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Giya Kancheli’s 80th Birthday

Giya Kancheli was born in Tbilissi on 10 August 1935. From 1956 to 1963 he studied composition with Ilya Tuskiya at the State Conservatory in Tblissi and then worked as a freelance composer, writing music for films and incidental music for the stage. He began teaching composition at the State Conservatory beginning in 1970 and one year later became the music director of the State Academic Rustaveli Theatre in Tbilissi. From 1984 to 1989 Kancheli was chairman of the Georgian Composers’ Union. He moved to Berlin in 1991, where he received a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) stipend and in 1995 relocated to Belgium as composer in residence with the Flemish Philharmonic in Antwerp; he has lived there ever since, where he is active as a freelance composer.

Kancheli’s compositions are strongly influenced by the history and culture of his homeland. He refers to political subjects and to Georgian folklore, especially the polyphonic folksong of his homeland, without directly quoting from this source, however. Kancheli’s musical style fluctuates between modernism and archaic features. He creates atmosphere through gripping sound spectra that deeply move the listener in the breadth of their sensuality and underlying religious feeling. Giya Kancheli’s most recent works are frequently marked by death, mourning and loss.

He has written a great deal of chamber music and many chamber orchestral works during the past three years: his “Bridges to Bach” (2010) belongs to the cycle of ten works commissioned by Gidon Kremer entitled “The Art of Instrumentation”. This cycle consists of piano works from the repertoire of Glenn Gould orchestrated for strings or string orchestra, a task that Giya Kancheli accepted rather hesitatingly, considering his aversion to quotations. The work was originally written for violin, flute, oboe, vibraphone, piano and string orchestra, but it is also available in an adaptation for violin, vibraphone, piano and string orchestra. “Chiaroscuro” (2010) is the title of a string quartet premiered in June 2011 during the course of the 9th International String Quartet Competition “Premio Paolo Borciani”, and of a concerto for violin and viola or violin, string orchestra and percussion based on the material of the string quartet. The designation refers to a painting technique of the Renaissance and early Baroque periods in which the artist works with strong contrasts between shadow and light. In accordance with this idea, one hears the effective playing between the dark layer of sound in the strings and tender solo violin harmonics with celesta accompaniment. “Ninna Nanna for Anna” composed in 2010 is a string orchestra version of “Ninna Nanna” originally for flute and string quartet, premiered to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Georgian Chamber Orchestra of Ingolstadt on 16 June 2010. According to Gidon Kremer’s wish, Kancheli made a piano trio version in 2012 of his work “Instead of a Tango”, a piece originally written in 1996 for violin, bandoneon, piano and double bass.

Kancheli’s most recent orchestral work was written in 2012 in response to a commission from the Istanbul Music Festival and is entitled “Lingering”; it was premiered in Istanbul under the direction of Andres Mustonen on 11 June 2012.

Another recurring subject in Giya Kancheli’s works is the revolt against violence and war, as in his opera “Music for the Living” (1983). Here, the composer has recourse to children as performers, who personify innocence, purity and openness. Kancheli also uses a children’s choir, together with violin, violoncello and chamber orchestra in his new work “Angels of Sorrow” written in 2013. This work received its world premiere on 5 October 2013 with Gidon Kremer, Giedre Dirvanauskaite, the Shchedryk Kiev Children’s Choir and the Kremerata Baltica under the direction of Nikoloz Rachveli. Two days later, it was performed again by the same interpreters in the Berlin Philharmonie at the event entitled “To Russia with Love”, dedicated to the worsening human rights situation and political prisoners in Russia. The work is dedicated to Mikhail Khodorkovski on his 50th birthday.

Giya Kancheli comments as follows:
“The events in the world unconsciously and unavoidably influence my creative process. I cannot remain indifferent to the infinite manifestations of ruthlessness and violence, which is probably why sadness and pain dominate my music. With the help of the innocent voices of children and the simplest melodic structures, I have attempted, as far as I have been able, to lend expression to my plea for the strength of the human spirit – the unshakeable power of the spirit that lifts mankind above an immoral regime.”

The piece “Amao Omi” for mixed choir and saxophone quartet has a similar subject to that of “Angels of Sorrow”. The title is Georgian for “senseless war”. In 2011 Kancheli prepared a version for saxophone quartet and chamber orchestra entitled “Ilori”. August 2013 saw the world premiere of “Tranquillo” for small ensemble performed by the Klangforum Wien during the course of the Arcus Temporum Festival in Hungary.

Giya Kancheli is living today in Tbilissi an Antwerp.


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