Giya Kancheli’s tenth album on ECM New Series offers two recent large-scale choral works with unconventional instrumental forces. While the composer has frequently stated that his love for music began with Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington rather than with Bach and Schubert let alone with traditional Georgian polyphony, his highly compelling new compositions mirror impressions of both Western and Georgian sacred music without actually alluding to religion itself. Written in 2003 and 2005 respectively, both “Little Imber“ and “Amao Omi” are melancholic musings about the absurdity of war in conjunction with the power of beauty. In a BBC-interview about his concept behind “Little Imber” Kancheli quoted Dostoyevski: “There is this saying that beauty will save the world. But who will save beauty? I think when you sit down at the piano and write music you are trying to do just that.”
Commissioned by the English foundation Artangel for a three-day-festival in the deserted village of Imber in the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire/England, “Little Imber” is the first site-specific work in Kancheli’s oeuvre. Already in the late 19th century the British War Office had begun to buy land in the loosely populated area and shortly before the Allied invasion in mainland Europe in June 1944 all 160 Imber villagers were evacuated to make way for the training needs of US soldiers in preparation of expected street fights in Germany. Following World War II the former inhabitants’ hopes of returning to their homes faded despite public protest as the area was now used for military training, particularly preparing soldiers for their duties in Northern Ireland. Only once a year the former residents were allowed to return to the village for a special service in the small 14th century Church of St. Giles.
The Georgian composer first visited Imber in 2001, two years before the premiere of the piece, “however, since intuitive thinking plays a significant role for me, I started subconsciously thinking about the project even before”, says Kancheli. “In the last few years the world has had (and continues to have) so many important cataclysms that undoubtedly must have marked the character of my music. Possibly it became sadder than my previous work. But the presence of a certain irony in it, I think, is a sign of hope.” Keeping in mind the small acoustic space in the church of St. Giles, Kancheli wrote the score for a very transparent ensemble. Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich comments in his liner notes: “Far removed from a lavish ceremonial piece of music, it is a quiet, sublime portrait in the quintessential Kancheli manner, yet one that pursues its own despondent, nostalgic dreams and thoughts. Especially striking is the torn and fissured compositional fabric, which seems more like a gathering of loose threads than a coherent tissue.” The text is based on an anonymous traditional poem about Imber.
No less anonymous are the scattered Georgian words in “Amao Omi” – the title translates as “Senseless war” – a commission from the Nederlands Kamerkoor which was given its first performance in Amsterdam in 2006. In this 25-minute piece the musical process is much more concrete and the soundscapes are more clearly defined. Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich: “Against the sustained piano hue, the choral diction often meanders into urgent and insistent imploration, with a few sharp dynamic crescendos conveying fear and panic. The saxophone quartet 'frames' the chants with great restraint: the sounds are devoid of any semblance of shrillness, seemingly designed as a gentle complement to the delicate melodies of the vocalists.”
Giya Kancheli was born in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, on 10th August 1935, and from 1959 to 1963 studied composition with I. I. Tuskiya at the Tbilisi Conservatory. After graduating he worked as a freelance composer, a rather unusual career in the former Soviet Union. He later collaborated with the director Robert Sturua, and this inspired him to write a great deal of music for films and for plays. In 1971, Kancheli was appointed Director of Music at the Rustaveli Theatre in Tbilisi, where he wrote the incidental music for many of Sturua’s productions. In the 1960s Kancheli was hailed as a member of the ‘Soviet avantgarde’, though he subsequently dedicated himself to the development of a wholly personal musical style based on simple formulas which occur in the music of many different epochs, in ancient folk songs, and in certain kinds of contemporary popular music. Recognised from his student years as one of the most radical thinkers in Georgian music, Kancheli was awarded his country’s State Prize in 1976 for his Fourth Symphony. Political upheavals in Georgia in the early 1990s prompted his move to Europe. Based in Berlin from 1991-94, he is currently living in Belgium (in 1995 he was composer-in-residence of the Antwerp Philharmonic Orchestra) but returns regularly to the homeland that continues to obsess him. In 2008 Kancheli was awarded the Wolf Foundation Prize in the Arts.
Other Kancheli compositions recorded by ECM New Series include “Vom Winde beweint: Liturgy for Orchestra and Solo Viola” (ECM 1471); “Morning Prayers”/“Abii ne viderem” (ECM 1510); “Exil, After Psalm 23 and Poems by Paul Celan and Hans Sahl” (ECM 1535); “Midday Prayers”/“Caris Mere”/“Night Prayers” (ECM 1568); “...à la Duduki”/“Trauerfarbenes Land” (ECM 1646). “Simi”/“Magnum Ignotum” (ECM 1669) with Mstislav Rostropovich, and the Royal Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Jansug Kakhidze, and “Lament” (ECM 1656) with the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra and Gidon Kremer as soloist. In 2004, ECM issued “Diplipito”/”Valse Boston”(ECM 1773) with Thomas Demenga, Derek Lee Ragin, and Dennis Russell Davies, the latter both playing piano and conducting the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra. “In l’istesso tempo” (ECM 1767), with Gidon Kremer and Oleg Maisenberg alongside Kremerata Baltica and the Bridge Ensemble was released in 2005.
www.rsq-sax.com (Raschèr Saxophone Quartet)