Great Georgian composer Gia Kancheli
11 August, 2017
Great Georgian composer Gia Kancheli
August 10 marks the birthday of Gia Kancheli, great Georgian composer. Gia Kancheli, born on 10 August 1935 in Tbilisi, is a renowned Georgian composer who currently resides in Belgium.

Gia Kancheli is the most distinguished Georgian composer of the past 50 years, and one of the most significant international composers of the past century. His music stands out for the strong dramatic structure and deeply spiritual themes. His richly textured music is imbued with influences from Georgian folk music, American jazz, and twentieth-century Russian composers, with musical phrasings that alternate between sparse and climactic.
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Young Gia Kancheli. Photo courtesy National Library

With the breakup of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Georgia was plunged into a violent rebellion against Moscow. The situation convinced Kancheli to emigrate to Germany in 1991. He later relocated to Antwerp, Belgium. After emigrating, his works became known internationally, and he has been recognized as one of the most important composers of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Along with other Soviet-era composers such as Arvo Part, Erkki-Sven Tuur, Alfred Schnittke, and Sophia Gubaidulina, Kancheli was determined to dramatize the oppression endured by artists under Soviet rule, while finding solace and strength in spirituality.
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In his symphonies, Kancheli's musical language typically consists of slow scraps of minor-mode melody against long, subdued, anguished string discords.

Kancheli has written seven symphonies, and what he terms a liturgy for viola and orchestra, called Mourned by the Wind. His Fourth Symphony received its American premiere, with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yuri Temirkanov, in January 1978, not long before the cultural freeze in the United States against Soviet culture.

Glasnost allowed Kancheli to regain exposure, and he began to receive frequent commissions, as well as performances within Europe and America.

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Championed internationally by Dennis Russell Davies, Jansug Kakhidze, Gidon Kremer, Yuri Bashmet, Kim Kashkashian, Mstislav Rostropovich, and the Kronos Quartet, Kancheli has seen world premieres of his works in Seattle, as well as with the New York Philharmonic under Kurt Masur. He continues to receive regular commissions.

New CDs of his recent works are regularly released, notably on the ECM label.

In Georgia, Kancheli's work is well known in the theatre. For two decades, he served as the music director of the Rustaveli Theatre in Tbilisi. He composed an opera Music for the Living, in collaboration with
Rustaveli director Robert Sturua, and in December 1999, the opera was restaged for the Deutsches National Theater in Weimar.
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Gia Kancheli with Robert Sturua. Photo courtesy National Library

He has written music for dozens of films, such as Georgi Daneliya's science fiction film Kin-dza-dza! (1986) and its 2013 animated remake.

Most of Gia Kancheli’s masterpieces are performed by Georgian singer Nato Metonidze. The most famous compositions of Gia Kancheli performed by her are: Sait Midikhar (where are you going?) Yviteli Fotlebi (Yellow Leaves), Herio Bichebo (Herio Boys), Mefe Liri (King Lear), Sevda (Sadness).
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Gia Kancheli and Nato Metonidze

The singer’s dramatic and beautiful voice perfectly pair with the amazing lyrics and the heavenly melody.

Related stories:

Great Georgian composer Zakaria Paliashvili

Chris Botti’s incredible performance of a famous Georgian composition in Tbilisi


Spring is in the air: Kancheli’s legendary melody


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