Born August 10, 1935 in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, Giya Kancheli is one of the most prominent composers of the beginning of the twenty-first century. With its textures, vast palette of colours, and especially its astonishing contrasts, his music, infused with a unique gravity, stimulates the imagination. In contrast to the virtuoso flourishes of much of today’s music, Kancheli proposes a sobriety and a simplicity reflecting his artistic convictions and integrity. Like that of Sofia Gubaidulina, the music of Kancheli speaks of eastern Europe, the folklore of his country, and an intense spirituality. Kancheli’s music is also highly influenced by theatre, an art with which he has long had close ties, having been Musical Director of Tbilissi’s Rustaveli Theatre for twenty years.
Since time immemorial, the great religions have devoted certain hours of the day, known as canonical hours, to prayer. Life Without Christmas is a four-part work based on the offices of Morning Prayers, Midday Prayers, Evening Prayers and Night Prayers. Each of the great prayers of Kancheli’s work has a different orchestration, lasting approximately 22 to 25 minutes. Night Prayers is the most intimate work, and is written for string quartet and tape. There is also a revised and expanded version of Night Prayers for chamber orchestra.
At once dark and contemplative, Night Prayers is composed of extremely intense episodes, of an almost orchestral density, of fortes to triple-fortes alternating with soft, sober and intimate passages ranging from triple piano to piano. The soundtrack provides low-pitched computer-generated sounds. These strange sounds seem to spring directly from the shadows and provide a murmur in constant movement, with little fluctuation in ambitus and interval. At the prayer’s conclusion at the very end of the work, a soprano voice is heard imploring God to listen. Let us hear what the composer himself has to say about this work: “I also try to explore hope in my work, a hope that is not necessarily attained during one’s life, but afterwards. You may perhaps hear it at the end, in the singing of the boy soprano. I would be happy if Night Prayers evoked feelings of sadness, compassion and hope, because this is a work that speaks of life.”
Night Prayers was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the Beigler Trust and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.