Giya Kancheli

The former village of Imber, Wiltshire
20 August 2003 - 23 August 2003

Audio: Excerpt of Little Imber

11 minutes 38 seconds
Read more

A remote village at the heart of the Salisbury Plains evacuated during the second world war forms the inspiration for a new work by leading international composer Giya Kancheli.

In 1943 all 160 villagers of Imber were evacuated to make way for the training needs of US soldiers. Following the war, the villagers' hopes of returning to their homes faded despite public protest and an official inquiry due to the continuing needs of the British military. The former residents were only able to return once a year to the village for a special service in the tiny 14th century Church of St Giles, a listed building that remained under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Salisbury.

For three nights over an August Bank Holiday in 2003, Imber finally laid its past to rest. A three year project commissioned by Artangel with the support of the British Army and the Diocese of Salisbury saw the village transformed by a special promenade event culminating in the first live performance of Kancheli's score. The performance in the ancient church of St Giles featured the Georgian Rustavi male voice choir, a single chorister from the Salisbury Cathedral Boys Choir and the Matrix Ensemble under the musical direction of Nika Memanishvili.

The story of Imber was captured in a film directed by acclaimed filmmaker Mark Kidel, Imber: England's Lost Village, which was broadcast by the BBC following the event. An Artangel Media production, co-commissioned by the BBC in association with CTVC, it looked back at Imber's unusual history and how it formed the inspiration for Kancheli's moving score. The film combined testimonies from surviving villagers, conversations with Kancheli in his native Tbilisi and archive footage. Kancheli's evocative music is woven throughout the film, culminating with its live performance in the ancient church of St Giles.

This excerpt from Little Imber is also available to stream or download from Soundcloud.

Image: An aerial image of Imber. Photograph © Crown copyright.

About Giya Kancheli

Read more

Giya Kancheli

Giya Kancheli was born in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1935, and from 1959 to 1963 studied composition with I. I. Tuskiya at the Tbilisi Conservatory. After graduating he worked as a freelance composer, a rather unusual career in the former Soviet Union. He later collaborated with the director Robert Sturua, and this inspired him to write a great deal of music for films and for plays.

In 1971, Kancheli was appointed Director of Music at the Rustaveli Theatre in Tbilisi, where he wrote the incidental music for many of Sturua’s productions. In the 1960s Kancheli was hailed as a member of the Soviet avantgarde, though he subsequently dedicated himself to the development of a wholly personal musical style based on simple formulas which occur in the music of many different epochs, in ancient folk songs, and in certain kinds of contemporary popular music.

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, first in Berlin and then Belgium where he is currently living, but returns regularly to the homeland that continues to obsess him. In 2008 Kancheli was awarded the Wolf Foundation Prize in the Arts.


Images: Archival image of public protest in Imber by villagers, 1940s (left) and portrait of the composer by Ruth Walz (above). 


Read more

Life is being breathed back into the ghost village of Imber... – The Wiltshire Times

Selected Press

Life is being breathed back into the ghost village of Imber with a three-day concert at the Church of St Giles, backed by the Wiltshire Times— Matt Wilkinson, The Wiltshire Times, 27 June 2003

...the evening was a wonderful piece of theatre, with a whole village becoming both set and players, and we the audience transformed into temporary citizens of Imber. Not only incongruous in its form, it was deliciously incongruous in its genesis: the Church of England, Artangel and the British army are unlikely bedfellows. – Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian, 28 August 2003

I came away saddened but also strangely elated. Saddened because the obliteration of this one village, so powerfully evoked, suddenly seemed symbolic of the disappearance of whole swathes of rural England. But elated because there is a powerful link in the English psyche between landscape, memory, mortality and continuity. – Richard Morrison, The Times, 25 August 2003

Walking around this desolate place, Artangel's creations brought the village strangely to life [...] Their singing was tremendous, rousing and uplifting. – Anne Morris, Salisbury Journal, 28 August 2003

 Kancheli’s Imber teemed with hope as much as with sadness. For the members of a small audience in a remote church far from home the event almost had the air of a requiem held by survivors of some unnamed catastrophe, attempting to reconcile an uneasy past with an uncertain future. – Dan Fox, Frieze, Issue 78, October 2003

Production Credits

Read more

Production Credits

Music composed by Giya Kancheli. Event realised by Jeremy Herbert.

Associate Producer: Helen Marriage (Artichoke Productions) 
Musical Direction: Nika Memanishvili  
Featuring: The Rustavi Choir and The Salisbury Boys Choir 

Image: A Morris Traveller with loud speakers, part of a special promenade around Imber village leading up to the performance of Little Imber, 2003.   


Read more

Who made this possible?


Commissioned by Artangel and produced in association with Artichoke Productions with the support of the British Army and the Diocese of Salisbury, with additional support from Arts Council England, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Visiting Arts with the special help of Nicholas Warren and Catherine Graham-Harrison. 

Artangel is generously supported by Arts Council England and the private patronage of the Artangel International CircleSpecial AngelsGuardian Angels and The Company of Angels