Extended Technique
16 Mar 2011
Inside the Classics

Honestly, I think my favorite part about this blog is the stuff you people come up with in the comments. Just this past week, we were having a perfectly ordinary discussion about why orchestra audiences do or don’t appreciate new music (and Elwood was nice enough to drive the “don’t” point home in a different thread) when someone called “Q” dropped an entirely new composer I’d never heard of on me! (Seriously, I’ve heard of most of them. Even the weird ones.)

As it turns out, I’m utterly ashamed to have never heard of Giya Kancheli. He’s Georgian (not that one, the other one,) in his mid-70s, and you guys, he’s written a viola concerto. (Okay, technically, he calls it a “liturgy” for viola and orchestra, but I don’t know what that is, and it sounds like a concerto to me.) There’s no excuse for me not knowing about a 20th/21st-century composer who writes things for the instrument I play. It’s not like we violists are awash in classic- and romantic-era solo rep.

Anyway, I’ve spent the last couple of days listening to all the Kancheli I can find, and I’m definitely a fan. Elements of his sound are decidedly of the Soviet era (that’s a musical distinction, not a political one,) but there’s some amazingly forward-looking stuff mixed in as well. Just for instance, check out this performance of “Little Danielade.” It’s a serious work, but packed with dark humor. You’ll want to start paying particular attention around the 0:49 mark…

Moscow Virtuosi, Vladimir Spivakov conducting.

I honestly don’t know how that orchestra kept straight-faced through all that. And yet it’s in no way a novelty tune gunning for laughs. The music is sweetly sad in that unmistakably Soviet style – sorry, by the way, to keep describing it that way, but I don’t know the word for Countries Americans Think Are Russia Because They Were Once Soviet Republics – and tinged with an icy fragility that utterly mesmerizes me.

Anyway, Q, I’m on board the Kancheli train. Thanks for the ticket.

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