“When I compose music, I don't focus on the everyday collisions of life. I want to see it as a bird in flight, from a height, from an angle.”
Giya Kancheli, Georgia’s most distinguished living composer, was born in Tbilisi in 1935 and has lived in Western Europe since 1991. A sense of exile, a longing for a time and place irrecoverably lost are recurring preoccupations in his music. His long, highly productive collaboration with ECM dates back to 1992, when Mourned by the Wind (Vom Winde Beweint), an immense elegy sung by solo viola with symphony orchestra, was released. Since then, a string of recordings has followed, revealing different aspects of his oeuvre, which has become a cornerstone of ECM’s New Series. US conductor Dennis Russell Davies has long been a champion of Kancheli’s music; he conducted not only that first 1993 recording but also Trauerfarbenes Land, Caris Mere, Abii ne viderem and Diplipito.
After studying piano and composition at Tbilisi conservatory, Kancheli followed a familiar path for composers in the Soviet era who resisted joining the Soviet musical establishment: he wrote for stage and film, which allowed him a degree of freedom as these genres largely existed below the official censors’ radar. This aspect of his career is captured in Themes from the Songbook (2010).
Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin has called Kancheli “an ascetic with the temperament of a maximalist – a restrained Vesuvius”. Many of his works unfold quietly with a slow, measured pulse, punctuated by violent outbursts which are indeed volcanic in their suddenness and force.
The music of leave-taking, lamentation, and commemoration also feature prominently in Kancheli’s work, not least in the Life without Christmas cycle. And in Lament, a breathtaking and emotionally fraught violin line performed by Gidon Kremer (another of the composer’s regular collaborators) dominates one of his most moving compositions, which is dedicated to the memory of departed comrade, Luigi Nono. Reviews of that work capture a quality typical of Kancheli’s sound-world when they speak of a vast, brooding stillness, where patience is “rewarded by moments of great, piercing beauty”.