Georgian composer Giya Kancheli came to know the musician widely regarded as the world's most outstanding cellist in the early 1970s. This was in the stormy period when Rostropovich, untiring advocate of human rights, was ostracised for his public criticisms of the Brezhnev regime and blacklisted for his support of Solzhenitsyn. In the ensuing years, there was relatively little contact between them, but Rostropovich sought out the composer when he visited Berlin. This led first to the writing of the solo cello piece "Nach dem Weinen" (1994) and subsequently to "Simi".
Mstislav Rostropovich is forthright in his assessment of Kancheli's contribution to music: "I love this composer for his independence, " he says. "His natural element is the deepest mystical sorrow. Olivier Messiaen revealed for me the limitlessness and endlessness of time. The same is true for Giya Kancheli. One should play his music as slowly as humanly possible. For only then does the music flood into the river bed and fulfil its impact. The pauses in Kancheli's music are not defined, their length is up to the performer. I took everything from his speech - I memorised the way he talks. He says two words and stops, contemplates, says another two words and stops again...In Georgian 'Simi' means a string. A trembling string. A string of the soul. And since we are speaking about one string that may break, it is a very personal, sacred, organic piece."
From his side Kancheli passes all credit for the work's success to Rostropovich: "It is common knowledge that performing artists are every bit as imaginative as composers. It is also common knowledge that Mstislav Rostropovich is not only capable of producing all imaginable sound combinations on the cello, but a host of unimaginable ones as well. A temptation for the composer… And yet I found the strength to withstand the temptation and write for Rostropovich an exceedingly slow, simple, confession-like composition, devoid of outward effects." Explaining genesis of "Simi", Kancheli notes that "a resonating string is as multicoloured as a rainbow. But unlike the rainbow, its humanly produced sound possesses endless nuances, rendering the sound spectrum of the string truly infinite. But the world of colours may also lead us into the unimaginably remote distance, where colour loses its definition and is tinged with unreality. It is precisely this "other-worldly" timbre that seems most suitable to the execution of the repeated motifs in the piece I dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich."
"Simi" was premiered by Rostropovich with the Royal Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra in Brussels on February 14, 1996. French concerts followed and in November 1998, Rostropovich and Kakhidze collaborated on the Georgian premiere in Tbilisi.
"Magnum Ignotum" was commissioned by the WDR and first performed at the Tage der Neuen Kammermusik in Witten on April 23, 1994. This work for wind ensemble, double-bass and tape has since become one of the most widely-played of Kancheli's compositions, perhaps because of its overt - and highly attractive - deployment of Georgian folk elements, specifically requested by the Witten Festival. This direct combination of 'authentic' sources and his own writing - heard side by side in "Magnum Ignotum" - was something that Kancheli had previously shied away from. As he put it to an interviewer in the UK's Tempo magazine earlier this year, " I've never striven to demonstrate my national roots in my music. I grew up on Georgian soil and listened to Georgian folk music from an early age, and I absorbed into myself all the best and worst in my people. But the connections between my compositions and the music of my people are very indirect. That music lives inside me, as my native language does... [In general] I value Georgian polyphonic folk music too highly to use it in my compositions. But if someone thinks my music resembles Georgian folk music in its spirit, then I feel happy." Taped sources used in "Magnum Ignotum"(The Great Anonymous) incorporate the reading of a priest in the cathedral of Anchiskhati : "In its own way, it's very musical. I decided to use it to open my work. Very gently a bassoon eases in, then a deep clarinet, careful not to disturb the atmosphere the preacher has created..." The second taped element is from the 1930s and is a polyphonic improvisation by three old men from West Georgia who sing in the recitative style called "ghighini"; and finally we hear the vocal ensemble Rustawi singing "Uphalo Ghmerto" (Holy God).
* * *Mstislav Rostropovich, born in Baku (now Azerbaijan), entered the Moscow Conservatory at the age of 10. He first achieved recognition in the Soviet Union in 1945 as gold medal winner of its first-ever competition for young musicians. International celebrity soon followed. Very many great composers have written for him including Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Britten, Khachaturian, Messiaen, Lutoslawki, Schnittke, Berio and Boulez. Stripped of Soviet citizenship in 1974, Rostropovich emigrated to the United States, where his astonishing career flourished anew. After a conducting debut in America with the National Symphony Orchestra in 1975, he became that orchestra's musical director. His work for humanitarian causes has continued with undimmed energy. The recipient of numerous musical prizes and more than 30 honorary degrees, he has also received the Annual Award of the International League of Human Rights and the Albert Schweitzer Award.
Giya Kancheli was born in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and graduated from the city's conservatory - where he studied with Iona Tuskiya - in 1963. 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 of the Antwerp Philharmonic Orchestra) but returns regularly to the homeland that continues to obsess him.
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), and "Lament (Music of Mourning in Memory of Luigi Nono)" (ECM 1656).
Jansug Kakhidze has premiered all of Kancheli's symphonies and is probably best-known internationally for his consistent championing of his fellow Georgian's work. As Kancheli says, "If I hadn't had Jansug Kakhidze by my side, I would probably have written differently." The two men have been allies since the 1950s.
In his long career Kakhidze has conducted music of many epochs and styles, and his current repertoire features operas, ballets and symphony works by Haydn, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Shostakovich as well as much contemporary music. Kakhidze conducted the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra in their performance of "Lament" on ECM, and the conductor can also be heard in a rather unexpected context on Jan Garbarek's best-selling "Rites" album, where he is featured as vocalist on his own composition, "The Moon over Mtatsminda."
CD package includes 28-page 3 language booklet with statements by Giya Kancheli and Mstislav Rostropovich and liner notes in Russian by Natalia Zeifas