In the November 2010 issue of BBC Music Magazine, we interviewed pianist Khatia Buniatishvili for our 'Rising Star' series. Now, six years on and fully risen, the flamboyant Georgian is still making waves and in our March 2016 issue, out now, speaks to Jessica Duchen about why she believes risk-taking is an essential part of an artist's life. But here, in the meantime, we revisit that first interview…
If only Khatia Buniatishvili had known she was going to be invited to play in front of one of the world’s great pianists, she probably wouldn’t have previously stood so close to a candle. ‘I had no hair,’ recalls Buniatishvili about performing for Martha Argerich during the festival at Lockenhaus, Austria. ‘I’d burnt it and so shaved it off completely. I wasn’t looking in good shape to play at all, and I had to run to the church where she was. But she’s a very nice person, and wants to make you feel well and comfortable.’
Buniatishvili’s performance of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz clearly impressed, as the Argentinian has championed her ever since, inviting her to perform at the prestigious Projetto Argerich festival in Lugano. Nor is Argerich the only person to have sat up and taken notice of the 23-year-old Georgian’s prodigious talent. A regular playing partner of violinist Gidon Kremer, Buniatishvili has also been taken on as a Radio 3 New Generation Artist and is currently making her recording debut for Song – the Mephisto Waltz will line up alongside the B minor Sonata in an all-Liszt CD to be released to coincide with the Hungarian’s 200th anniversary next spring. ‘I didn’t actually realise 2011 was “Liszt year”,’ she says. ‘I wanted to express through my CDs some special moments in my life. My first success and my first big appearance in public was with Liszt: I was 15, which was quite young for the B minor Sonata.’
Watching footage of Buniatishvili dressed in trademark black and hunched over the keyboard, it’s tempting to imagine her as an introspective loner, focusing on the darker recesses of the repertoire. And she herself has spoken before now on the solitary nature of the pianist. ‘Solitude is one of the most important facts for a pianist,’ she explains. ‘If you are not fine with solitude, you cannot give recitals and play alone, and you also don’t understand a big part of piano music. But it’s only part of our role. There is also chamber music, plus recital music that is not so “solitaire” – it is very joyful!’
The hair, as you can see, has grown back.