City Lights

Lisa Batiashvili’s new album, released on May 29th 2020, takes the listener across the world with eleven carefully chosen pieces that represent the most important cities in her life, as well as a suite based on Charlie Chaplin’s own music for City Lights and other films of his, extending last year’s celebration of the 130th anniversary of the iconic artist’s birth.

The music ranges from J.S. Bach and Johann Strauss to Michel Legrand and Astor Piazzolla, bringing together diverse genres, including classical, jazz, gypsy, tango and film music.
Ms. Batiashvili is joined in this project by composer-arranger Nikoloz Rachveli, Katie Melua, Till Brönner, Miloš Karadaglić and Maximilian Hornung.

The idea came out of a conversation between Batiashvili and her friend the composer-arranger Nikoloz Rachveli, both fans of the music of Charlie Chaplin. Batiashvili says: ‘Chaplin was very popular in Georgia when I was a child. He was a multi-talent, not only acting and making movies, but writing gorgeous music. For me, he represents the beauty and creative imagination of the 20th century.’

Their idea of creating a suite inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s music and his films grew into an autobiographical concept based on key cities in Batiashvili’s life, each of which has some personal, musical or violinistic connection. For example, Batiashvili was born in Tbilisi; studied in Munich where she started to seriously work on music by Bach for the first time; Helsinki was where her career began at the Sibelius Competition; and she sees Berlin as her spiritual home.

Batiashvili explains the importance of location: ‘It doesn’t matter where you go or how far away you end up being, you always have a special connection to places that have become part of you. These are all cities I know not only for their architecture and museums, but inside out. I wanted to express my love for the music, cultures and people of these places and to explore what is special about them, in a positive, specific way.’

The choice of repertoire brings together various styles: ‘We wanted a full range of different pieces that would come together without disturbing each other but would fulfil each other. Each of the tracks was produced with a lot of love and we invested so much energy in each one. Throughout the album there is a symbiosis between different styles. Most of the composers combine film music and classical music, or folk and classical, or folk and pop music. For example, we have a Kancheli medley arranged by Nikoloz, and then we have Katie Melua and her pop side, but she’s also very classical and sophisticated in her style, and you could never define Miloš as core classical. That means the music is never merely one-dimensional – it’s outside the normal framework in which we put classical and non-classical music. Most of us think that the borderlines can be moved a little, but it’s important to do that with good taste. You have to make sure that everything is done to the highest quality, that with all the arrangements, colours and styles, it’s still rich, fulfilling music.’

The tracks also encompass a broad emotional range, from the good cheer of the Viennese gallop to the hopes of immigrants to New York with Dvořák’s ‘New World’ Symphony. The album ends on a darker note, in Tbilisi, Georgia, as Batiashvili explains: ‘The last few bars of the whole album recall the pain and anxiety of this small country, which has been in conflict most of its history, at the crossroads of bigger powers that always wanted something from us. It’s an endless story that is still relevant today. This is a special statement and when I was playing it, I had to hold myself back from crying, because it’s the story of my people and my country.’

The choice of musical partners was also key. Batiashvili already knew guitarist Miloš Karadaglić and trumpeter Till Brönner but had never worked with them, and this was the perfect opportunity. She had never met fellow-Georgian Katie Melua, but Nikoloz Rachveli was able to make contact, and by serendipity, Melua had already been working on a track about London, which she was glad to include in the album.

There is also a violin theme running through some of the tracks. Batiashvili chose Buenos Aires because her own teacher, Ana Chumachenco, was born there, and Budapest because she regards it as an important centre for the development of the instrument. Charlie Chaplin himself was an amateur violinist; Marlene Dietrich, whose song features in the Berlin track, studied violin to conservatoire level; and the Paris track is based on Michel Legrand’s Paris Violon.

With so many collaborators and pieces, the project took a long time to bring together. Batiashvili explains: ‘The production was completely different from any other musical project I’ve worked on. A violin concerto usually takes two or three days to record, so for the first time in my life I understand how other artists can spend a whole year on one album. The complexity of the creative process and the emotional involvement mean that on a personal level, the accomplishment means so much to me. It was one of the most complex and interesting creative projects I’ve ever done, but also incredibly satisfying, because we knew that with each step, we were creating something entirely new. None of the music has been recorded before and most of it hasn’t been performed.’

Release Date: May 29, 2020

Number of Discs: 1

Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Copyright: 2020 Deutsche Grammophon