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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Toronto Gets A First Hand Account Of Why Mariam Batsashvili Is So Special

By Joseph So on April 8, 2019

Women’s Musical Club of Toronto presented young piano phenom Mariam Batsashvili for her Canadian debut, leaving just about everyone on their feet.

Women’s Musical Club of Toronto Recital: Mariam Batsashvili at Walter Hall.  Thursday, April 4, 2019.

In today’s very crowded field full of young piano phenoms, Mariam Batsashvili is special in many ways. The Georgian seemingly has it all — prodigious talent, innate musicality, stunning technical prowess, and at only 25, she has youth on her side, auguring well for a splendid career for years to come.

Toronto audiences got a taste of her artistry in a recital last Thursday, her Canadian debut. Kudos to the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto for engaging her. Walter Hall was completely sold out — a combination of the fiercely loyal WMCT members showing up in force, joined by over 60 students and their teachers, from the Unionville High School where Batsashvili gave a masterclass the day before, as well as from the Cawthra Park Secondary School. There were also ten New Canadians in the mix, there thanks to the cultural outreach initiative.

Mariam Batsashvili (Photo: James Kippen)
Mariam Batsashvili (Photo: James Kippen)

I am not one to typically comment on how an artist looks onstage — what the Brits call “frock watch,” but I couldn’t help but notice Batsashvili’s choice of concert attire. No “glamour girl a la Yuja Wang” for her — she had on a stylish but conservative and subdued black blazer and trousers, with neatly styled straight hair. She’s got her priorities right — I say brava to her for not selling glamour and sex appeal, but to just let her music-making speaks for itself.

And did her music-making ever made a statement!  She chose Liszt to open and close the first half; the Bénédiction de Dieu was lavished with supremely High Romantic sensibilities. Some might find her touch a bit on the heavy side, but to my ears it was thrilling, like the Hungarian Rhapsody that ended the first half, a powerhouse of a reading. In between, she offered clean, crisp, and rhythmically precise Mozart and Schubert. But it was the two Liszt works that were truly memorable – no wonder she won the Liszt Competition in Weimar in 2011.

Mariam Batsashvili with music students from the Unionville High School after her masterclass. (Photo: James Kippen)
Mariam Batsashvili with students from the Arts Unionville, Unionville High School, and the Cawthra Park Secondary School, after the recital. (Photo: James Kippen)

The second half was made up of the monumental “Hammerklavier,” Beethoven’s great Sonata No. 29 in B flat major. Lasting a good forty minutes, it’s technically as demanding and exacting as they come, a piece that Liszt himself was said to have enjoyed playing. Batsashvili’s intensity and concentration never flagged, taking the listener with her in the sonic journey. Her bravura technique was much in evidence, but she’s not a “banger” — there was plenty of nuance, lyricism, and indeed, true artistry.

The audience gave her a spontaneous standing ovation, a gesture that is rare in Europe but common on this side of the pond. But she totally deserved it.

The WMCT audience is discerning, sophisticated and very well-behaved, in many ways my favourite recital audience. They know a good thing when they see one!  Batsashvili offered an encore: “something lighter” she said, eliciting huge laughter from the packed house. It was a minuet, the name of which escapes me. A wonderful way to spend two hours on a weekday afternoon.

LUDWIG VAN TORONTO

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Joseph So

Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
Joseph So
Joseph So

Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
Joseph So
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SCRUTINY | Soulpepper's August: Osage County Is A Family Battle Royal

By Paula Citron on May 25, 2019

August: Osage County showcases rich, juicy roles that actors can sink their teeth into, and there is serious mojo acting chops on display.
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SCRUTINY | National Ballet's 'Physical Thinking' A Little Short, But Positively Satisfying

By Paula Citron on June 3, 2019

A program devoted to the choreography of William Forsythe is a sound idea, but the triple bill evening needed one more piece.
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THE SCOOP | Mayor John Tory Proclaims June 14, 2019 Massey Hall Day

By Michael Vincent on June 13, 2019

Toronto Mayor John Tory has proclaimed June 14, 2019 “Massey Hall Day” in honour of the National Historic Site’s 125 birthday.
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