François Leleux pays tribute to the great Georgian composer, who died this week
“I first met Giya Kancheli at the Elba Festival in Italy in 2002. We spoke a lot because I’ve been involved with Georgia for a long time through my wife Lisa Batiashvili, and have worked with young Georgian wind players, so we talked about that. Lisa was immersed in his music from early on, partly because her father Tamás Batiashvili was a student at the same time as Kancheli. When we spoke in Elba, Kancheli said he would like to compose something for me and Lisa, and he wrote us the wonderful double concerto, Broken Chant, which we premiered in 2008 and which has been performed many times since then.
Kancheli was a national star in Georgia, not only for his classical music but also because of his amazing film music, which has become part of the country’s culture – he was the Georgian Michel Legrand. He combined that with writing wonderful classical music, including Magnum Ignotum, for winds and tape, and his Oboe Concerto, which I’ve played many times.
There was a strong correlation between his music and his personality. In person, he was extremely quiet. When he spoke, he didn’t offer many words at once – he would say three or four words, there would be a long silence and then he would say a few more. Having a conversation with him was always very intense and slow motion. He was clear, quiet, and extremely precise. There was no ornamentation in his speech, and he went directly to the point, but he was always kind and genuine. You can hear this way of speaking in his music, which develops very slowly and with a strong intensity.
In rehearsals he was extremely demanding about the differences between his dynamic markings of pppp,ppp, pp or p – he insisted on making the differentiation clear. He would come on stage, look at us and say, ‘Please, pppp, not ppp!’ He also didn’t like it when people went faster than his tempo marking and wanted them to keep strictly to his slow tempos. He would lift his hand and say, ‘No, no, slowly – that’s it!’
Last March I conducted Chiaroscuro, his violin concerto, on tour with Lisa and Camerata Salzburg. The name is taken from the painting technique, and in this work, as with his other music, it’s so important to keep the tension despite the sometimes minimal material. The challenge is to keep the line, the interest of the audience and the intensity of each dynamic and tempo. It’s like in conversation, when if we only use a few words we have to keep the intensity somehow, which is a difficult exercise.
He didn’t like people asking him to change things, but he told me how Rostropovich had once altered something without asking, and he had thought it had been beautiful. He told me, ‘As I said to Rostropovich, if you change my piece a little bit, it’s okay. But please don’t tell me!’
From working with him, I learnt the importance both of taking time musically and of doing exactly what is written in the parts. His music doesn’t look amazingly difficult – it seems quite simple when you have it in front of you – but if you want to do it the way he intended, you have to be extremely disciplined in order to give the intensity, dynamics and character that he imagined. It takes skill to combine everything you have in your soul and your technique to deliver his message.
He was an incredibly important figure in Georgia, and he leaves an impressive body of music that is both extremely nostalgic and dramatic. Lisa and I feel fortunate to have known him and to have had pieces written specially for us by such a unique and important musical figure.”