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Although Lisa Batiashvili moved with her family to Germany when she was 11 years old, the violinist still maintains ties to her native Georgia, a country in the Caucasus region that was once part of the Soviet Union.
“I have a very strong memory,” she said, “of my childhood in Georgia, and the beginning of the music in my life and also the language and the whole atmosphere in my home country.”
Batiashvili, 40, who will join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in concerts on April 4-6, has been an outspoken opponent of Russia’s hostile actions toward Georgia. In 2008, Russia took the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by force and have kept troops there while recognizing both regions as independent countries — a claim that Georgia disputes.
“I don’t know if you know, but 20 percent of Georgian territory is still occupied by the Russian army, and this country is still under aggression, because, unfortunately, Russian troops are moving the border on a daily basis,” she said. “Unfortunately, the Georgian government doesn’t shout out loud about this, because I guess they are scared.”
Because of this continuing hostility, Batiashvili has vowed not to perform in Russia. She explained that the Russian cultural scene still functions much as it did under the Soviet regime, with nearly every major cultural institution tied directly or indirectly to the government.
In a January 2015 feature in the New York Times, music critic Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim recounted how Batiashvili expressed her opposition to Russia’s treatment of Georgia when several months earlier she was invited to perform with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Valery Gergiev. The famed conductor has close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin; Gergiev has endorsed Russia’s annexation of Crimea and expressed support of its actions in South Ossetia.
Batiashvili was conflicted about whether she should take part in the concert because of Gergiev’s presence but ultimately decided it was more important to make her views known. “So she agreed to play in the concert,” wrote da Fonseca-Wollheim,“but prepared a gesture of protest that was characteristically elegant. She commissioned an encore for solo violin from a Georgian composer, Igor Loboda, titled Requiem for Ukraine, which she performed after her concerto — as Mr. Gergiev stood in the wings.”
She regularly returns to Georgia to work on musical projects and to see relatives. At the same time, she wants to make sure her children, whom she is raising in Munich, with her French husband, oboist François Leleux, maintain some connection with their homeland. “I don’t want them to lose their roots from Georgia, so sometimes we go together, and they still speak a little bit of Georgian.”