Khatia Buniatishvili’s website offers a nearly six-minute video called “Warsaw-Paris,” which skeptics might dismiss as a dewy, blatantly promotional short movie with a soundtrack featuring choice snippets from the Georgian pianist’s enthralling CD, “Chopin,” from last year.
But the introspective, melancholy tone of Buniatishvili’s playing — her exquisite touch at the keyboard, coupled with a warm yet lonely sound — encourages a deeper interpretation of the film.
In cloudy, gray-toned and timeless images of the 25-year-old (who typically looks, in her nostalgic elegance, as if she has stepped out of a random, haunting 1940s photograph of a stranger at a train station), Buniatishvili — who performs in Meany Hall Wednesday — can be seen gazing at her own reflection in a passenger car, wandering a shoreline, and sitting on a bench in a misty distance.
If this sounds like enough solipsism to make your eyes roll, the fact is that “Warsaw-Paris” is a nice visual aid for grasping this virtuoso’s deep interior experience, often noted by critics, during a performance.
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“When I’m on stage I know, of course, there’s an audience in the hall,” says Buniatishvili from her home in Paris. “But what I’m trying to do is forget that, because when I play piano, I play from my soul.
“My emotions are quite evident, which is not something you wish to put in front of people. Yet it is what I am there to do, in my playing.
“Sometimes I have to forget the public, which means I have to forget myself.”
Unlike most of her upcoming tour of the U.S. and Europe, Buniatishvili’s Seattle debut won’t provide her other musicians to deflect attention. Her promising solo recital will find her performing two Chopin works (Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor and Ballade No. 4 in F minor) from that recent album, plus Ravel’s La Valse, Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s Three Lieder, and Stravinsky’s Three Movements from “Petrushka.”
Born in Tbilisi, Georgia, Buniatishvili began playing piano at an early age, appearing with orchestras at age 6 and studying at Tbilisi’s State Conservatory.
After successes at international competitions, Buniatishvili transferred in 2003 to Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts. That same year, she met her idol, the renowned Argentine pianist Martha Argerich, who exemplifies for Buniatishvili what the latter described in a San Francisco Classical Voice interview as “natural virtuosity … [playing] from her whole body and spirit.”
Buniatishvili won an Audience Favorite award at the 2008 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, and a second one for best performance of a Chopin piece. She made her Carnegie Hall debut that year, leading to international tours and recordings.
Buniatishvili says her expressive style of playing is partly inspired by the “free approach” and rich complexity of Georgian folk music she grew up hearing. But it is also in her rejection of “clean virtuosity” for its own sake,
“Everyone tries to get closer to perfection, but you want to have something to say, something very strong that comes from the heart,” she says. “Piano is an instrument that doesn’t need other instruments. It’s independent, free but lonely. One has to find an approach with it, something very individual, personal. It’s in the art of touch.”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org