Life without Christmas
Orkiestra Collegium F conducted by Marcin Sompoliński
Gia Kancheli, like many Soviet composers of his generation (including Sofia Gubaidulina, Arvo Pärt and Alfred Schnittke), found in musical spirituality a language of opposition against the Soviet reality where there was no room for intangible values, religion or God. This reality, which Kancheli grew up in, is summarized by the title of his cycle Life without Christmas, created in the early 1990s when the composer left his native Georgia and moved to the West: first to Germany, and then to Belgium, where he finally settled. The cycle is divided into four ‘prayers’ for the following times of day: morning, midday, evening and night, just as the liturgy of the hours determines the rhythm of the day for consecrated persons and the singing of a muezzin regulates the time of prayer for Muslims. Spirituality in Kancheli’s works should not be identified with any particular religion. The eponymous ‘Christmas’ should rather be understood as a system of values, a light that overcomes the darkness of this world.
The symbolism of darkness and light is particularly important in the work of the Georgian composer. Kancheli likes to play with contrasts: bright sounds of the piano, harp and the flageolets of the strings gently flicker above low-sounding drones. Long planes of sounds immersed in silence are interrupted by sudden eruptions of fortissimo, and a meditative, prayer-like still by dramatic densities of sounds. One of the most shocking moments in the cycle is the culmination of the last of its four movements, Midnight Prayers, in which the saxophone in a piercing high register repeats, with increasing insanity, a motif reminiscent of Caucasian folklore. In fact, the motif was taken from the composer’s only opera, Music for the Living, and in the background, you can also hear a tape recording with a fragment of this opera: a choir of twelve actors mumbling incomprehensible words in Sumerian. The ambiguity of this message only intensifies the anxiety caused by the frenetic part of the saxophone. After reaching the highest sound, the climax suddenly stops, and we are left in a silence from which the sounds of the strings slowly emerge. Finally, from the tape recording a boy’s voice sings a fragment of Psalm 130 De Profundis: ‘O Lord, hear my voice.’ Purity and innocence triumph over evil and light over darkness.
The same recording appears in Morning Prayers which open the cycle. The boys' voice, live this time (and sometimes replaced by a female soprano), also appears at the end of Midday Prayers, singing a fragment of Psalm 22: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’, and finally, at the very end, a verse from another psalm: ‘To You, O Lord, I lift my soul,’ accompanied by the appearance of the C major chord in the orchestra. The darkness has been dispersed. The physical appearance of a solo voice only at the end of the work is a dramatic gesture. The composer also uses a unique approach to other solo parts in his works. In Midday Prayers, the clarinettist plays some quiet sounds in a low register, and the delicate sound of the instrument sinks into the orchestra. In Evening Prayers, eight vocalists who imitatively sing floating quasi-choral melodies may bring to mind a liturgical choir. Kancheli deliberately uses simple devices: repetitive structures and tonality. The melodic phrases, which in another context might seem clichéd, resonate in his works with the human need for transcendence, awakening our longing for Christmas.
Giya Kancheli, one of Georgia’s most renowned and unique contemporary composers was born in Tbilisi in 1935. After graduating from the Conservatory of Music he worked as a non-associated artist, which at the time, was a rather unprecedented situation in the Soviet Union. As a result, Kancheli managed to preserve his own distinctive style. His deeply spiritual compositions are full of restless sound images filled with various colours and textures, sharp contrasts and shocking climaxes. His music draws inspiration from Georgian folklore, the past classical eras, and even modern popular music. The artist seeks spirituality and simplicity everywhere, and in his compositions, he allows music to become a separate, living organism.
Kancheli is particularly famous for his large-scale compositions. So far, he has written seven symphonies, an opera and many pieces for chamber orchestra. Each of his works is based on some general principles that are often non-musical, for instance the length of a breath, silence, tension, calmness or excitement. This is why Kancheli's works are so organic in nature, combining archaic melodies alongside modern ones.
For two decades, Giya Kancheli was the music director at the Rustaweli Theatre in Tbilisi. He left Georgia in 1991. He first lived and worked in Berlin and then in Antwerp. Today, he travels between Belgium and his native Georgia. His works are commissioned all over the world and have been performed by renowned artists, for instance Jansug Kakhidze, Dennis Russell Davies, Kim Kashkashian, Gidon Kremer, Yuriy Bashmiet, Mstislav Rostropovich and the Kronos Quartet. His albums are released on the ECM label.
Orkiestra Collegium F is a group of outstanding young and creative musicians who are students and graduates of the best Polish music academies. Active on the Polish music scene for over a decade, the orchestra has worked with many renowned artists, including AudioFeels, Alicja Majewska, Artur Andrus, Irena Santor, Edyta Górniak, Tomasz Szymuś, Michał Szpak, Krzysztof Skiba, Bogusław Kaczyński, Mikołaj Adamczak, Joanna Horodko, Marzena Michałowska, Jacek Kortus, Krzysztof Jabłoński, Dariusz Stachura, Paweł Skałuba and Iwona Hossa. With the Malta Foundation, Orkiestra Collegium F performed the Konieczny…? Koniecznie! concert for the finale of the 28 th Malta Festival Poznań, featuring Agata Zubel, Bartłomiej Wąsik, Andrzej Bauer and Cezary Duchnowski.
Marcin Sompoliński is a conductor and professor of conducting at the Ignacy Jan Paderewski Academy of Music in Poznań. A graduate of the same academy, he received a scholarship for young artists from the City of Poznań and the Głos Wielkopolski Young Art Medal. As a conductor he has worked with many renowned orchestras and musical theatres. While still a student, he took over the conducting of the Wielkopolska Symphony Orchestra. His most important operatic achievements include the Polish premiere of Marcel Landowski's opera Galina, as well as premiere performances of Stanisław Moniuszko's Halka and Giuseppe Verdi's Aida. In 2006, with the Opera Nova ensemble of Bydgoszcz he prepared and staged the Austrian premiere of the newly discovered opera Der Stein der Weisen at the Festspielhaus in Salzburg (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is considered one of the authors of the work, and Johann Baptist Henneberg was the main composer of the score). Sompoliński is the originator and maker of the Speaking Concerts series. Two of his projects have been proclaimed cultural events of the year by Gazeta Wyborcza.