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The Resolute Romantic: Lisa Batiashvili and Gautier Capuçon Talk About Brahms

Dedicating a concert cycle to the composer Johannes Brahms this January, the Munich Philharmonic is performing all of the composer’s symphonies with a star line-up under the baton of Zubin Mehta. Violinist Lisa Batiashvili and cellist Gautier Capuçon explain why every one of them is a masterpiece and why, as a musician, you sometimes feel like an eagle.

Lisa Batiashvili and Gautier Capuçon accept the applause of the Isarphilharmonie audience hand in hand.
Copyright: Tobias Hase

What was your first encounter with Brahms and how did you discover him for yourself?


Lisa Batiashvili: I remember the first time I heard the Fourth Symphony live, when I was eleven years old. I had already known about Brahms, but at that moment, my ear and my soul were able to absorb this music with its great emotional, complex sounds. It was as if a new world of the Romantic had opened up for me.


Gautier Capuçon: For me, Brahms’ music is also inextricably linked with my childhood. I started playing the cello at the age of four and a half, and Brahms’ piano trios were among the first pieces I heard. I find the sound very soothing; it gets under your skin. I feel Brahms above all with my fingers. When I play the cello, I try to get as close as possible to this sound within me.

“For me, Brahms, with his humanity and depth, remains the greatest Romantic.”

Lisa Batiashvili

What does it mean to you to play Brahms, and do you have a favourite work?


Capuçon: I first discovered the piano trios, and a little later the Brahms symphonies. The two cello sonatas are also great. When I heard the piano trio with Isaac Stern on violin, Leonard Rose on cello and Eugene Istomin on piano for the first time, I was blown away.


Batiashvili: My favourites include all of Brahms’ symphonies, but also his chamber music, like the string sextets and quintets. Listening to Brahms is a moving experience, but playing his music brings with it a certain inner tension and perseverance. Sometimes you feel like an eagle, who enjoys an expansive vista. I think that with Brahms one of the challenges is to find the right tempo, as it can easily sound too heavy. At the same time, so much happens between the lines and even between the notes. The magic of this music only shows itself when you have time to savour the details, without losing the lightness at the right moments.

Der Cellist Gautier Capuçon luft mit seinem Cello hinter einer Steinwand hervor.
Copyright: Anoush Abrar
The violinist Lisa Batiashvili in front of a mirror and leafing through sheet music.
Copyright: Sammy Hart

Brahms said of his Double Concerto that the soloists should merge into an “eight-stringed giant violin”. How does that work, and how do you prepare for it?


Batiashvili: It’s a play between symphony, solo concerto and chamber music, and therefore also quite tricky. Sometimes you don’t get the chance to finish something yourself, either because the other soloist or the orchestra takes it over. But as Brahms’ compositional style is very much symphonic, the two soloists are like a small ensemble in themselves and at the same time two independent voices.


Capuçon: Why a giant violin, actually? (laughs) As Lisa says, the violin and cello should ideally not compete against each other, but rather merge into one sound. That’s the complexity of the piece: you have to find the right counterpart for it. I’m really looking forward to playing the concerto with Lisa, who has been a good friend for more than 20 years. She is a musician and violinist whom I greatly admire and with whom I enjoy entering into a musical dialogue. When you make music with these ingredients, it’s pure magic.

“Brahms’ music has accompanied me since my childhood.”

Gautier Capuçon

All Brahms symphonies will be performed at the Isarphilharmonie in January. Why should we listen to all of them?


Batiashvili: Because every single symphony is a masterpiece. Already the opening beat of the timpani in the first symphony presages this incredibly long, intense musical line, which actually runs throughout all of the symphonies. I am sure that listeners will not be able to decide which of the four symphonies is the most beautiful or the most perfect. All four are so full of deep human emotion and beautiful themes that stay with us long after we’ve finished listening.


Capuçon: For the orchestra and the audience alike, it is a fantastic opportunity to embark on a musical journey through Brahms’ work and to follow its development. Everything we experience is expressed in this music. So through his music, we also immerse ourselves in Brahms’ life.

Brahms cycle at the Isarphilharmonie

When you want to acquaint young people with Brahms, what do you tell them?


Batiashvili: I listened to Brahms’ music as a youngster, when I was in love for the first time. This passion, which is always expressed with a clear structure and language, is the greatest inspiration for me.


Capuçon: I talk about my experience with Brahms as a child. In those days, I knew nothing about the composer’s life; it was just that my soul was deeply moved by his music. There are no better words than music. So open your ears and heart to feel the music.