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Giya Kancheli turns 75 on 10 August

Giya Kancheli has become a symbolic figure of the New Music during the post-Soviet years, as the Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote many years ago. He has created music that draws infinite breath, becomes entangled in deep meditation, processes painful experiences into oppressive dreams – and is nevertheless miles away from kitsch and cheap sentimentality. In a special way, the Georgian composer has the talent of finding expression in his music for basic human experiences such as mourning, rage, loss, hope and faith and, solely through the means of sound, creating direct references to extra-musical subjects. And he does this through a mixture of tragic disturbance and basic meditative mood, leading the audience where he wants it: to a mood which makes contemplation and reflection possible. In his opinion, the essence and task of music is self-reflection.

Alfred Schnittke said about Kancheli: “What is most surprising about him is his rare gift of a ‘floating sense of time.’” Already during the first notes, one is released from real, periodically structured time, experiencing the time of infinity like a cloud gliding past. In the relatively short duration of 20 to 30 minutes of music, one experiences an entire life or an entire story. But one does not experience the shocks of time in this. One glides over centuries, like in an airplane, without sensing speed. Kancheli wrote seven symphonies and a number of orchestral works, film music and chamber works. Important orchestras, such as the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, the Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart, the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, the London Philharmonia, the London Sinfonietta, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony, have comes to terms with his works.

Giya Kancheli was born on 10 August 1935 in Tbilisi, Georgia. After briefly studying geology, he decided he would rather dedicate himself to music. From 1959 until 1963 he studied composition with Iona Tuskija at the Tbilisi Conservatory and became music director of the Rustaweli Theatre in Tbilisi in 1971. After moving to Berlin in 1991, where he received a stipend of the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service), he became composer in residence with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic in Antwerp in 1995. Since then, Kancheli has been living in Belgium as a freelance composer. The newspaper “Filmzeit” once quoted the composer with the following words: “Kancheli has formulated the concern of his music as follows: ‘Above all, it should awaken the feeling of religiosity as it is understood in the widest sense.’” Whoever is ready to become actively involved with this music can encounter a phenomenon in Kancheli’s music that the Christian mystic David Steindl-Rast once designated as “finding meaning through the senses. How can our heart become clairaudient when our senses remain dulled?’”

The recording label ECM has released a further Kancheli CD on the occasion of the composer’s 75th birthday containing the work “Silent Prayer.” The violist Yuri Bashmet is organising a Kancheli Festival in Moscow.

An important event is the Kancheli Birthday Festival in Riga 3 October 2010 (music director: Andres Mustonen). A total of five Kancheli works will be performed during the course of the day: “Silent Prayer,” “Ex contrario,” “Visit to Childhood,” “Abii ne viderem” (flute version) and “A Little Daneliade.” Performances of his latest major choral-orchestral work “Dixi” are planned in Tallinn, Katowice, Riga, Tbilisi and Moscow.

Finally, Deutsche Grammophon is releasing a CD with Giya Kancheli’s “V&V” for violin and orchestra, recorded by Lisa Batiashvili and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Esa-Pekka Salonen.

First performances of works by Giya Kancheli:


Latvian premiere
Giya Kancheli
“Dixi” for Choir and Orchestra
(Latvian State Choir, Latvian National Symphony Orchestra
Cond.: Andres Mustonen)

Russian premiere
Gija Kancheli
“Dixi” for Choir and Orchestra


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