In Celebration of the Human Voice - The Essential Musical Instrument
The Rustavi Ensemble (pronounced "roostahvi") is the best known of a considerable number of talented groups currently performing Georgian music. It was created in 1968 by Anzor Erkomaishvili, a singer and folklorist from a distinguished Georgian musical lineage that goes back seven generations. After graduating from the Tbilisi Conservatory, Erkomaishvill gathered singers from various parts of Georgia and began to build a repertory that brought together their different regional song styles and vocal timbres. Georgian vocal music is strictly divided between men's and women's genres, and from the beginning, the Rustavi singers have been male. Most songs are sung a cappella, but spare instrumental accompaniment on stringed instruments such as the "chonguri" and "phanduri" is sometimes added. A group of players within the Rustavi performs a separate instrumental repertory, and the Ensemble now also includes a dance troupe.
The Rustavi's eclectic, yet authentic, repertory was an innovation in the performance of Georgian music. Earlier vocal ensembles had mixed together traditional folk songs and popular composed music, or focused narrowly on songs from their own particular region. These regions, named after the ancient Georgian tribes that settled them, still represent the traditional territories of ethnic groups descended from the tribes. Erkomaishvili's vision was to break through these ethnic boundaries of regional styles while performing ethnographically authentic music from all of Georgia. The Rustavi's performance style synthesizes the powerful, rough-hewn sound characteristic of the traditional regional folk choirs with a newer, cleaner, more finely-honed aesthetic whose orientation is towards concert presentation - nowadays on an increasingly international scale. While striving to preserve, and in some cases recreate, authentic voicings and vocal timbres, the Rustavi singers have simplified the complex scales used by the earlier choirs in order to create firmer, more brilliant harmonies. The use of a smaller number of Singers for certain songs has also helped to clarify their musical structure.