Music, like life itself, is inconceivable without romanticism. Romanticism is a high dream of the past, present, and future–a force of invincible beauty which towers above, and conquers, the forces of ignorance, bigotry, violence, and evil.
Born in Tbilisi on 10 August 1935, Giya Kancheli was one of Georgia’s most distinguished composers and a leading figure in the world of contemporary music. Kancheli’s scores, deeply spiritual in nature, are filled with haunting aural images, varied colors and textures, sharp contrasts and shattering climaxes. His music draws inspiration from Georgian folklore and sings with a heartfelt, yet refined emotion; it is conceived dramaturgically with a strong linear flow and an expansive sense of musical time. A man of uncompromising artistic integrity, Kancheli was described by Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin as, “an ascetic with the temperament of a maximalist — a restrained Vesuvius.”
Best-known as a composer of symphonies and other large-scale works, Kancheli wrote seven symphonies and a “liturgy” for viola and orchestra, Mourned by the Wind. His Fourth Symphony (“In Memoria di Michelangelo”) received its American premiere with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Yury Temirkanov conducting, in January 1978, shortly before the cultural freeze in the United States against Soviet artists. The advent of glasnost brought growing exposure for and recognition of Kancheli’s distinctive musical voice, leading to prestigious commissions and increasingly frequent performances in Europe and America. His passionate champions have included Dennis Russell Davies, Jansug Kakhidze, Gidon Kremer, Yuri Bashmet, Kim Kashkashian, Mstislav Rostropovich and the Kronos Quartet. World premieres of specially commissioned works took place in Seattle (Piano Quartet in L’istesso Tempo by the Bridge Ensemble, 1998) and New York (And Farewell Goes Out Sighing… for violin, countertenor and orchestra by the New York Philharmonic under Kurt Masur, 1999). North American premieres of major scores by Kancheli were presented by the Philadelphia and Chicago Symphony Orchestras and at the Vancouver International New Music Festival. In May 2002, he returned to America for the eagerly awaited premiere performances of Don’t Grieve, a commission by the San Francisco Symphony for baritone and orchestra, with Dmitri Hvorostovsky as soloist and Michael Tilson Thomas conducting.
Kancheli’s compositional style owes much to his work in the theatre. For two decades he served as Music Director of the Rustaveli Theatre in Tbilisi. His opera, Music for the Living, which has won considerable praise in the former Soviet Union and Western Europe following its June 1984 premiere, was written in collaboration with the Rustaveli’s director Robert Sturua. In December 1999, the original collaborators restaged the opera for the Deutsches National Theater in Weimar. Among Kancheli’s other scores are Diplipito for cello, counter-tenor and chamber orchestra, Time… and Again for violin and piano (1997), Rokwa for large symphony orchestra (1999) and Styx for viola, mixed chorus and orchestra (1999). After electrifying performances of Mourned by the Wind at the Brooklyn Philharmonic in the fall of 1993, critics raved: “superb,” “there is no denying the powerful sincerity of this music and its riveting hold on the imagination — a grip that doesn’t relent until the consoling conclusion in which the individual and his turbulent, unpredictable universe arrive at a reconciliation.”
Recordings of his music are available on the Nonesuch, Sony and ECM New Series labels.
Dislocated by political and social turbulence in his homeland, Kancheli had resided in Antwerp. He died in his home city of Tblisi in October 2019. He was 84.