you consider the art of piano performance therapeutic?
EB: I truly believe that music is therapeutic. I would say piano performance is especially therapeutic by putting a listener as well as a performer into a serene state of mind. It gives us peace and balance. It gives us an opportunity to completely detach from reality.
PPM: Do you connect your craft with spirituality and your relationship with the divine energy of Light /G-d?
EB: Yes, I do. I almost always feel proximity to the Divine while performing at concerts. I vividly remember the two occasions when I was on stage in a complete trance. I was totally consumed by music. I have to point out, however, that I experience this state while only performing on stage, and not during the practice sessions. This feeling is indescribable. You feel this lightness in your body, and music sounds so rich…
PPM: Would you agree with a statement that there are music pieces that help performers connect with their female energy and those that help them connect to their male energy? If so, how do you integrate this concept into your choice of repertoire?
EB: Yes, I do agree. I would say objectively there are some music pieces that are more suitable for male performers like, for instance, Prokofiev’s (OBM) Sonata #7 and 2nd concerto, Tchaikovsky’s (OBM) Piano Concerto #1, and Stravinsky’s (OBM) Petrushka. I choose my repertoire based on my personality and prefer music pieces that I can identify with.
PPM: Who is your favorite Georgian composer?
EB: My favorite composer is Zaqaria Paliashvili (OBM). He composed outstanding opera pieces including Abesalom & Eteri & “Daisi”.
PPM: Do you have a daily routine when you are not traveling? What is your day usually like?
EB: Nowadays, I don’t have much of a routine. I always plan in advance, and everything still changes last minute. Even if I wanted to follow the schedule, it’s impossible. Being an Artistic Director of Batumi Music Fest, I juggle that with directing Lyra – a charitable foundation, which aims to help young talents in Georgia, along with SOS Talents Foundation of Michel Sogny. I am also adjusting to my duties as a UNESCO Artist for Peace. My day is quite busy consisting of numerous phone calls, never ending emails, and piano performances.
PPM: What are your favorite foods? Can you name some of the traditional Georgian dishes that you cannot do without?
EB: My favorite Georgian food is Khachapuri. This is basically a dough with cheese that looks like Pizza but doesn’t have toppings. It’s delicious! I absolutely love Georgian traditional cuisine. We also have a dish, which is primarily made for New Year’s, called “Satsivi” – chicken or turkey in walnuts sauce. A must try!
PPM: As a founder and organizer of the Batumi festival, what was your main challenge the first time around? In your opinion, what are the key ingredients of a successful festival?
EB: I have to admit I could never imagine the amount of obstacles I would have to face while planning the Batumi Music Fest. Honestly if I knew what it takes I would never go through with it. But year after year our team became more and more professional. We overcame difficulties and gained experience. We try to never make same mistake twice. Batumi Music Fest received appreciation and positive feedback among audience. And this keeps us going. One of the reasons we gained recognition is through a distinguished program. I would also add that the key to success lies in good marketing. It is really important.
PPM: Do you teach piano? If so, what method do you use?
EB: Yes, I often give Master Classes. I always follow and introduce the method of Michel Sogny, which gives a unique and instant outcome.
PPM: Can you recall any funny stories that happened to you during your performances, travels, or while teaching?
EB: Yes! One time I had to perform in Washington at the Kennedy Center. This was approximately 12 years ago. I flew through Moscow when at the airport they confiscated my visa and told me I was not able to take my flight. There was a huge misunderstanding and I had to spend the night at the airport undocumented. Finally, hours later, they let me on board. I arrived to the States two hours before my concert and went directly to the Kennedy Center to perform. I will never forget this experience.
PPM: You are currently represented by IMG Artists. How important, in your opinion, is it for a piano performer to have an agent/manager/publicist?
EB: IMG Artists is a great agency. It’s important to be represented by a good agency, but, once again, I believe it’s very important as well to work on ourselves as we define our destiny. Being active is vital.
PPM: Where do you currently live?
EB: I currently live in Paris. I find myself incredibly lucky to live in Paris. Paris is the city for everyone! Everyone desires to visit Paris and living here is a great opportunity!