Since dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kancheli has lived in Western Europe: first in Berlin, and since 1995 in Antwerp, where he became composer-in-residence for the Royal Flemish Philharmonic.
In his symphonies, Kancheli's musical language typically consists of slow scraps of minor-mode melody against long, subdued, anguished string discords. These passages are occasionally punctuated with "battle scenes" involving martial brass and percussion. His music post-1990 has become more refined and generally more subdued and nostalgic in character. Some commentators talk about his music in cinematic terms; one can find equivalents of the dissolve (in his ubiquitous blurred tonal transitions), zoom (such as the long crescendo a third of the way into the Sixth Symphony), abrupt cuts (jumping from very quiet to very loud, as in the opening of the Fifth Symphony), and so on. Rodion Shchedrin speaks of Kancheli as "an ascetic with the temperament of a maximalist; a restrained Vesuvius".
Kancheli has written seven symphonies, and what he terms a liturgy for viola and orchestra, called Mourned by the Wind. His Fourth Symphony received its American premiere, with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yuri Temirkanov, in January 1978, not long before the cultural freeze in the United States against Soviet culture. Glasnost allowed Kancheli to regain exposure, and he began to receive frequent commissions, as well as performances within Europe and America.
Championed internationally by the likes of Dennis Russell Davies, Jansug Kakhidze, Gidon Kremer, Yuri Bashmet, Kim Kashkashian, Mstislav Rostropovich, and the Kronos Quartet, Kancheli has seen world premieres of his works in Seattle, as well as with the New York Philharmonic under Kurt Masur. He continues to receive regular commissions. New CDs of his recent works are regularly released, notably on the ECM label.
In Georgia, Kancheli's work is well known in the theatre, from which he draws much of his musical composition. For two decades, he served as the music director of the Rustaveli Theatre in Tbilisi. He composed an opera Music for the Living, in collaboration with Rustaveli director Robert Sturua, and in December 1999, the opera was restaged for the Deutsches National Theater in Weimar.
He has written music for dozens of films, many of them well known in the Russian-speaking world but virtually unknown outside it, such as Georgi Daneliya's science fiction film Kin-dza-dza! (1986) and its 2013 animated remake.
- Concerto for orchestra (1961)
- Largo and Allegro (1963)
- Symphony No. 1 (1967)
- Symphony No. 2 “Songs” (1970)
- Symphony No. 3 (1973)
- Symphony No. 4 "To the Memory of Michelangelo" (1974)
- Symphony No. 5 "To the Memory of My Parents" (1977)
- Symphony No. 6 (1978–1980)
- Symphony No. 7 "Epilogue" (1986)
- Mourned by the Wind (Vom Winde beweint), liturgy for viola (or cello) and orchestra (1989)
- Evening Prayers (Abendgebete) from “Life Without Christmas” (1991)
- Abii ne viderem ("I turned away so as not to see") for alto flute / viola, piano and string orchestra (1992–1994)
- Another Step... (Noch Einen Schritt...) (1992)
- Wingless (1993)
- Magnum Ignotum (1994)
- Trauerfarbenes Land (1994)
- Lament, Music of Mourning in Memory of Luigi Nono (1994)
- ...à la Duduki (1995)
- Simi, “Joyless Thoughts”, for cello and orchestra (1995)
- ...à la Duduki (1995)
- V & V (1995)
- Valse Boston (1996)
- Diplipito (1997)
- Childhood Revisited (Besuch In Der Kindheit) (1998)
- Sio (1998)
- Rokwa (1999)
- And Farewell Goes Out Sighing... (1999)
- A Little Daneliade (2000)
- ...al Niente (2000)
- Ergo (2000)
- Don’t Grieve (2001)
- Fingerprints (2002)
- Lonesome — 2 great Slava from 2 GKs (2002)
- Warzone (2002)
- Twilight (2004)
- Ex Contrario (2006)
- Kapote (2006)
- Silent Prayer (2007)
- Broken Chant (2007)
- Ilori (2010)
- Morning Prayers for chamber orchestra and tape (1990; 1st work from the 1990–95 four-part cycle A Life without Christmas)
- Midday Prayers for soprano, clarinet and chamber orchestra (1990; 2nd work from the cycle A Life without Christmas)
- Night Prayers for string quartet (1992–1995; 4th work from the cycle A Life without Christmas)
- Caris Mere (After the wind) for soprano and viola (1994)
- Magnum Ignotum for wind ensemble and tape (1994)
- Valse Boston for piano and strings (1996)
- Instead of a Tango for violin, bandoneon, piano and double bass (1996)
- In L'Istesso Tempo for piano quartet (1997)
- Sio for strings, piano and percussion (1998)
- Chiaroscuro for string quartet (2011)
- Music for the living, opera in two acts (1982–1984)
- Bright Sorrow Requiem (to the 40th Anniversary of the Victory over Fascism) (1984)
- Evening Prayers, for eight alto voices and chamber orchestra (1991; 3d work from the 1990–95 four-part cycle A Life without Christmas)
- Psalm 23, for soprano and chamber orchestra (1993)
- Lament, concerto for violin, soprano and orchestra (1994)
- Diplipito, for cello, counter-tenor and chamber orchestra (1997)
- And Farewell Goes Out Sighing... for violin, countertenor and orchestra (1999)
- Styx, for viola, mixed choir and orchestra (1999)
- Little Imber, for solo voice, children's and men's choirs and small ensemble (2003)
- Amao Omi, for SATB choir and saxophone quartet (2005)
- "Giya Kancheli turns 75 on 10 August". Sikorski. August 2010. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
- Ainslie, Sarah. "Giya Kancheli". schirmer.com, 2006. Retrieved on 31 January 2007.
- Tuttle, Raymond. "Yuri Bashmet Plays". classical.net, 2002. Retrieved 2 April 2010.
- "Ghia Kancheli - Ascetic with Energy of Maximalist". davisvenot.ge, 2008. Retrieved 2 April 2010.
- List of works
- Entry at The Living Composers Project
- Music under Soviet Rule, by Ian McDonald
- Kancheli at Schirmer
- The Space of Absence in the Music of Giya Kancheli, by Dylan Trigg
- Giya Kancheli and the Aesthetics of Nostalgia, by Dylan Trigg
- Kancheli at ECM Records
- Giya Kancheli at the Internet Movie Database
- Giya Kancheli interview by Bruce Duffie, February 27, 1995