Salzburg Journal, Part V

Lisa Batiashvili (Image via


Editor’s Note: Jay Nordlinger spent approximately the middle two weeks of August doing his annual jobs at the Salzburg Festival in Austria. He hosts a public-interview series for the Salzburg Festival Society. He occasionally lectures. And he writes criticism for publications back home. Criticism appears in the current National Review and will appear in the forthcoming New Criterion. Additionally, four reviews have appeared at The New Criterion’s website: here, here, here, and here. This week’s journal is for non-musical dribs and drabs, although they often touch on music. Previous parts are at the following links: I, II, III, and IV. The journal concludes today.

Early on in these scribbles, I mentioned begging techniques: Different beggars have their own styles, their own methods. I now see a man, sitting at a prominent corner, with an adorable little dog in front of him. People are stopping to admire and coo at the dog. This is especially true of children. I imagine the beggar is accumulating a fair amount of euros.

That’s a brilliant idea, that adorable little dog. I suspect it works better than a baby or toddler would . . .

Speaking of animals: I hear the tinkling of bells, at the edge of a mountain. I look in, and there’s a herd of goats. They are interesting to watch — athletic little beasts. They have just about the best footing in the business. They also practically define “frisky.”

Goats have a bad reputation, it seems to me. The word “goat” is almost always negative. The Bible speaks of “sheep” (good guys) and “goats” (bad guys). Kind of a pity.

I have mentioned in this journal my laps around the pond at Leopoldskron. Often, I hear a guide giving the Sound of Music tour. So, I get three-, four-second snatches, as I speed by. I think I’ve learned something, in these laps: that the filmmakers could not get permission to film inside the palace. They had to make do with outside shots, and go elsewhere for the inside scenes.

So, that’s what I can contribute to you . . .

The fifth and final guest in our Salzburg Festival Society series is actually a pair: the husband-and-wife team of François Leleux and Lisa Batiashvili. He is a French oboist; she is a Georgia-born violinist. (I’m talking about Tbilisi, not Atlanta.) With some colleagues, they are giving a chamber-music concert in the Mozarteum tonight.

Each is poised, articulate, and friendly. He speaks a charming Frenchman’s English; she speaks near flawless, unaccented, slightly American English. Where she got it, I don’t know.

I ask her whether she plays the oboe — no. Not a lick. I ask him whether he plays the violin — only on the open strings, he says. I ask Lisa, “How does he sound?” She smiles and says, “Like a beginner.”

She was born in 1979, meaning she experienced Soviet Communism for her first dozen years or so. Her family immigrated to Germany toward the end of Soviet rule. She is a particularly good player of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1. (She is a particularly good player of almost everything.) I ask whether her acquaintance with the Soviet system has anything to do with her playing of this concerto. (The music is loaded with fear.)

Batiashvili mentions that her father, a violinist, played in a string quartet. They played all the Shostakovich quartets. They met Shostakovich on two occasions, if I remember correctly. And the composer’s picture was displayed in the Batiashvilis’ home.

So . . .

Her soon-to-be-released album is of Bach. And, before our group, Batiashvili makes a profound and moving statement about Bach: about the spirituality of Bach’s music, and its capacity to heal. I very much wish I had this statement on tape.

There is an old saying in music: “You play who you are.” Batiashvili’s playing is characteristically noble and humane, and I have a feeling that the saying applies to her.

Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf have two children together. Do they play tennis? I don’t know. François and Lisa have two children as well. Are they wonderfully musical? Will they be musicians? I don’t know.

But they will certainly be exposed to top-level musicianship.