Though my parents had enrolled me in English lessons in Georgia, I had to look up every other word in my textbooks to complete my first high school assignments in the U.S. I didn’t sleep very much in those first months, but I soon caught up, finishing high school a year early, and never let my work at the piano slip. After winning a few local competitions, Logan Skelton, a professor at the University of Michigan, took me on as a student and prepared me for the grueling work needed to play at the level demanded at international competitions and conservatory auditions. In my senior year I went to New York alone, and came back with an admissions offer and a full scholarship at Juilliard. Though I had no connections, I became the first person from Georgia ever to gain admission.
My musical life began in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union My mother, a collaborative pianist at the Conservatory, was part of the city’s vibrant artistic culture and ensured I was always immersed in music even before she enrolled me in the pre-college division of the conservatory at age six. Since my father directed a local theater, I grew up surrounded by actors and designers as well. The bustling artistic world contrasted jarringly with an economy in tatters. Sometimes, life was literally dark, with lack of electricity, no running water, and long lines at the grocery store to buy bread. But some of the most vivid and happiest memories of my youth are practicing on my beautiful Steinway grand piano on dark winter nights with no electricity, lit with a tiny lamp and warding off the cold with an oil fueled heater.