Monday, October 06, 2014

Botso: Teaching Hope and Music

In the final twenty minutes Wachtang “Botso” Korisheli was allowed to see his father, the prominent Georgian actor imparted the life lessons that would later guide a disproportionate number of his Morro Bay students to careers as professional musicians. He also sculpts. With the help of Korisheli’s students and alumni, Tom Walters celebrates Korisheli, the teacher, artist, and father in Botso: The Teacher from Tblisi (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

At one time, Platon Korisheli and his family were held in high esteem by Stalin, but that tragically changed. Growing up as the child of an enemy of the state was not easy. Having served as a trench digger in the Red Army, a particularly dangerous and menial duty assignment reserved for conscripts of his status, Korisheli tenaciously made his way west after war.

While fate and the Soviet State would deny Korisheli a reunion with his mother, he forged a teaching career and started a family in Morro Bay, California. Like Korisheli’s grown son before them, his young adopted daughters are amongst his most promising music students. Probably the most celebrated Korisheli graduates are Kent Nagano, the Grammy winning music director of the Orchestre Symphonie de Montréal, as well as his sister, pianist Joan Nagano, and cousin Nancy Nagano, the San Luis Obispo Symphony’s principal cellist. The tradition continues with Nagano’s ten year old daughter, who is among the notable soloists at Botso Fest, the gala reunion concert featuring Korisheli’s former students.

Over ninety years old himself, Korisheli is clearly doing something right. Walters and writer-co-producer Hillary Roberts Grant caught the big moments, like Botso Fest and his emotional return to Georgia after decades away. However, the best scenes capture Korisheli working with students. We can readily see he is a dynamic but supportive instructor, who helps his young charges connect with the soul of the music. Contrasting sessions recorded five years earlier with recent lessons, Walters also demonstrates the sort of commitment Korisheli inspires in his students and documentarians alike.

Botso is a very nice film that offers some timely lessons on the importance of musical education and the grim legacy of Communism. Strangely though, Walters never really gives us a big musical crescendo, cutting away and truncating the Botso Fest command performance, featuring young Miss Nagano (who clearly did her delighted teacher proud). Nor does he ever ask Korisheli about the state of contemporary Georgia, particularly with respects to Russian military belligerence (arguably a bit of an oversight, given the way recent history has repeated in Ukraine). Nonetheless, it is well worth viewers’ time to meet Mr. Korisheli and listen to his story of hope and music. Warmly recommended for students of music and history, Botso opens this Friday (10/10) in New York at the Quad Cinema.