In memory of Giya Kancheli on his 85th birthday

On 10 August 2020, the Georgian composer Giya Kancheli would have been 85. He died of heart failure in his hometown of Tbilisi on 2 October 2019.  

From 1956 to 1963, the Georgian composer, now renowned throughout the world, studied composition at the Tbilisi State Conservatory under Ilya Tuskiya, whereupon he worked as a freelance composer and also composed film and stage music. 

From 1970 he taught himself composition at the State Conservatory, and one year later became the musical director of the Rustaveli State Academic Theatre in Tbilisi. 

From 1984 to 1989 Kancheli was chairman of the Georgian Composers’ Association.

In 1991 he moved to Berlin, where he received a DAAD scholarship, and in 1995 moved to Belgium as composer in residence of the Flemish Philharmonic Orchestra Antwerp. He lived there for a long time as a freelancer. Kancheli's compositions are strongly influenced by the history and culture of his homeland.

He refers to both political themes and Georgian folklore, particularly the polyphonic folk songs of his homeland, without, however, quoting them specifically.

Kancheli’s sound world has something incredibly natural; it is simultaneously both modern and archaic. His musical structures are essentially based on emotional aspects such as intensification and tension, excitement, and calm. He works with dynamic extremes and often demands extreme slowness.

Kancheli’s music is atmospherically connected to his home country Georgia, without, however, quoting Georgian folklore. His work is particularly characterised by nostalgia and melancholy as well as sadness about the political conditions in the former Soviet Union, the destruction caused by the Georgian civil war and any form of violence and discord in our time.  

Kancheli’s musical style oscillates between modernity and the archaic.  He creates atmosphere through rousing sound spectra, which move deeply in the breadth of their sensuality and subliminal religiosity.

Kancheli’s late works are often marked by death, mourning and loss. But there are always pieces in which the composer is searching for a new, albeit complex, simplicity. This is the case in his more recent vocal work "Deda Ena" for soprano, children’s choir, and chamber orchestra, in which the composer draws once again on his Georgian mother tongue.

Another work, “Middelheim” for piano trio and string orchestra, is filled with deep gratitude to the doctors who saved his life and continued to treat him in the Antwerp hospital whose name he took for the work. Finally, with the cello concerto “T.S.D.”, Kantscheli once again turned to the genre of the instrumental concerto. Behind the title "T.S.D." are the terms tonic, subdominant and dominant.

Giya Kancheli (10.08.1935 – 02.10.2019)
85th birthday
- “Mit einem Lächeln für Slawa” (With a Smile for Slava) for cello and piano
- Cycle “Leben ohne Weihnacht” (Life without Christmas)
- “Valse Boston” for piano and string orchestra
- “Amao omi” for mixed choir and saxophone quartet
- “T.S.D.” for cello and orchestra

Photo: © Sarah Ainslie

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