Giya Kancheli was nineteen when he realized that geology wasn't for him. "My first expedition," he has said, "was a twelve-mile walk in in ninety-five-degree heat, carrying a very heavy load. When I got back that evening, I drew up a list of professions that would not require much walking." He chose composing. More than four decades later, his music bears witness, perhaps, to the susceptibility that once attracted him to the study of earth: a spiritual hunger for landscapes carved by the elements and untouched by the hand of man, vastnesses in which the spirit can hear the universe and hear itself. A native of the former Soviet republic of Georgia, now resident in Berlin, Kancheli writes music in which instrumental voices sound like human voices and human voices can sound like instruments. He renders silence in a thousand gradations, as Nature does, or unleashes cataclysms from a clear sky. His inspiration, he has said, depends greatly on the view from his window. And what does he like to see? His answer, in Georgian, comes after a long pause. "A big open space is very nice," his daughter translates, "but when it's small, I try to find some beauty in a small space. What is most important is not what I can see but what I can't see." Into those negative spaces he pours his music. Last month ECM New Series issued Caris Mere (After the Wind, the label's fourth luminously realized Kancheli offering. Symphonies are another point of entry into the Kancheli canon. A notable Sony Classical disc couples the sixth and seventh (but beware of dynamic spikes that can blow a speaker or an eardrum).
Giya Kancheli, 1935-2019
by Matthew Gurewitsch
The Atlantic Monthly (April 1997)
October 3, 2019
And again, the music world has lost a great citizen, the composer Giya Kancheli. In his memory, I would like to share this report on a brief encounter over two decades ago, along with the (incongruously?) whimsical self-portrait with which he "autographed" the CD booklet for the ECM recording of Abii ne viderem (I Went Away So That I Would Not See), the first piece of his I got to know.