The Balanshivadzes family, traditions.
The Balanchivadse family is closely connected with Georgian professional music. In 1889 Meliton studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, under Rimsky- Korsakov. He married Maria Vasilleva and they had three children: Tamar, Giorgi and Andria. Excerpts of his opera "Tamar" the Insidious') were first heard in St.Petersburg.
Meliton Balanchivadze was a hospitable man. Representatives of the Georgian and Russian intelligentsia gathered at his apartment in St.Petersburg and gave wonderful evening concerts. Andria Balanchivadze remembers "We children listened to the Georgian folk songs and to the Easter and Christmas hymns with wonder... It was a real celebration for us when Georgian dances were performed. We all fell in love with the music, Georgian music, and art.
Alice Kuntsel taught us to play the piano. Glorgi and I were keen on playing duets. Our repertoire was quite extensive. We performed popular classical pieces, pot pourries from ballet and opera. Finally we played quite professionally".
When the First World War broke out, Meliton Balanchivadze moved to Georgia and began to work in Kutaisi. In 1928, 12 year old Andria joined his father. Giorgi and Tamar stayed with their mother in St. Petersburg. Glorgi was then studying at the Imperial Theatrical School, in the choreography department. "As a child he didn't like dancing at all and if it were not for our parents' insistence he would have left the school".
The brothers didn't meet each other after that. In 1922 Glorgi left for Europe. He worked in the Diagilev company from 1925. He changed his name to Balanchine and became well-known in the world of theatre and art. In 1933 he moved to America. Diagilev owes his place in the history of American ballet to the arrival there of George Balanchine".
"Unfortunately I had no contact with my brother in the 1930ies & '1940ies. I received three or four letters from him at the Opera House. I will always remember an episode with the opera singer Evminov who had denounced me as an enemy of the party. However every cloud has a silver lining; the same Evminov saved me from being drafted into the artillery, when Gogua, the commissar of culture, announced that we all had to defend our Soviet homeland. I was also on the list, but Evminov announced: «You cannot take Balanchivadze, motherland". So I was left behind: Andria recalls.
Information about George Balanchine was so scarce in the USSR at that time, that his family did not even know that George had become a world famous choreographer. Some letters appeared in 1950 and in 1961. George Balanchine arrived in the Soviet Union. The brothers George, (the founder of the American ballet) and Andria (a great composer of our epoch and the founder of nearly all genres of Georgian music including ballet, concerts and symphonies) met each other at Sheremetievo airport 43 years after George's departure. Both cried. In 1961 George Balanchine arrived in Georgia for the first time.
"During his second stay with me, George told me, "Let me take your works to America. I'll make a real "Kharcho" (kharcho: a mixture of various ingredients including meat, nuts, rice. Tossed with a special dressing) of them". He had an amazing sense of humor and he liked my pieces".
Stravinsky said: George Balanchine is the greatest musician of our time. He was the only one who could blend music and choreography. George would say: "Usten to the ballet and see the music".
I remember that while staging Tchaikovsky's «Serenade» in the Bolshoy Theatre, George was criticized that his ballet was too abstract. George responded: here is a rose, (he was holding a rose in his hand) Do you like it? Do you like the scent? Can you explain to me its plot and why a rose is beautiful? You cannot, can you? Art has to be the highest beauty. In terms of plot, I'd like the audience to create and to comprehend it themselves).
In 1983 George Balanchine died of inflammation of the lungs in Scandinavia. His brother Andria didn't go to the funeral for obvious reasons.
Two years passed until Andria's death. But the family makes their traditions live on.
"Optimism and our ability to smile are genetic features. At my request Akaki Shanidze - a philologist - has investigated the origin of our name. It turned out that in the middle ages the Balanchivadzes were court musicians and poets. Look! My lower jaw reveals that my ancestors were troubadours. It stretches up to my earn - Andria Balanchivadze said.
The Balanchivadzes live in a modest district in Tbilisi - Mrs. Pana Balanchivadze with her children, Amiran, Tsiskara and Jarji. As soon as you step into their apartment you see that all members of the family live and feel things in an original and artistic manner. Their perception of things is emotional but witty. They are a great company. They will sincerely admire something and the next moment they become quite critical But they are always modest. There is nothing false coming from them.
In spite of her age, Mrs. Pana Balanchivadze is still a beautiful woman, full of a strange and obscure charm.
"Andria and I met each other at the Young Workers' Theatre. I was sitting next to the artist Krotkov. He told me - Look, the son of Meliton Balanchivadze is here. He is a gifted composer himself and writes music for this theatre. Andria came up to us. He looked at me and didn't take his eyes off me. He sat beside me, moving Krotkov aside. He invited me to his place. -The Balanchivadzes lived at St. Nina's monastery then. Andria introduced me to his father as his fiancée. His father was sitting on a sofa with a huge pipe in his hand. He laughed: She's too young to get married, Andria. But we already loved each other and very soon got married. Andria was against my working and I haven't worked a day outside the home in my life, though I graduated from the Conservatoire and the Theatrical School. In general, the Balanchivadzes are jealous types. Andria was a jealous husband. His brother George was a jealous man, too. When he was in Georgia, he was jealous of his wife and Jarji, his nephew. We have three children. Meliton suggested the names Amiran and Tsiskara. He was very fond of the poem "Amiran". Tsiskari means «dawn» in Georgian. We named Jarji in honor of George. We have always suffered great trials and tribulations just as we do now. Everybody in the Soviet Union was deprived of many things. But the Balanchivadzes were optimists, with a great sense of humor. I remember Meliton would hang a piece of sugar on a thread on the big lampshade under the table. While having tea in the evening the sugar would move round in a circle between us. We laughed, forgetting our hardships. The Balanchivadzes loved tobacco. Meliton smoked a huge pipe, Andria couldn't help smoking cigarettes. When our children grew up, they began to smoke, too. I asked Andria to reprimand them. He called them at once, got up, set his suit straight and asked the children - do I look well? Do you want to be like me? I've been smoking since I was 14 and feel great. So you can smoke, too. They have smoked since then... Andria cannot live without his tobacco.
He liked to work at night, when everybody was asleep and went to bed in the morning.
He was very hospitable and often invited guests over at night. He would call me unexpectedly - Pana, I'm bringing some guests, - and I would begin to prepare the meal. He liked the table beautifully set and he adored my cooking. Once he called me at 2 in the morning, "darling, I'm in the company of some friends and we'd like to come oven). I'm waiting for you - was my answer. There was Georgian and European food on the table, cognac and wine to greet them when they came. Sergel Gorodetsky was among the guests. Before leaving he dedicated a verse to me. Of course everybody was delighted; they thanked and kissed me. But Andria was angry. We had a terrible quarrel because of his jealousy. He was a regular Othello and I expected he'd strangle me at any moment like Desdemona. Later his jealousy would pass and he'd write me a love letter. I would forgive him at once.
His friends used to come from all over the USSR. It's impossible to count them. When George came, I prepared a wonderful table. He loved Georgian food. He told Andria - I'm happy that you have such a wife and his eyes filled with tears. I gave him the family broach. George loved us very much.
Andria was irritated when I began to draw - you mutilate us all - he said. But when my paintings began to sell in Germany, I put ISO marks proudly on the table, he couldn't help laughing.
Since Andria's death, my children and I gather every evening in his room. Amiran is a physicist. Andria said we had to have one wise man in our family.
Tsiskara is a ballet dancer, Jarji is a pianist. We talk, reminisce, play the piano. But when I look at the portrait of Andria that I painted I become terribly sad. The children see him in another way; you can ask them to talk about their father.
Amiran Balanchivadze: - « My father had a great talent: he could sing arias, discuss complex subjects for hours. He spent a lot of money in the restaurants. When driving a car he resembled a child, agitated when another car passed him. Generally, he was a gambler. He devoted himself entirely to any business at hand.
Once, we went to Kobuleti, the seaside resort. He went out early in the morning. I joined him but he seemed very excited and told me to go away. He was composing his symphony " The Sea". He always composed in his mind's eye. For example, he didn't go to Ritsa Lake in order to compose his <<Ritsa» suite. He visited it afterwards.
My father expressed his ideas straightforwardly and emotionally. He felt comfortable in any situation. He had many friends, and was open with everybody. He was an optimist by nature. He told me, "when I recall Georgian folk songs with their optimism and their sense of national spirit, I become sure of the futures
Tsiskara Balanchivadze: - "My father didn't like anyone around while he was working. He was fond of wine. Sometimes when he was drunk, he made us get up in the middle of the night and sing some folk songs. But despite his sense of humor and Bohemian flamboyance, he still had inward discipline. He would never forget his promise to never stand you up. My mother used to say that he was a Don Juan, but I don't believe her. He was ashamed to ask any favor from us. And he never did.
He wrote the main and slow variation "Daria" in the second act of his ballet «Mtsiri» for me. It's very complicated, based on rhythms that no one could perform except me. "The Heart of the Mountain" is no longer staged and now we only perform excerpts. Once Monavardisashvili and I performed it in Kutaisi (the adagio and nocturne) and had great success. The ballet gives the dancer a chance to interpret freely. My father was eager to produce "The Ruby Star", which had been staged by Ieonid 1avrovsky, but ran a short time. The producers told my father: «The heroes shouldn't die, they should be happy". That made my father laugh.
My uncle George used to send parcels from Europe, but asked for Georgian recipes and spices in return. He was an outstanding cook. There were always lots of watches in his parcels. When he came to Moscow, he brought an enormous suitcase almost as big as a wardrobe. We opened it and what did we see - innumerable pairs of cowboy boots. It was astonishing. He preferred old clothes to new ones. He loved to receive presents, and like my father, he was fond of wine and good food.
I'll never forget the dance lessons he held at home. We'd work at least 6 hours and he'd say to me: "Don't imitate any one. You have to create your own style, whatever it is)'. He hated stereotypes. Once Michael Lavrovsky said to him: "Your ballet is fantastic, the technique is unusual, magnificent, but there is no soul... You don't believe in God, do you". My uncle replied: «Can you feel soul?"
He was an extraordinarily jealous man. He'd had six wives. He was very famous and important in America. He came to Georgia along with his sixth wife. She was extremely beautiful and my uncle became jealous of her relationship to my brother Jarji. I think she's still alive.
He was afraid of the USSR, always looking for bugs everywhere. His suspicion had some basis, as he was always tailed here.
My father was crazy about driving. I remember an episode in Sukhumi. It was dark and he drove against the traffic with his usual disregard for safety. Sometimes I wonder what saved us. He was always happy after these risk-taking drives.
My father never lost his sense of humor. Once composer Shota Milorava came over. He was admiring Jarji's painting "The Musicians" in which there was a boy sitting playing a pipe. Milorava asked Jarji why he called his picture "The Musicians", as there was only one musician. My father answered instantly, ('But there's a bird sitting on a tree".
He was always open in expressing his ideas emotionally and straightforwardly. When others fell silent, he was always the first to speak up. He made friends with everybody: young and old. His friends included Shostakovich, Solertinsky, Gaukh, Marjanishvili, Michael Chiaureli, Shengelaia and public figures from the Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Armenia. He also treated his pupils as friends.
Jarji Balanchivadze recalls: "My father is best seen through his music; his music tells his lifestory.
He worked alone. I often saw notes on cigarette boxes or on sheets of music. When you saw him playing cards in deep thought or dreamingly smoking cigarettes, then you knew he was far away. At that time he was listening to musical images, which would be later written down. He didn't use any musical instruments when composing. He would sit at the table or wherever he happened to be. He wrote very fast.
My father loved hunting and gathering mushrooms. He was as happy as a child when he
found a mushroom.
Once, coming home from Kutaisi in the car, he changed gears so abruptly that the car turned over and skidded upside down for a half a km before it hit a tree in a ravine. Because of this accident we ended up staying with a very hospitable family in Kutaisi. They gave us food, clothes and lodging. The next morning, we walked in the streets of the town and visited the Peter-Paul Church where we heard a beautiful Georgian lithurgy. Many years have passed since then and I can say that I have never heard such a choir anywhere since.
"If it wasn't for that accident, we wouldn't have heard ith - my father commented.
He loved Georgia. He was a patriot. You can feel it In his music which features many folk themes. Once, at a meeting, he was rebuked for not knowing Georgian. He responded - «l'm doing Georgian things with my Russian, while you're doing Russian things with your Georgian".
When I asked my father for money he would ask how much. If I asked for five roubles he would give only three. But if we were at a restaurant, he might give me all the money he had.
We toured together a lot, because I performed his pieces. Once in the -Taiga airport restaurant we happened to sit at a table with a man who after some drinks with my father and a long conversation. turned out to be the poet Evtushenko. My father loved such unexpected acquaintances.
I understand now, that friends for him represented a kind of bridge between Georgian and other cultures.
He had a very close relationship with Shostakovich. He loved him dearly. My father would often recall their first meeting. In 1927, my father was taking the entrance exams for the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. He had to present at least one of his own pieces. A post-graduate student - Dimitri Shostakovich - was asked to perform my father's piece. However, Shostakovich played my father's march in E minor instead of E major. However, he did it brilliantly. When he'd finished he came up to my father and said: "I'm sorry, I didn't notice the four sharps". My father caught on to his sense of humor right away and realized his own mistake. My father was astonished by his talent. After that they were good friends, though Shostakovich was a very reserved person.
My father used to say that a composer had no right to use folk music for a specific purpose. You had to feel national music without manipulating it.
Sometimes I feel that if my father had left the USSR like my uncle they would have done more together. George is considered the founder of a new classical ballet. My father is the founder of almost all classical genres in Georgian music: ballet, piano concerti, and symphonies.
My aim is to perform his works. Nothing is done without sponsors nowadays. It's difficult to say when all his works will be published. But I feel it to be vital for the development of Georgian musical culture)).
Meliton is dead; George and Andria have gone. too. However, the Balanchivadze family, with its traditions, is carrying on.