“If you can imagine a flower that makes its way through asphalt, that’s exactly what you find in my compositions. In my works I’m always trying to get the flower through the asphalt.”
Four years have passed since the release of Giya Kancheli’s “Magnum Ignotum”, an absence addressed with the release of two albums by the Georgian composer in 2004. The present disc, with Thomas Demenga, Derek Lee Ragin, Dennis Russell Davies and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, is the first of them. It features premiere recordings made – as has been the case with all of Kancheli’s ECM recordings – with the participation of the composer. “Valse Boston”, written in 1996, bears two dedications, one to its conductor and pianist Dennis Russell Davies, the other to the composer’s wife (“with whom I have never danced”). If Kancheli has made a point of avoiding the dancefloor he has created a piece that moves uniquely, if not in ¾ time, and makes sometimes devastating use of the abrupt dynamic contrasts that have become almost a trademark. Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich in the liner notes:
“The metaphor of ‘dancing’ should be interpreted less as a profound than as an ironic comment – but it is also an allusion to the vast distance that separates Kancheli’s music from the apotheosis or demonic fury of the dance. The Boston Waltz is generally associated with the louche, slightly faded realm of urbane entertainment; for Kancheli this is at most a ‘distant echo’ buried beneath the rubble of the ages.” Kancheli has, however, said that he was inspired, in writing this piece, by the visual image of Davies conducting this piece from the piano stool, half standing, gesturing with a free arm or nods of the head while playing; this was also a dance of sorts. Jungheinrich: “Three-quarter time is never used as the vehicle, elixir and essence of dance-like energy. What does occur at the beginning is a slow triplet movement; but instead of introducing spirited movement, the consistently gentle sonorities retain a heavy, clinging, glutinous quality. The first violins seem to want to counter the persistent, grinding slowness of the tempo with their own abandoned song, a mercurial line in the highest register.”
Davies and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra have included “Valse Boston” in their touring programmes on both sides of the Atlantic. The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Don't let the innocuous title fool you: Giya Kancheli's ‘Valse Boston’ is a powder keg of a piece. It is a secular prayer veering between extremes of dynamics, tempo and mood. One moment the piano is goading the strings to produce angry, stabbing dissonances. The next moment, it is quieting the orchestra with tiny fragments of waltz-time, deceptively merry. Nobody conjures troubled landscapes in sound like Kancheli. He has given us a bleak, very Eastern view of modern existence, but the effect is cleansing.”
“Diplipito, written in 1997, is named for the little, high-tuned Georgian drums – in the range of the darbouka or the bongos – that are frequently used to accompany dancing. And the percussive syllables that Kancheli gives to American countertenor Derek Lee Ragin are a kind of concrete poetry inspired by the drum’s rhythm patterns. Giya Kancheli was greatly impressed by Ragin in 1999 when he sang the world première of the composer’s “And farewell goes out sighing”, alongside Gidon Kremer with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Kurt Masur and the countertenor was an essential choice for the recording of “Diplipito”, where he is partnered with Thomas Demenga. Ragin makes his New Series debut here while Demenga has been a mainstay of the label since its inauguration.
Jungheinrich: “The vocal part in ‘Diplipito’ finds an equal partner in the solo cello. The orchestra rarely play tutti, there are no winds or brass at all, and the guitar, piano and percussion come in individually, functioning alternately as solo and secondary presences. The terse, tentative figures in the cello contrast with the cluster-like chords typifying the piano line. For long stretches, the sonic space is chromatically measured – often in small, careful interval steps…. The mood of tranquillity, even latent immobility, that dominates the first half of the piece is suspended by the entry of a vigorous ornamental figure on the guitar (which is immediately picked up by the cello), followed by several explosive fortissimo passages. The soft murmur of a bongo rhythm increases the restlessness. This is the preparation for the final phase, the disembodiment of sonic materiality.”
Giya Kancheli was born in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi in 1935 and graduated from the city’s conservatory – where he studied with Iona Tuskiya – in 1963. Recognised from his student years as one of the most radical thinkers in Georgian music, Kancheli was awarded his country’s State Prize in 1976 for his Fourth Symphony. Political upheavals in Georgia in the early 1990s prompted his move to Europe. Based in Berlin from 1991-94, he is currently living in Belgium (in 1995 he was composer of the Antwerp Philharmonic Orchestra) but returns regularly to the homeland that continues to obsess him.
Other Kancheli compositions recorded by ECM New Series include “Vom Winde beweint: Liturgy for Orchestra and Solo Viola” (ECM 1471); “Morning Prayers”/“Abii ne viderem” (ECM 1510); “Exil, After Psalm 23 and Poems by Paul Celan and Hans Sahl” (ECM 1535); “Midday Prayers”/“Caris Mere”/“Night Prayers” (ECM 1568); “...à la Duduki”/“Trauerfarbenes Land” (ECM 1646). “Simi”/“Magnum Ignotum” (ECM 1669) with Mstislav Rostropovich, and the Royal Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Jansug Kakhidze, and “Lament” (ECM 1656) with the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra and Gidon Kremer as soloist.
In preparation for autumn 2004 release is a further Kancheli recording, featuring the compositions “Time … and Again”/“V + V” and “In l’istesso tempo”, with artists including Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica, Oleg Maisenberg, and the Bridge Ensemble.
Born in Berne, Switzerland, Thomas Demenga studied with Walter Grimmer, Antonio Janigro, Leonard Rose and Mstislav Rostropovich and received important stimuli in chamber music from Claus Adam, Felix Galimir and Robert Mann at the Juilliard School in New York. After taking prizes at competitions in Geneva and New York, he launched an international career that has brought him into contact with the leading conductors and musicians of our day, both in solo appearances and in chamber music recitals. Today he teaches at the Basle Musikhochschule, serves as artistic director of the Davos International Music Festival and was appointed "artiste étoile" at the Lucerne Summer Festival in 2003. His versatility as a cellist is matched by his individual voice as a composer. In 1991 he was awarded the first prize at the Tribune Internationale des Compositeurs for his “solo per due”.
Demenga's artistic work is distinguished by his intensive confrontation with wide-ranging stylistic periods. This breadth has found expression in his work for ECM, as in his recording of the Bach cello suites, in which he also juxtaposed pieces by Heinz Holliger, Elliott Carter, Sándor Veress, Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Isang Yun and Toshio Hosokawa. He has recorded works by Franz Schubert, Dmitri Shostakovich, Arvo Pärt, Thomas Larcher and Heinz Reber for ECM's New Series and contributed performances of Witold Lutoslawski, Luciano Berio, Benjamin Britten, Pierre Boulez and others to the complete recording of “12 Hommages à Paul Sacher.” Together with his brother Patrick Demenga, he recorded the CD “Lux aeterna” with pieces for two cellos by Alexander Knaifel, Jean Barrière, Roland Moser and Barry Guy, as well as his own composition "Duo? o, Du...".
The countertenor Derek Lee Ragin is both a master of baroque vocal styles and a renowned interpreter of New Music. Ragin was born in West Point, New York, and began his training at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music in Ohio. Later he studied at the University of Maryland and at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam. After winning many awards, including a first prize at the Munich Competition (1986) and the Grand Prix Lyrique in Monte Carlo (1988), he gave his début at the Salzburg Festival and the London Proms as Orpheus in Gluck's “Orfeo ed Euridice”, under John Eliot Gardiner.
Ragin is a regular guest at international festivals and a much sought-after soloist at all the leading opera houses. His roles include Didymus in Handel's Theodora, the title roles in Handel's “Giulio Cesare” and Alexander Balus, and Guido in “Flavio”. But his repertoire can also boast of Schnittke's “Faust Cantata”, Britten's “A Midsummer Night's Dream”, and Bernstein's “Missa Brevis” and “Chichester Psalms”. In recent years he has been heard in Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre at the Salzburg Festival and at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, in a production by Peter Sellers conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Ragin's broad lied repertoire extends from John Dowland and Samuel Barber to gospels and spirituals.
Dennis Russell Davies's activities as an opera and orchestral conductor, concert pianist and chamber musician are noteworthy for his wide-ranging repertoire extending from the baroque era to the present day, his thoughtful programming, and his close cooperation with composers including Luciano Berio, John Cage, Philip Glass, Aaron Copland, Hans Werner Henze, Arvo Pärt, Giya Kancheli and Valentin Silvestrov.
Davies was born in Toledo, Ohio, and studied piano and conducting at the Juilliard School in New York. He then became the principal conductor of the St Paul Chamber Orchestra (1972-80) and the American Composers Orchestra, New York (1977-2002). In 1980 he relocated to Germany and Austria, where he was appointed general music director of the Stuttgart Opera (1980-87), the Orchestra of Beethoven Hall, Bonn (1987-95), and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (1997-2002). At present he is the principal conductor of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and the Linz Bruckner Orchestra as well as opera director at the Provincial Theater in Linz (from 2002).
Dennis Russell Davies came into contact with ECM through his association with Keith Jarrett in the mid-1970s, conducting Jarrett’s “Arbour Zena” music in the States and recording his piano piece “Ritual”. Twenty years later he also conducted Mozart piano concertos with Jarrett in the solo part. Above all, Davies has devoted himself with great open-mindedness and empathy to various fields of contemporary music, from American modernists (John Cage's “The Seasons”) and Luciano Berio (“Voci”) to composers from the countries of the former Soviet Union. For ECM he has presented the music of Arvo Pärt, Giya Kancheli, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Valentin Silvestrov and other composers in important recordings with such musicians as Kim Kashkashian, the Hilliard Ensemble, Jan Garbarek, Thomas Demenga and Alexei Lubimov.
CD package includes 28-page German-English booklet with liner notes by Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich, biographies of the artists, and photos.