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Alexi Matchavariani - the Beethoven of Georgia

By Kazuhiko Kashima - music critic from Tokyo
Friday, May 9
A look back at the 100 years since the birth of Alexi Matchavariani


When I was 17 (1981), I heard Alexi Matchavariani's violin concerto for the first time. With a tonality that reminded me of Schoenberg’s early work, it is a wonderful piece that makes use of delicate orchestration.

Most of all, I was moved by the wonder of the motifs. In the middle stage of the first movement, the violin solo ends, and a variation of the second theme is played by the entire orchestra. This is the signature part of this piece. This music does not only express the harsh nature of the Caucasus but that of all the mountain regions of West Asia. But when one considers the musical scale of this melody, it truly has a more Georgian feeling. In his music, lives, joy, and sadness of the people of Georgia has been finely expressed.

Then in 2007, I heard his Symphony No.6. Just as before, his music finely expressed the lives, joy, and sadness of the people of Georgia. Just as I thought there was nothing more to it - within it the victory of Georgia had been expressed. The modern methods of the new generation had also been used. He simply had been included in the category of avant-garde. Then with a performance of his piano concerto, it was time for me to come to Tbilisi.


Sunday, 23rd September 2012
Program: Alexi Matchavariani - Ballet “Vepkhistkaosani”- Suite #1/Alexi Matchavariani - Concerto for Piano and orchestra/Alexi Matchavariani - Symphony # 3
Tbilisi State Opera and Ballet Theatre Symphony Orchestra
Katia Skanavi, piano/Vakhtang Matchavariani, conductor

Once I came to my sense, the music of the piano concerto was laid out right in front of my eyes. Different to the violin concerto, it was a rather grand neoclassical piece. Listening to the sound and skill of the Tbilisi State Opera and Ballet Theatre Symphony Orchestra for the first time, it was truly wonderful, not paling in comparison to those in Europe. The raw emotion of the pianist Katia Skanavi remains in my memory. She jotted down on her score all of the maestro's points of attention.

First movement: Following the dignified introduction of the strings (abstract and atonal), there is motif from the piano, following which the first theme is presented surrounded in sorrow as if being grieved for the piano. This expansion of the first theme is performed by the whole orchestra together with the piano, and following the transition of the first theme played by the strings, the second theme is presented by the whole orchestra with the piano in a show of military force, and the development of the second theme (ostinato) with the uplift of dramatic effect. The virtuoso qualities of the soloist are on full display here. It is a beautiful passage by the piano and orchestra, and an intense dance that brings up thoughts of Cadenza: Khorumi. This movement ends with a splendorous performance of the first theme with the whole orchestra and piano.

Second movement: The most impressive melody of this piece is the beautiful melody surrounded in sorrow on par with the first theme of the first movement. Then there is a change of key midway. The second movement is a free variation of this theme. The lyricism and dramatic effect is worthy of particular mention.

Third movement: Following the high tempo opening, as expected a high tempo dance style first theme is presented by the piano and orchestra. A song-like version of the second theme by the piano and orchestra is also presented. Each theme is brought back to life with some alteration, and finally a variation of the opening and first theme form and tie up this grand piece.

This is the first of many philosophical symphony pieces that ought to be remembered. The theme is simplified and almost atonal.

A reverberation free in tonality. Beautiful as if it is using a twelve tone technique.

I feel that the music style and story all come from Georgian traditions. However it is rather difficult to understand. The main theme of the second half is incredibly beautiful. I love this music.

Turkish premiere: Alexi Matchavariani

Presidential Symphony Orchestra Ankara Limited time concert
24-25 January 2013
Symphony No. 2
Vakhtang Matchavariani, conductor

Symphony No. 2

First Movement: The first theme (the main theme of this composition) is played quietly by the whole orchestra. This is played with a range of variations. A signaling quadruplet sound gradually emerges. It is simplified together with the third theme. This time there is a signaling triplet sound. As one would expect, it is simplified together with the first theme. With the reemergence of the first theme, the climax takes form coming together with a countermelody. For a short time, a feeling of each instrument speaking to each other continues. In doing so, laid on top of the beautiful harmony of the low strings, glockenspiel, and piano is a beautiful violin melody (second theme), taken over by the whole orchestra to bring in the climax (this part is incredibly beautiful. A nostalgic flavor or perhaps an illustration of a lover's face I believe).

Second Movement: The fast dance-like music continues, with appearances of the steam train at multiple times throughout. After the continuation of various scenes, finally the woodwinds quietly perform the first theme one more time and the music finishes.

This is the first of the Matchavariani pieces which should be remembered for its deviation from tonality. While maintaining the tonality of each theme, it seems as if it is being directed toward atonality. Anyhow, it is beautiful piece deserving to be loved.


Dedicated to the 100th Anniversary of comporser Alexi Mtchavariani (2013/5/9)


Alexi Matchavariani - Festival Overture/Concerto for Piano and orchestra/Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in one movement/Concerto for Violin and orchestra

Tbilisi State Opera and Ballet Theatre Symphony Orchestra

Katia Skanavi, piano/Giorgi Kharadze, violoncello/Marta Abraham, violin/Vakhtang Matchavariani, conductor

Cello concerto

A presentation of the first theme by the celesta and harp, followed by the second theme by the strings. It resembles the main theme of Symphony No. 3. It is taken over by the cello. Some bright themes appear, but with the continuing development of the second theme, a reverberation free in tonality emerges, and the first theme from the beginning reemerges. Again the melody of Symphony No. 3 appears in the cello (different from the one just earlier). Then, a beautiful song is sung by the cellos, high strings, and celesta.

This is an autobiographical piece of the composer with a soloist usually carrying the performance, it demands a high level of skill - a beautiful piece deserving of adoration.

Violin concerto

First movement: Suddenly, there is a presentation of a dance-style first theme by the whole orchestra. It is a long version of the first theme. While energetic, it is also surrounded in sorrow. Next the violins present the second theme together with the accompaniment of the orchestra. This is sorrowful to the point of grief. However, in the second half, it becomes brighter. Continuing (certainly a long theme), the first theme is developed, at which point there is a finely structured back and forth between the violins and orchestra where the virtuoso of the violins is deserving of special mention. Following after, a variation of the second theme is played by the whole orchestra. As was previously mentioned, Continuing, the second theme is brought back by the violins. Continuing with a cadenza.

Second movement: Following a prelude by the strings, the first theme is presented. It is a melody of sorrow and lament. Continuing, the second theme is presented. It is a melody that gives the feeling of warm memories from the past. Continuing, the first theme is developed by the woodwinds and brass, and then brought back by the whole orchestra. Finally, a part of this appears in a violin solo, and the movement ends quietly.

Third movement: A prelude with a passage that truly brings out the Caucasus.

Katia Skanavi made this movement her own with her last performance. Giorgi Kharadze a cellist from Orchestre de l'Opera de la Bastille, performed this difficult piece with aplomb. The violin performance of Marta Abraham while exquisite was also that of a wonderful concert violinist with great volume. She has been working on the music of Alexi Matchavariani as a professor at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music, also teaching this piece to the students.

Centenary Jubilee Birth of Alexi Matchavariani 23 September 2013

Overcoming a number of difficulties, the maestro held a concert for the centenary jubilee birth of Alexi Matchavariani in Tbilisi. There were two concerts with the orchestra, and four chamber concerts. I once again visited Georgia to be in Tbilisi during this historical moment.

23 September 2013
Philharmonic Hall, Great Concert Hall
Nino Surguladze (mezzo-soprano)/Lado Ataneli (baritone)
Orchestra of the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre/Vakhtang Matchavariani (conductor)

First up, the Georgian Festival Overture was performed. The music gradually became like a Georgian dance, and the brass formed a tremendous climax. This day was made up of the suites from ballets and operas, but while listening to the fifth piece "Serenade" from the Suite from the ballet “The Taming of the Shrew", I was completely entranced with its charms. Lado Ataneli's lively performance of Two Songs for baritone and orchestra was wonderful. The theme of the second piece resembled the first theme of Violin Concerto, and his powerful song together with the folk music brought applause from the entire audience. Also from a very delightful miscalculation, the Vocalise and Finale from the ballet “The Knight in the Tiger Skin“ was a great success. At first, the audience was dumbfounded with the complicated music of Nino Surguladze and orchestra, then with the singer sitting down for a moment, the entire orchestra came in with a grand performance of the ballet's main theme. However at the final stage, the audience was fascinated by the beautiful song and orchestra, and at the end, an impressive piece of music as if swirling up into the night sky and disappearing brought all to be moved in a way that can not be expressed in words.

Matchavariani's work, it was a great success.

24 September 2013
Vocal music concert of Alexi Matchavariani
25 September 2013
Piano music concert of Alexi Matchavariani
26 September 2013
Chamber music concert of Alexi Matchavariani
27 September 2013
Choral music concert of Alexi Matchavariani

There were concerts for chamber music pieces with the above schedule. Those days were like a dream with new discoveries each day. Here I'll raise some points which have left an impression. The violin performance of Lela Mtchedlidze and piano performance of Vakhtang Matchavariani in Six Pieces for violin and piano and Sonata for violin and piano, were particularly the latter, beautifully harmonic and abstract in expression as if it was Schnittke and Alexi Matchavariani Junior (piano), son of Vakhtang Matchavariani, and his performance of Prelude and Fugue for piano, "Expromt", gave the choral music concert on the fourth day a folkish and divine atmosphere.

30 September 2013
Rustaveli Theatre, Great Hall
Orchestra of the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre
Conductor Vakhtang Matchavariani

Hamlet Monologue from the opera “Hamlet“ – World premiere was free in tonality and demanded a high level of skill from the singers, but Anzor Khidasheli was up to the challenge. Five Monologues after words by Vazha-Pshavela was recorded on blank space for the violin concerto's melodia LP. To me it feels deeply familiar. The impressionist accompaniment by the orchestra was wonderful. Lado Ataneli using all of his skill reproduces the dramatic effect of the music. It was a fine performance.

Symphony No. 5 "Ushba"

The low tones of the organ, the tremolo of the drums and piano, the trill of the harp and low strings, and the signaling of the woodwinds and brass come together and build into the climax. The sound has a beautiful transparency to it. It is as if the two beautiful peaks of Ushba have become visible. Following the trill played by the high strings making up the abstract melody, the first theme is displayed by the low strings. As the entire orchestra plays out a melody, as if they are gradually slipping away, layered above the falling sound of the low strings (adorned with the harp and piano), the high strings present the second theme (the main theme of this symphony). It is a beautiful theme free in tonality. It is taken over by the strings. Then the second theme is brought back by the high strings. Following after, a naturalist sound from the strings continues, and the woodwinds and brass also join in. Then a fortissimo discord. An abstract melody continues, and the image of the strings and woodwinds expanding it out with a second and third voice is beautiful. Next a sound that repeatedly brings up a rather savage spectacle begins from the strings. The woodwinds and harp join in. The motif is guided by the strings. The resonance of the high strings that appears in the gaps, free in tonality, is beautiful. The whole orchestra gathers and the brass section creates a great climax. It is a powerful release of energy. The various themes from the first half come through. And then...the second theme begins to come back, and it returns to a form essentially the same as the display part of the first half.

It is a masterpiece reaching the peak of philosophical symphonies. The transparent beauty of the orchestration is truly impressive.

Marking one century since the birth of Alexi Matchavariani. Highlights 2013.12.12

Suite from the ballet The Taming of the Shrew
Violin Concerto
Symphony No 5, Ushba
Soloist: Liana Isakadze (violin)
The Mariinsky Orchestra
Conductor: Vakhtang Matchavariani

To Alexi Matchavariani, St. Petersburg is a city with which he had deep connections. At the Marinsky Theater, he had success with "Othello", ballet in four acts after W. Shakespeare's play in the 50s and 60s. In the 80s, his "The Knight in the Tiger's Skin, ballet in two acts" was also a success. He first performed his Symphonies No. 3, 4 & 5, and several chamber music pieces in the city. His violin concerto has certainly been performed in the city by great musicians a great number of times. I saw the rehearsal and the members of the orchestra made lines to ask the conductor questions. Vakhtang Matchavariani would lend them the score and go out of his way to answer them. It was if he had returned home for the first time in a long while.

Suite from the ballet "The Taming of the Shrew"

Vakhtang Matchavariani was like a fish who had been given water. When the first sounds of "A city square" echoed through the hall, the events of the past year were revived in the back of my mind like a revolving lantern. It was an emotional moment. The maestro gradually began to enjoy the music. It was the same in Tbilisi and the charm of the 5th piece of "Serenade" was wonderful. It brings back the smiles on the faces of the audience. The interpretation and skill of the orchestra was amazing.

Violin Concerto

It was so magnificent, I felt sensations I had never experienced before. The skill of Liana Isakadze truly brought it in at its peak time. It was also well received by the audience at St. Petersburg. I stayed in the concert hall for half the day. It was a place for the creation of divine music from top level performers gathered from around the world. The success achieved by Liana Isakadze and Vakhtang Matchavariani was truly great.

Symphony No 5 “Ushba” was a great success.

In conclusion

It is thanks to him that the classical music of Georgia has been perfected. Following the Second World War, the LP record of the Violin Concerto performed by Mikhail Vaiman in 1951 won great popularity when released in the U.S. This has been acknowledged across the world. At the Teatro alla Scala, the only people whose work introduced the Soviet Union's ballets were Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Alexi Matchavariani. Furthermore he also has the dual identity of a nationalistic, romantic, and modern composer.

I was convinced of this when I first encountered his Symphony No. 6 "Amirani (Prometheus)". He has used modern techniques such as rock and soundscape. It is a composite style. He has depicted the independence of Georgia and the people's' yearning for it, and elaborately depicts the "revolution" of the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is one of its kind in the world. The start of the second movement of Symphony No. 4 "Youth" that resembles Mahler's Symphony No. 10 on the other hand sings of a human warmth. It is like the mountains of Georgia.

The Georgian government, much like Finland has done for Sibelius, and Romania for Enescu, should wholeheartedly preserve the music of Alexi Matchavariani.

In doing so, through this documentation of his work, I have seen its grandness through his son Vakhtang Matchavariani as conductor in a whole new light. He is a great conductor among the likes of Valery Gergiev and Yuri Temirakanov. You will understand this if you hear his performances of Shostakovich symphonies.

P.S. After listening the recording of Vakhtang Matchavariani's symphony Nr.1 "Harmonia Mundi" I was very impressed. It is a Georgian stile Great symphony, similar to Alexi Matchavariani's symphonism. Finale was a big surprise, such as the second symphony of G. Mahler, with a heavy sound, very impressing. The 4 movement symphony is a fusion of Georgian and late German Romantic music and is a great symphony written by a hero and genius.

(K. Kashima is Music critic from Tokyo.)