In stark contrast to the image of the classical pianist who prefers the craft to take centrestage, Khatia Buniatishvili is quite content to brighten the spotlight. By Kannan Chandran. Photo and video by Jamie Lin
Khatia Buniatishvili, the young, vibrant Georgian pianist is part of a new generation of classical performers who lets her personality reach out to the audience. Onstage, the 29-year-old is emotionally entwined with the music, letting her expressive performance connect directly with the audience.
Some of that flamboyance is evident in our chat.
Dressed in a shocking pink dress, with vibrant red lipstick on, and topped by a cascading mop of wavy locks, she could just as easily step to the microphone as a lead singer.
The polyglot — she speaks five languages, maybe more — is opinionated about music and confident about most things in life, without coming across as being cocky.
While classical music has been in her blood — her mother started teaching her at the age of three and her first performance was at six, and her sister is also a concert pianist and manages her — it could be her stint with pop music that might connect her to a wider audience.
Kaleidoscope — a short track on Coldplay’s new album A Head Full Of Dreams —features Khatia’s handiwork. It was a phone call out of the blue that Khatia initially thought was a joke.
“Chris Martin’s management agency contacted my agency about it after seeing me on a YouTube video. After that I had some calls from an unknown number and there was no one at the other end, so I thought it was a joke,” she recalls.
When it rang again, the Coldplay singer was on the line, and Khatia had her chance to spend a day in the studio in Los Angeles working on the lead in to Kaleidoscope, which features a sample of Amazing Grace sung by US President Barack Obama, during his eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
“I was scared because I had never done anything with a top pop musician. But he is like a coach, driving you to do things in music. He wanted the piece to be like a flower blooming; to improvise in classical style.
“I felt completely relaxed and he was fantastic, changing the direction of the track with little suggestions and details.”
In Singapore for a concert on Sunday at the Esplanade with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Khatia will be performing the works of Grieg and Dvorak; music that she grew up with.
Performing around 100 concerts a year, her life is a flurry of flights and new cities and concert halls. Taking it in her long stride, Khatia prefers to let her repertoire evolve organically.
“I don’t plan my concerts too much,” she says, although she admits it’s quite the opposite when she’s recording a CD, of which she has four listed on her website www.khatiabuniatishvili.com.
“I leave part of my life on a CD. The concert is about emotional interpretation, though we never change the music because we have too much respect for the composer.
“Making a CD is like a movie, you have to plan everything. A concert is like theatre…spontaneous.
“Onstage you’re emotionally naked to the public. You give it everything you have. You cannot hide it. At that stage, you forget your ego, the people around you. You’re at your most joyful.”