Giya Kancheli: Little Imber

Nederlands Kamerkoor, Raschèr Saxophone Quartet, Mamuka Gaganidze, Zaza Miminoshvili, Rustavi Choir, Children's Choir, Nika Memanishvili

Two choral works by the great Georgian composer Giya Kancheli. “Little Imber” is a “site-specific” work, profoundly melancholic yet with a hint or irony, directly inspired by the English village of the same name, a ghost-town since it was evacuated and turned over to the US army for military manoeuvres in 1943. The piece is coupled here with “Amao Omi” (“senseless war”) whose phonetic text adds up to moving sound tapestry, underpinned by the subtle and supple playing of the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet.

Featured Artists Recorded

August 2003 & May 2006

Original Release Date


  • 1Amao Omi (for mixed choir and saxophone quartet)
    (Giya Kancheli, Traditional)
  • 2Little Imber (for small ensemble, voice, children's choir and men's choir)
    (Giya Kancheli, Traditional)
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.”