Photo/IllutrationElisso Virsaladze, the famed pianist born in Georgia, gives an interview in Kirishima, Kagoshima Prefecture. (Junko Yoshida)

Famed Georgian pianist Elisso Virsaladze, admired by the late legendary pianist Sviatoslav Richter as the world’s greatest Schumann player, will perform two concerts in Tokyo on Nov. 23 and 28.

The virtuoso, who was born in the former Soviet Union and lived through the turmoil of the 20th century in the region, appeared as a teacher at the Kirishima International Music Festival in Kagoshima Prefecture from July to August this year.

In an interview given during her festival stint, Virsaladze shared her thoughts on what makes a great pianist, the pros and cons of communism’s effects on music, and her belief in music’s power to bring people together from different walks of life. Excerpts of the interview, translated from Russian, follow.


“Pianists need to convey who they are through their instrument’s vibrancy, which is very difficult. Anyone can make sounds by touching a keyboard, but you need to express your thoughts and philosophy with the sounds, which was the very art nurtured by Russian tradition.

"However, the pianists who could convey the interpretation, style and their own conceptions of life through the sounds like Emil Gilels and Richter have gone.

“Why? Under communism, however much you worked, the amount you were rewarded would not change. Therefore, music provided certainty in life and the opportunity for self-expression without any secular desires. Living your life and engaging in music were the same thing.

“I will not say that communist society was better. However, capitalist society could become a haven for musicians who are only interested in money or celebrity.

“Past conductors or orchestras would never have co-performed with a soloist whom they could not respect, but contemporary conductors or orchestras will compromise if the musician is a money maker. Such dishonesty is leading to lower quality music.

My home country has experienced tensions with Russia. In 2008, Russian and Georgian forces clashed in the villages of South Ossetia, the separatist area. During that period, some argued we should not invite Russian people to the music festival I hosted. However, it is a responsibility of the arts to increase opportunities for diverse human beings to meet, while blurring political boundaries.

“If I needed to exclude a certain group of people, I would cancel the music festival instead. This is because I was nurtured through joint performances with diverse people whom I respect.”


Virsaladze is scheduled to perform Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 at Sumida Triphony Hall in the Kinshicho district in Tokyo's Sumida Ward at 3 p.m. on Nov. 23, followed by a joint performance of Schumann's Piano Quintet with the Atrium String Quartet at Kioicho Hall in the Kioicho district in the capital’s Chiyoda Ward at 7 p.m. on Nov. 28.