Culture

Khatia Buniatishvili: “Talent also means having the ability to overcome difficulties and to see things through”

On Wednesday, 1 February, around 700 guests attended the Mirabaud Concert in Paris at studio 104, Maison de la Radio. This iconic classical music event brought together the celebrated conductor Joji Hattori, the musicians of the Balearic Symphony Orchestra and the prodigiously talented pianist, Khatia Buniatishvili.

Prior to the concert, the 29-year old virtuoso met Louis Fauchier-Magnan, asset manager and seventh-generation member of Mirabaud’s founding family, at the Group’s Paris offices. Their understanding of talent, the gifts necessary to succeed and the emotions that classical music is able to convey were discussed.

© Gavin Evans

Khatia Buniatishvili is one of the world's most sought after pianists and is celebrated on the most prestigious international stages. She performs over 100 concerts a year in every continent. Khatia’s appearances are well received for both her exceptional interpretations of the most illustrious works in the classical music canon and for her elegant poise on stage, where she appears in spiritual union with her instrument. Khatia gave her first concert at the age of six, and music has been her life ever since. “I started playing the piano when I was three years old, thanks to my mother. She was not a professional musician herself, but she taught my sister – who has also become a pianist – and me to sing, dance and play the piano.” Folk music is hugely important in Georgia, and she was rocked to sleep as a young child to the strains of many Georgian songs.

Her mother noticed very quickly that she had an aptitude for learning music, initially by repeating melodies on the piano, and then by reading sheet music. “Above all, my musical awakening came from my mother. I appreciated her approach. The point of work was not to succeed, but to be happy. She always had a positive attitude, even during the difficult times we lived through in Georgia in the 1990s. As for my father, it was only after meeting my mother that he started to understand and enjoy classical music. I always loved music and the emotions that it conveys. As a young child, I loved listening to Mozart’s Requiem, which is a little bit strange at such a young age given its tragic nature!”

The family background

The family environment can certainly influence one’s career choices: either from very early in life, as in Khatia Buniatishvili’s case, or later on, as for Louis Fauchier-Magnan. “Mirabaud runs through my entire family history,” he explains. “I studied maths, and it just came about naturally. As a child, I heard talk of Mirabaud in the evenings, at the weekends, all the time. I was already living within that world. It was the same for one of my sisters (Camille Vial), who became a Partner of the Bank – the first woman appointed to that role.” Receiving advice from parents can help.

In classical music, training begins at a very early age. “Like sportspeople, we do best when we start young,” stresses Buniatishvili. “The fingers strengthen, movements become automatic, sensitivity develops, and we serve our apprenticeship.” Amateur musicians may start later, but those that make it professionally train young – very young. “Mastery of the art form is accomplished early in life. Look at composers such as Mozart and Schubert: they died very young, but their output had reached perfection.”

Buniatishvili’s education was always tied to music. “I started at a college of art, then from the time I was eight I had a specialist education at a music school for exceptionally gifted young musicians. There were only three such institutions in the whole of the former Soviet Union: in Moscow, St Petersburg and the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.”

© Mirabaud Concert Paris 2017

The secret behind talent is to love what you do

Having an innate natural ability enables people to progress faster than others, but that progress still requires a lot of hard work. And, as Buniatishvili explains, to be happy to spend hour after hour at the piano, “the most fundamental thing is to love what you do; not just playing, but everything about life as an artist, being on stage, travelling... Otherwise musical interpretation is nothing more than technique – there is no creativity, no emotion involved.”

Too many people pursue a career they have no passion for. “That is the surprising reality, but it is true,” asserts Fauchier-Magnan. “I am always surprised to discover that so many people do not enjoy what they do for a living. As for me, I love my job – meeting people, listening to them, advising them, finding solutions to their problems – that is exciting.”

Loving your profession is one of the keys to success and to mastering your art form, but is it enough? “I have heard it said that success is 10% talent, 80% effort and 10% luck,” says the Mirabaud asset manager. For Buniatishvili, “Success is more like 50% talent and 50% hard work, and if you have both of those ingredients then you make your own luck. In the arts, talent means succeeding at something complicated effortlessly, but it also means having the ability to overcome difficulties and finding the strength to persevere and see things through.”

Talent also includes the capacity to bring out other people’s talents. “When we give advice and suggest investments, we are drawing on the work of dozens of colleagues who work as a team and play their part in offering a service that meets clients’ interests,” observes Fauchier-Magnan. “In banking, talent also means valuing other people’s talents. It also means knowing how to listen and understand. You have to do a lot of listening and empathising.”

A gift for listening is essential in music too, but simply having a musical ear is not enough to turn you into a maestro. Buniatishvili recognises that having a good ear is a great help, but above all musicians must have the capacity to learn pieces by heart, as well as the “visual memory to recall the sheet music and the motor memory to position their hands correctly at the keyboard.”

Classical music unlocks unexplored emotions

Surprisingly, Buniatishvili listens to music at home rather than in a concert hall; when sat with the public, she tends to study the musicians’ interpretation and comportment. “I prefer to enjoy classical music at home, in an intimate environment. These days, when the pace of life is so hectic, people sometimes don’t take the time to feel emotions and reflect. Music lets you do that. Every piece tells a story. When I am working in the world of Rachmaninov or Schumann, I discover unfamiliar emotions and feelings which the composer has been able to convey and summon up from deep within us through his music.”

Classical music transcends the ages. It is a conduit for emotions and serves as a soundtrack to one’s life. “That is the reason for its survival,” says Fauchier-Magnan. “As a general rule, principles and philosophies that endure ensure continuity. It is the same for family establishments like Mirabaud, which is still going strong after 200 years in business.”

Buniatishvili expresses the emotions she feels with the same panache she displays at the piano: “you cannot be dishonest with yourself on stage. You expose yourself to people – the individual within is expressed through the music; your emotions are laid bare. I like to remain myself. That might not please everybody, and it is open to criticism, but I like sincerity in art. You have to retain your own integrity, and remain faithful to your imagination and interpretation. If there is no individuality; if all you are doing is copying or blindly obeying, then that is not art. There is no room for deception on stage.”

On stage, a story is told – that of the music, but also that of the encounter between the soloist and the orchestra; the pianist and the piano. “Other instrumentalists normally carry their own instruments with them wherever they go. It is not so for pianists. I love discovering the different characteristics of a piano – its flaws and its qualities – on the day of a concert. It is like getting to know a person. It is a very beautiful encounter. Everything depends on the two of us and how our relationship takes shape.” This encounter between Khatia Buniatishvili and her piano, between the soloist and the Balearic Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Joji Hattori, at the Mirabaud Concert in Paris, certainly was a very beautiful one.

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