What does it take to make Czechs smile?

What does it take to make Czechs smile?


norman lebrecht

March 12, 2017

This is the trailer for a new Rachmaninov recording by Khatia Buniatishvili, one of the more engaging soloists on the circuit.

The orchestra is the Czech Philharmonic. Their facial expressions are phlegmatic, if not glacial.

Do these players enjoy being on record? And on camera?


  • Hugh Jorgan says:

    They were ordered, on pain of forfeit of one month’s salary, on *no account* to stare at her ***s or **s during the performance.

  • Thomas Roth says:

    With that conductor, who could smile?

  • Peter says:

    shitty piano sound, bad balance. where is the sonority these strings of this orchestra are famous for?

  • Ungeheuer says:

    What exactly is “engaging” about this lousy pianist but good showoff? Me thinks she has a brighter future selling shampoo.

    • Nick says:

      March 12, 2017 at 7:39 pm
      What exactly is “engaging” about this lousy pianist but good showoff? Me thinks she has a brighter future selling shampoo.

      Come to think of it….you might be right after all. She is a showoff, alright. But for most people it is enough. Even on this blog. Very few dig deeper, but if scratched the surface a little, then you are right: selling shampoo is the best way! But this will not happen – too many buy her piano playing as “super”.

      • Ungeheuer says:

        By the by, I love this orchestra. The showoff should have no business with them.

        • Nick says:


          yes indeed, the orchestra is very professional. And it sustains the “studio” atmosphere – businesslike! It is not a concert, of course. It would be nice to have another soloist of course, someone who loves music more than Herself and Her piano playing. There are some pretty young female pianists, who play better and look better too. Ms. Y. Wang comes to mind, for example. And her Rachmaninoff is extremely “apt” to say the least!!
          And she plays ‘soooooo’ well, that she does not have to convince anybody in HER ability, so people enjoy WHAT she does at the instrument.

          The second half of Paul Davis’ comment is, may be, a bit overboard, or too emotional for public broadcasting. However, one cannot disagree with its content. The criticism is well taken, the choice of words could have been a bit softer (for some), but as strong on content.
          Buniatishvili looks always vulgar and she, needless to say, is an exhibitionist. But I am not sure this is done on the advice of her agents and/or PR people. She seems very natural in this role.

  • harold braun says:

    May be they are just focused and concentrated…..What nonsense!

    • Steven Holloway says:

      Indeed. I’ve seen many videos of orchestras in rehearsal or in recording studios and smiley faces are never in abundance. If anyone were playing the same passage for the fifth time to please the conductor or in retakes, it’s hard to imagine they’d find it a jolly experience. It’s hard work and sometimes tedious. And this is just an advertisement for Buniatishvili. The post’s header is at best silly and naive, at worst more clickbait.

  • Oskar says:

    Another highly opinionated post. What do you expect the players to do while performing Rachmaninov… grin from ear to ear and jump up and down with joy ? A little modesty would not kill her, just read the bio on her official website: she even managed to slip Pablo Casals in, in spite of the fact he has passed away 14 years before she was even born 🙂 Congratulations to Czech Phil. on an interesting CD release !

    • Alexander Davidson says:

      To be fair to her, her ridiculous biography was actually written by Olivier Bellamy. The whole thing is worthy of being reprinted in Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner (“The cosmos is her garden and it is in its movement that she feels alive, astride a comet.”)

  • Count Me Out says:

    The Czech Philharmonic players are professionals – so they know a great pianist when they hear one, and they certainly don’t on this occasion. Her karate-chop, bang & poke keyboard approach serves no musical purpose whatever, and she might try looking at the conductor & orchestra once in a while, rather than just at the keys or the ceiling. Her inability to make the piano “sing” is amply demonstrated by the opening of the 3rd Concerto – clearly this music means nothing to her, and her piano playing fin general is just a narcissistic exercise.

  • harold braun says:

    The clips show really dazzling playing.Reminds me of young Martha.I don’t care about marketing gimmicks.But the playing is fantastic,and the combination with Paavo and the great Czech Philharmonic prompted me to order a copy ten minutes ago.About the recorded sound….i have to listen on my fine hifi system first…

    • Robert Roy says:

      Quite agree!


      Yes, will moaners please put SD clips through their hi-fi (if they know how) before they pontificate on sound quality and balance. I suspect they are just listening on the basic apology for a loudspeaker that’s squeezed into their laptop. This clip sounds pretty good through a decent system.

      There is in any case an inbuilt quality loss on all music clips on SD compared with commercial CDs, because of the restricted internet bandwidth (even more so if you’re thinking of enjoying classical music on YouTube). You are never going to achieve ultimate CD quality when you click on a SD trailer. Judgements on sound quality are therefore spurious.

      The stage is full of acutely sensitive mics, there’s no audience to ingratiate, the music is difficult, stuffed with notes, and recording it is a demanding task. What’s to smile about? These people are WORKING, not playing-up for cameras (which are just snooping on the session, not making a sophisticated music video for posterity). Probably they would rather have no cameras at all, but there’s no marketing sense in that. Everybody onstage will have forgotten about them once the session got underway.

  • Michael says:

    It’s always nice to see the Czech Philharmonic in the recording studio. An amazing orchestra. I’m sure they are all concentrating on the music. I haven’t thought of Ms. Buniatishvili as engaging. She does like to show off her hair and her ample posterior, if one wants to view that as engaging.

  • MacroV says:

    Nice to see the Czech Philharmonic (my hometown band at the moment) getting studio work. Any idea when this was done? She hasn’t performed either of these pieces here in the past three seasons. Must have been just for the recording.

  • John Borstlap says:

    But it is the music: Rachmaninoff is not music inviting smiles and jolliness, but stern moods of melancholy. You only get through it by forcing yourself to be phlegmatic.

    • Alexander says:

      … I think Rachmaninoff is all about lofty thoughts, elegy , reflection etc … have never felt any kind of stern mood …. just my opinion, of course …

    • George says:

      Maybe the musicians were trying to reproduce Rachmaninov’s “six-and-a-half foot scowl.”

  • Paul Davis says:

    A ridiculous post, reminding me of an Australian talent show many years ago where a serious girl was critiçose for not smiling and throwing herself around “like Liberace….he enjoys himself(!)…” after playing Rach prelude in g-minor! The Czech Phil was my favorite orchestra thruout my youth, especially under Ancerl, for the vivacité, color, rythm and a sense of “playing for their lives” -literally, fearing the 4 o’ clock knock on the door in difficult times. In recent years they have, regrettably, deteriorated; let’s hope there’s an upward curve to come.

    Catch-her Bum-here-touchy-feely, (Buniatishvili…!) may be personally engaging, but i have rarely heard her play musically, or even accurately, (altho these extracts sound impressive… could be stitched together, as so often). As for the “look,” i am allergic to hi-heels, excessive make-up and plas-turd on lipstick, for me, she is a hideous hag, groteske in appearance; i feel sorry for her, she seems a nice girl however misguided by her are-sole agents.

    • James says:

      Is this unbelievably rude and grotesque comment going to be allowed to stand on this website?

    • Alexander Davidson says:

      I am hoping that in a more reasonable moment you will re-read this comment and feel completely and utterly ashamed of yourself for writing something so absolutely hateful. You are a deeply unpleasant misogynist and a disgrace to the male half of the world’s population. Most of us are here to discuss classical music. You are apparently here to demean women. Furthermore, Norman’s blog is widely read in the classical music world (Leonard Slatkin, for example, has been known to post comments). There is therefore a very good chance that Ms Buniatishvili herself will have read your quite disgusting comment. I would urge you to apologise, to her and to all of us.

      • Nick says:

        @Alex. Davidson. Please speak for yourself! I do not “urge” any apologies form anybody. We all have the right to express our opinion in any way we can. And if it is something as disturbing to some, so have the right to speak their mind. The tone is another issue. But Paul Davis says that he “feels sorry for her” and “she seems a nice girl”.

        Anybody in music business can withstand even rude criticism and artists get it more often than not!! There are no sissies in this business. Particularly someone like Buniatishvili. She sells vulgar sex instead of music, isn’t that obvious enough?! And she looks vulgar and even offensive to many people. So, why should she not know that? She is not an underage kid. She is a very, very capable grownup woman. And she knows that too. I would be pleased to know that somebody makes her aware of what some people think and feel about her. Hopefully it will do her some good, which I doubt.

        • Alexander Davidson says:

          You are certainly correct when you say that we all have the right to express our opinion in any way we can. That does not mean, however, that we should. Indeed, you seem to acknowledge this when you say, ‘The tone is another issue’, and it was, of course, the tone with which I took issue. I don’t think that saying, ‘i feel sorry for her, she seems a nice girl’, is sufficient to excuse the manner in which the comment was expressed. Some would say that referring to a woman of 29 as ‘a nice girl’ is in itself demeaning though I am prepared to accept that it may not have been intended to be.

          There is certainly nothing wrong in criticising an artist’s technique, musicianship, or the image he or she aims to project. A recent thread on this blog contained some strong criticism of both David Helfgott and Nigel Kennedy which managed just about to remain on the right side of gratuitous offence (I understand that there is some controversy surrounding aspects of Mr Helfgott’s biography, but it seems unkind to describe him as a fraud).

          This comment, however, really went too far. This is not the first time that Mr Davis has described Ms Buniatishvili as ‘Catch-her Bum-here-touchy-feely’ on this blog. Surely any reasonable person would see that this is a demeaning way in which to talk about somebody. The innovative spelling ‘plas-turd’, making comparison between her lipstick and faeces, is, clearly, revolting and calculatedly offensive. It is one thing to say that one dislikes somebody’s choice of image, quite another to describe somebody as ‘a hideous hag’.

          I should admit that I, too, tend to feel rather sceptical about artists who seek to project an excessively glamorous or sexualised image. An extreme example of this in a male artist would be David Garrett, who now bears something of a resemblance to Kurt Cobain. Frankly, I think that he looks ridiculous when he poses shirtless with his violin, and it makes me wonder whether his image is intended to compensate for his shortcomings as a violinist (Jascha Heifetz was handsome and elegant but did not resort to such gimmicks). Ms Buniatishvili is not as extreme an example of this tendency as Mr Garrett is, but she is an example of it nonetheless. Personally, I am more impressed by artists such as James Ehnes, Alina Ibragimova, and Tanja Tetzlaff, who seem to wish to be seen as quite ordinary people who happen to be extraordinary musicians, rather than by artists such Ms Buniatishvili and Mr Garrett (and one could also mention Yuja Wang). In fact, while I have little interest in Mr Garrett as a violinist, I do respect Ms Buniatishvili and Ms Wang as pianists. It is, however, incidental that they both happen to be very beautiful women. I would listen to them even if they did not employ sexy images in their marketing, just as I listen to Maurizio Pollini and Angela Hewitt and judge them on purely musical grounds. One can, therefore, criticise without seeking to cause gratuitous offence.

          • Nick says:


            Thank you for your ” short novel”. I will be brief:
            while the rather emotionally charged but honest remarks of Paul Davis can offend some, your writing is simply revolting and it is an insult to human intelligence of many, myself most certainly included!!! Your writing is revolting in its political correctness. I much rather believe Mr. Davis than your politically correct insulting blurb, which to me is more insulting than offensive, but emotionally honest remarks of Paul Davis.

            While you are obviously not a particular music connoisseur (if you can equalize Ms Y. Wang and Ms. Buniatishvili, or Mr. Pollini and Ms Hewitt), you are, not surprisingly, just as blah and careful in your writing. Every word you utter speaks volumes of who you are: politically correct dude. And it is insulting to my intelligence.

            I must add that, not only the art of Ms. Wang is incomparable to that of Ms. Buniatishvili artistically, but also their use of image cannot have a starker difference and distance. While Ms. Wang, in addition to being an incredibly serious and deeply emotional artist with humanly limitless instrumental abilities, projects and responsibly and tastefully employs her sex appeal, Ms. Buniatishvili loves herself more than the music at hand, is a superficial musician, and projects deliberately a vulgar and tasteless female image, causing and deserving such remarks as she got from Mr Paul Davis. And yes, they are both GIRLS, not BOYS!!! And that is not demeaning to women. It is also not demeaning to Mr. Garrett or Mr. Kennedy to call them BOYS, because they are!

          • Alexander Davidson says:

            I obviously did not mean to suggest that I considered those four pianists to be equal in terms of their technique or musicianship. I meant that I judge them all on purely musical grounds. My point was that Maurizio Pollini is now 75 (and looks at least that) and invariably performs in white tie (he has not succumbed to the modish Nehru jacket). He is probably the finest living pianist (certainly as a Chopin interpreter), and I judge him for that, not for how he looks, dresses, and so on. I find David Garrett’s image annoying, but I could overlook that if he were a brilliant violinist. Mischa Maisky has for some years now affected to look like an Orthodox patriarch or an Oriental sage. All that matters, however, is that he is one of the great cellists of our time.

            As for political correctness, I am not sure that it means anything different to civility. For example, it is simply demeaning to refer to adults as boys or girls (for example, it was common in the USA until some time in the second half of the last century for white people to address black men as ‘boy’).

          • Steven Holloway says:

            Mr. Davidson: The screed posted by ‘Nick’ is so utterly absurd that I do rather wish you hadn’t given it the dignity of a reply. In his fury and frustration, he is clearly close to going over the ‘politically incorrect’ edge here, longing for a reply so that he has an excuse to rant more, a trollish trait, and that is why it is always best to ignore the Nicks of this benighted world.

      • Paul Davis says:

        Good heavens, i return from a peaceful few days lost in deepest Provence with no internut connexion, (bliss!), and find a mini-storm about an, admittedly barbed, humorous comment.

        Reading back, as suggust, i should have rather said “hideous hag as presented by her marketing team….” True it’s very impolite to be so frank, altho she does rather invite it.

        Zapping thru comments to khatch up, i see that elsewhere you infer from the humorous nickname, (it’s made many people smile, but apparently not yourself, and obviously not these Czechs!) for the artits: “an incitement to commit a sexual assault.” This says much more about your state of being than the nickname; i would say: twisted, at the risk of offending you again – something easily achieved.

        You are evidently a fan of the….. “young lady” – politesse oblige, (i considered “nice girl” perfectly correct, no slight was ever intended, but that’s your “twist” on it again), and i’m sorry you’ve taken a lighthearted dig so heavily. I have suffered the artit’s rendings on four occasions; (1) by first time normal curiosity, (2 & 3): was invited, (4): she was playing nearby in my local tiny Opéra and a whole group of friends wanted me to go. So i have some knowledge and reason to think that her low musical standards do composers and their music a disservice, and the flagrant flaunting of flimsy, floozy, flashy films & fotos is much closer to an abuse than the nickname.

        As you’ve no doubt notitced, i suffre form mlid dylsexier.

        I’m moving on to more interesting things. So should you, with a lighter spirit!
        Good listening. All the best.

  • Bruce says:

    The only orchestra I’ve ever seen that smiled while they played was the Lawrence Welk orchestra. (Also André Rieu’s … so, two)

    • Bruce says:

      …And of course, if there had been any smiling, it would have been proof that the whole thing was fake, or bad, or unworthy, or something.

  • Harrison Boyle says:

    As I once had to remind a friend to tell his school Administrators who comlained that a middle school choir didn’t smile as they tried to sing part of Messiah… – Performing is serious work, whatever the piece. If smiling is called for is YOU, the listener who should be doing it.

  • Peter says:

    Who seriously cares if they smile? In a recording session without audience and a shitty pay probably (Sony classical)?
    What next? The women should wear lingerie?

  • Tommy says:

    Yesterday I saw and listened to the BPO and Mehta performing Elgar VC (Zukerman) and Tchaikovsky 5 on their DCH. To my (limited) understanding it was a complete success and the playing at least on par with the very best. But I also noticed the numerous communications between the players; the many encouraging smiles, happy eye glances and body movements. A kind of presence to what they all were part of. It certainly gave a strong and joyful collegial impact. I really liked what I saw (and heard) !

    • Max Grimm says:

      The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra is another ensemble where that kind of communication between the players is frequent and it is often visually noticeable that they are truly enjoying themselves.
      Generalizing broadly and at the risk of getting flamed to death, I find that players in American orchestras more often come across as more ‘rigid’ or ‘stoic’ (visually speaking) than many of their colleagues in European orchestras. I’m also somewhat surprised at the comparatively larger number of complaints from American critics and audience members about players “moving too much” or being too “fidgety”.

  • OperaGene says:

    Every time I see the hands of a concert pianist moving on the keyboard I believe in magic.

  • Nick says:


    Indeed Mr. Holloway. That’s the “hollow way” it is in liberal America. There are two sides to every story: the politically correct side and the racist, conservative, monstrous side. The monster is Nick, of course. And the angel as “hollow ways” and Davidsons!!
    Please don’t be so frustrated with the “benighted” world. You simply don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. But it IS there if you can face the truth.

  • Byrwec Ellison says:

    Believe it or not, it’s actually hard to play violin and smile at the same time.

    • Bruno says:

      Haters gonna hate…

      Not a single word about her interpretations has been spoken.

      I completely understand that this might not be everyone’s favorite recording or artist. But if someone doesn’t at least like her Mephisto Waltz from 2008 on YouTube I just have to doubt their sense of musicality.

  • FatDrunkAndStupid says:

    It is not appropriate in Slavic culture to smile like a buffoon for no particular reason and especially frowned upon when carrying out a professional responsibility or official function. The scenario in which you are most likely to find a Czech smile is in initiating conversation with a stranger or while socializing with friends.