Anchiskhati Ensemble bring ancient polyphonic harmonies to Iowa City

Anchiskhati Ensemble

St. Raphael Orthodox Church — Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m.

A Georgian quartet, the Anchiskhati Ensemble, will perform at St. Raphael Orthodox Church in Iowa City on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 at 7:30 p.m.
A Georgian quartet, the Anchiskhati Ensemble, will perform at St. Raphael Orthodox Church in Iowa City on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 at 7:30 p.m.

People in the nation of Georgia have been singing the same songs for a very long time.

On Thursday, February 25 at 7:30 p.m., four members of the renowned Anchiskhati Ensemble of Tblisi will perform some of this remarkable music at St. Raphael’s Orthodox Church (722 E. College St). Their performance is co-sponsored by the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, Department of Religious Studies, the School of Music and the Antiochian Orthodox Diocese of the Midwest. Following the performance, there will be feasting on traditional Georgian foods.

The small, rocky, mountainous nation of Georgia borders Turkey, Armenia and Russia, between the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountain ranges and the Black Sea. Despite centuries of occupation and invasion, as well as subsumption into the Russian Empire and eventually the Soviet regime, their strong folk culture and oral traditions have persisted. The sacred and secular music has been remarkably well preserved by groups like the Anchiskhati.

It is such an old musical tradition that some Georgian Orthodox hymns sung today are carried over from pre-Christian times.

Georgia boasts a number of regional language dialects and distinct singing styles, and, since the fall of the Soviet Union, a growing number of native musicians and international enthusiasts have been busy documenting, notating and exporting this remarkable and ancient music.

Georgians were early adopters of polyphonic harmony singing, and the music is structured on an indigenous harmony system of perfect fifths and a penchant for dissonance and rhythmic complexity. Regional styles vary dramatically (years spent under the rules of the Mongolian and Iranian empires can be heard) but lovers of more Westernized Orthodox and Gregorian chanting will find much crossover in Georgian singing.

Singers are accompanied by native instruments (the chonguri, a four-stringed gourd lute, and the chiboni, a goatskin bagpipe) and the style is typically sung in small, all-male ensembles or larger choirs.

The Anchiskhati Ensemble will also lead a lecture-demonstration, “Introduction to Georgian Traditional Music” at 4:30 p.m. in the University Capitol Center Recital Hall at Old Capitol Mall. Both events are free and open to the public.

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