Fifteenth Berlin Festival

BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN – a once in a lifetime experience over a fortnight (October 1st – 15th, 1971) of intense music making and theater performances at the highest level as presented at the XV Berliner Festtage des Theatres und der Musik in the Capital of the German Democratic Republic.

I was an honored guest there and kept a daily diary of my hectic activity as I was squired around East Berlin by a mentor from the Communist Party from one event to another. I’m confining this posting mainly to the inaugural concert at the Deutsche Staatsoper : it kicked off at 8 p.m. sharp, but after featuring a “committed” choral “pioneer” song, which began to pall on repetition, the large audience welcomed on stage the 29-year old USSR/Georgian soloist Eliso Virsaladze in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto.
I covered her performance as the music critic of an English language paper back home:
” (She) has a masculine style more than adequate for the concerto – also an assured technique. But sensitivity not always a strong point. Climaxes not realized due to premature anticipation. Rapport lacking between her and Staatskapelle Dirigent, Günther Herbig.

I – Good steady beginning a la Richter in speed, but more ponderous than majestic. Second theme forced, more especially after cadenza interlude. A pity ending sluggish – more the fault of the conductor!
II – Well-thought-out chiarascuro. Cello solo bit lovely. Tremendous middle section – real pianism here. Best not to watch her facial mannerisms!
III – Why force theme? Too loud to start with – no extra volume available. Better in ‘reprise’, but oh! what happened to the lead to the tutti, Eliso? Recalled six times all the same.

Since  then, Eliso has grown from strength to strength as evidenced by her performance of the same concerto in 2019 with Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and Yuri Temirkanov as conductor. You can hear it via YouTube right here: Tchaikovsky Concerto 

An Appreciation from an Admirer

Eliso Virsaladze (pictured alongside this year) plays with unhurried grace and charm.  Her Mozart and Schubert are of exceptional beauty.  Her Schumann is gorgeous – Sviatoslav Ricther is said to have loved her Schumann – and her Brahms stunning.  She has exquisite control and a warm, luscious tone.

Her teacher was her grandmother, Anastasia Virsaladze, herself a pupil of Anna Yesipova and a prominent pianist and highly respected piano teacher in Tbilisi.  At the age of 19, as the story goes, Anastasia phoned Yakov Zak to ask a favor.  Would he allow Eliso to audition for him?  The audition led to Eliso’s participation in the 1962 Tchaikovsky competition where she won third prize. Two pianists shared first prize that year: Vladimir Ashkenazy and John Ogdon.  Eliso Virsaladze received irregular instruction from Yakov Zak and Heinrich Neuhaus, and won the first prize in the Schumann Competition in 1966.

Eliso Virsaladze has taught piano at the Moscow Conservatory since 1967 and was nominated professor in 1994.  Since 1995, she has also taught at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Munich.  Among her many well known students are Boris Berezovsky and Ekaterina Voskresenskaya.

I would single out one performance on this page, not because it is particularly better than the others, they are all fabulous, but because it is of a fairly large scale work by Chopin that I have, until hearing Eliso Virsaladze play it, never fully appreciated.  Listen now to her 1974 Moscow studio recording on YouTube right here: Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op 61.

I listened to innumerable performances of that piece over the last fifty years, but never has anyone offered me one that made of this complex and seemingly disjointed work the intensely passionate dramatic expression that I now see that it is.

Eliso Virsaladze is a brightly burning star in the pianistic firmament, the equal of any, and  better than most.

References: My Diary

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