On February 8, 2010, I had the pleasure to be invited by the very personable 19-year-old Georgian pianist David Aladashvili to his debut performance at Carnegie Hall’s renowned Weill Recital Hall. Hailed by the Georgian Association in the United States as a “rising star of Georgian culture,” his debut was an opportunity to showcase his fresh talent and to strengthen the ties within New York’s Georgian community.
The Weill Recital Hall was filled with young and old music lovers of mostly (but not exclusively) Georgian heritage — an attentive and very supportive audience for the young performer who had been lauded as a “sensitive virtuoso born for the stage” in the program notes.
Unfortunately, David’s parents were not able to attend personally, but they were able to listen to parts of David’s performance via a friend’s cell phone. David’s Juilliard teacher, Mr. Jerome Lowenthal, as well as some of David’s personal friends, represented the Juilliard community that night.
David was born in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1990. At age 11, he began to study piano with Leila Mumladze; at 15, he was accepted into the prestigious Tbilisi Special Music School, where he studied with Daredjan Tsintsadze. Then, in 2005, he received Georgia’s Presidential Scholarship Award for Piano Performance, allowing him to move to New York City to pursue his studies at the Juilliard Pre-College Division in 2007 with Ms. Victoria Mushkatkol. He now studies as a Juilliard School scholarship recipient with Jerome Lowenthal.
I first met David at the Juilliard cafeteria, more than a year prior to his debut at Weill Recital Hall. Before long, we were involved in a friendly conversation about his ideas and views on piano performance, his love for classical music, and his education and experiences in his native Georgia. He also told me how life in New York and at the Juilliard School compared to Georgia.
On many occasions the very outgoing David shared his exceptional joy for piano playing with me in Juilliard practice rooms as well as at a family dinner at my house and his teacher Jerome Lowenthal’s private lessons and studio class. It is thanks to David that I was able to experience Jerome Lowenthal’s brilliant teaching firsthand.
Even on the day before his debut concert, I sat in for a little while he rehearsed a selection of Schumann’s “Kinderszenen.” He played beautifully and with great understanding of the piece, which he wanted to dedicate to the 21-year-old Georgian luger who had met his tragic death in the qualification round for the Olympic games just days before.
It was especially the last section of “Kinderszenen,” titled “The Poet Speaks,” that David associated with that loss of life of a fellow countryman — a loss that truly touched him deeply. This was not the first time that I had seen David show great emotion and respect. What had always impressed me in him were his acute awareness, gratitude, and appreciation for his own special situation.
A long way from home, hosted by a great school and support system, yet – at the same time – also very much depending on his own survival skills, I recognized David’s gentle nature and good manners on many occasions. I particularly felt – and still feel – that David’s openness, enthusiasm, and modesty heighten his integrity and add to his credentials as a performer.
In his career, David has participated in many competitions and festivals, like the International Competition for Young Pianists in Tbilisi (2001) and the Vladimir Spikanov International Festival in Moscow (2005). He received the Grand Prix at the Nikolai Rubenstein Piano Competition in Paris (2006) and has appeared on several TV and radio programs.
But his Weill Hall debut recital at New York’s Carnegie Hall was the one concert he felt most excited about. It was his first solo recital, a big program with some of music literature’s most challenging pieces. I have heard more experienced pianists struggle through some of the intricate passages of Chopin’s "Ballade No.4 in F minor Opus 52," or the "Sonata No.3 in B minor Opus 58," yet David’s performance was extraordinarily convincing. His interpretations were mature and sensitive and did – with the exceptions of some wrong notes – lived up to highest expectations.
On that note: The distinct quality and vitality of a performance accounts for far more than a completely flawless rendition of a piece. One might even argue that the high level of perfection in the recording process which insists on nothing less than note-perfect playing as the only acceptable standard is really manufactured and ‘unnatural,’ and results in an easier digestible version of the truth, so to speak.
Live performances always involve a certain amount of risk, including the risk of making mistakes – and mistakes are not pretty, of course. While they do not seem to belong, they nevertheless authenticate a performance.
David himself has this to say:
After a performance I always feel bad for having played some wrong notes since to me every note is like a diamond; like when a jeweler is crafting a perfect necklace, he can’t miss a jewel. But the again, when I am listening to a performance – any performance – it is the bigger picture that counts.
If I made a mistake and I caught it and it did not destroy the whole line of the melodic passage, it becomes like a grammatical flaw in an otherwise well-crafted speech. It is an every-day learning process, and I am constantly growing.
When we met a few days after the concert back at the Juilliard cafeteria, David told me about the stressful days before the concert. The fact that he had been involved in the organizational details as well had left him little time to spend in the practice room. Instead, he had been running around the city to find a tuxedo, and to take care of the programs.
He also analyzed the emotional impact his debut in New York had on him:
I was very excited, and I will say it could have still been better. It did not help me that the piano was rather average. In order to bring out the top voices, you really had to work them. I actually injured my pinky a bit.
All in all I learned a great deal from the experience. Working together with so many other people and being involved in the organizational process … it did feel like a big accomplishment, finishing up my teenage years on this high note. And there is always room to grow. The day after the concert, I played over all the parts I messed up. I felt I owed it to the composers to make it right by them. But music can never be automatic; it expresses my emotions at the moment and therefore it will never be exactly the same again.
David recorded his debut performance but will only listen to the recording in a few weeks when he will not only have gained some distance from his debut night’s performance, but will also have gone a small step further in his musical education and development as a pianist whose growing insights on how to gain ultimate freedom at the piano will, no doubt, lead him to the beauty of music time and again.