|Next Philharmonic First: A Visit to Georgia|
|June 23, 2010|
By DANIEL J. WAKIN
Lisa Batiashvili, the violin soloist, is one of the most famous classical musicians to have emerged from Georgia, so it was no surprise when that country’s president met with her before a rare concert appearance in Tbilisi, the capital, in October.
The seed of an idea was planted. Ms. Batiashvili, who has had a long association with the New York Philharmonic, asked the orchestra if it would be interested in visiting. It said yes. A week later she called the president, Mikheil Saakashvili, and in minutes, the deal was done.
“He said, ‘Fantastic idea, let’s do it,’ ” Ms. Batiashvili recounted in a telephone interview from her home in Munich on Tuesday. “That was the moment when it was decided, because, of course, he is the most important person there. I think he understood it was a unique chance for Georgia.”
And so the Philharmonic, ever in search of exotic destinations, said Tuesday that it would visit Georgia for the first time, as part of a European tour, with Ms. Batiashvili performing Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1. The tour is being led by Alan Gilbert, the orchestra's music director.
The Philharmonic will perform on Oct. 21 at the Djansug Kakhidze Tbilisi Center for Music and Culture, named for the most prominent conductor in Georgia. The next day it is scheduled to perform in the main square of Batumi, a Black Sea city near the border with Turkey. From there it is on to Serbia, Slovenia, Poland, Lithuania, Germany, France and Luxembourg. The tour wraps up on Nov. 4.
In the last few years the Philharmonic has visited Vietnam and North Korea, making orchestral adventure tourism part of its profile. The Georgian government is paying the Philharmonic a fee and underwriting some of the expenses, said the orchestra’s spokesman, Eric Latzky.
“The country is flourishing,” Mr. Latzky said, referring to Georgia. “It’s a great time for an orchestra like the New York Philharmonic to visit, as we cultivate new destinations for classical music.”
While a homecoming of sorts for Ms. Batiashvili, who was 12 when she emigrated to Germany in 1991, the tour may also have a modest political benefit for a country that has sought to strengthen its ties with the West.
“The political context of this trip is that the Georgian government wants to be close to the United States,” said Lincoln Mitchell, a professor at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute and a leading Georgian expert. “They’re building not just political and military but cultural exchanges. Georgia sees itself as Western and defines itself as Western and European, and bringing the Philharmonic from New York demonstrates that.”
The United States has given that country more than $1 billion in aid since its five-day war with Russia in August 2008 over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Under the Obama administration, Professor Mitchell said, the relationship has grown less personal, but backing remains.
“As a cultural exchange, it’s great,” he said. “It will be interesting to see if the Georgian government seeks to create a bigger narrative than that, because there isn’t one.”
Mr. Saakashvili was elected in 2004 after leading the so-called Rose Revolution, which swept away a corrupt leadership, and was hailed as a promoter of democracy. But he came under criticism for cracking down on antigovernment demonstrators and closing down a television station three years ago.
The region is no stranger to orchestral politics. In the summer of 2008 Valery Gergiev took the Kirov Orchestra to South Ossetia. Mr. Saakashvili ordered a military intervention in the region, citing attacks on Georgians there; Russia moved its military in, and the two countries skirmished. Mr. Gergiev accused Georgia of a “huge act of aggression” and harshly criticized Mr. Saakashvili.
Mr. Saakashvili is said to have frequented performances at Lincoln Center when he was studying law at Columbia in the early 1990s. His wife, the Dutch-born Sandra E. Roelofs, founded the only nationwide classical music station in Georgia, Radio Muza, according to that station’s Web site, radiomuza.ge.
According to Ms. Batiashvili, the last major international orchestra to visit Georgia was the Cleveland Orchestra, in the 1960s. The visit was part of a tour of the Soviet Union.
“This time Georgia is an independent country and inviting a major orchestra, and it’s not going to Russia,” she said.
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