Kachanov on Kancheli
by John Pendergast for Vocal Area Network
Posted May 14, 2012

Russian Chamber Chorus of New York May concertsTo put Giya Kancheli’s music into a box or attempt to frame it in some way is to atomize the concept of framing. Periodization, categorization, limitation--Kancheli's music resists all these musicological markers. And yet, it is not the shock of iconoclasm that characterizes his music, though he shows no fear to tread thither, rather it is the astonishing recognition of the uncannily familiar that permeates Amao Omi. This is what one learns in conversation with Nikolai Kachanov, conductor of the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York, as he prepares to bring Kancheli's Amao Omi (Senseless War) to New York audiences this month. The following are excerpts from an interview conducted on 16 April 2012 by John Pendergast.

John Pendergast: Is Kancheli’s music Romantic?

Nikolai Kachanov: It is difficult for me to speak about Kancheli's music, and to limit it to the traditional musical genres and forms, but with regard to Romanticism, it seems to me that we can see it in Kancheli, but not the branch of Romanticism bordering on sentimentality. I sometimes hear fleeting sketches of images and states of mind arising in the consciousness of the composer, as though it is a momentary transfer.

On the other hand, I see some of his musical episodes like paintings without frames, as though they were fragments of infinity, full of unexpected imaginative forms and the emotional conditions arising from them. It is as though the composer "copies" these images, without trying to constrict them into the expected traditional musical forms and genres.

JP: What is the significance of the prominent rests and pauses in the work?

NK: His pauses are full of a kind of "sound" that the composer might experience as he listens to silence. Perhaps it is these fragments of silence that are actually the main element to which the composer tries to attract us, as to the source of his inspiration?

JP: What are we to make of the text?

NK: Kancheli's approach to the text in Amao Omi (Senseless War) is also interesting. He uses fragments of separate phrases and words that sometimes do not convey literal meaning. They "float," as it were, in space in their primordial, pre-verbal essence, drawing us toward the source of their origin. Kancheli’s protest against war is realized neither by patent appeals to powerful vengeance, nor by appeals to peace; rather it is achieved by contrasting musical constructions, where the silence is interrupted by sharp tutti, reminiscent of gunfire, ringing out in an ugly dissonance that sharply contradicts the universal nature of beauty and harmony. Listening attentively to these fragments of "universal silence," framed with musical episodes at times touching and poetical, at times powerful and threatening, we come nearer, as it were, to "hearing" that silence revealed to the composer at the moment of his inspiration, and here the listeners are invited to become full participants in Kancheli’s mystery. Amao Omi is born from silence and into silence it departs.

The Russian Chamber Chorus of New York will be performing Kancheli's Amao Omi, along with selections of the liturgy Patarag by the Armenian composer Komitas, and works by the Russian composer Sviridov in two concerts: Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 5 PM at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity, 316 East 88th Street; and Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 8 PM at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, 213 West 82d Street. For more program information and to purchase tickets online, visit www.rccny.org/ConcertSchedule.html or call (212) 928-1402.

John Pendergast is an Assistant Professor of Russian at the United States Military Academy-West Point, with a BA in Music from Birmingham-Southern College and an MA in Russian Language and Literature from the University of Arizona. He is currently a Candidate for a PhD in the Comparative Literature Department at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
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