Maspindzeli is a choir devoted to singing songs from the ancient polyphonic tradition of Georgia. It is led by Bernard Burns.
The choir came about in 1999 in response to the growing interest in Georgian singing, which only became widely known in the west following Georgian independence in 1991, thanks to the work of leading Georgian teachers such as Joseph Jordania and the late Edisher Garakanidze.
It was originally formed by Helen Chadwick, following Edisher's tragic death in a car crash in 1998, in order to raise money for his son Gigi Garakanidze. Venice Manley took over as musical director in 2000. Both Helen and Venice had studied directly with Joseph, Edisher and other Georgian teachers. When Venice died in 2004, the role of musical director was taken on jointly by three leaders from the ranks of the choir: Geoff Burton, Sally Davies and Lucy Gibson. Sally stepped down in 2006. Mark Thomas and Tamta Turmanidze jointly took over the role in August 2009. Mark left in June 2011, and Tamta continued as leader until June 2014.
The choir has studied with visiting Georgian teachers and choirs on many occasions, and has made a specific point of studying authentic styles of singing from various regions of Georgia. "Maspindzeli" means "host" in Georgian and the choir has sung for the London Georgian community on a number of occasions, and has six times accepted an invitation to Georgia as part of the biennial Polyphonic Symposium at the Tbilisi Conservatory of Music, most recently in September, 2012. At home, the concert programme has included events in Oxford, Cambridge and Bristol.
wonderfully gritty — John L Walters, The Guardian, 2 April 2001.
On the face of it, the choir is a nonsense - a Georgian choir with only one Georgian person in it. But the sound is wonderful - raw, gutsy, committed, folk-like but sophisticated. A must. — Orlando Gough, Artangel, 21 March 2002.
Meanwhile, in a church off Lisson Grove - a surprise. Under the direction of their leader Venice Manley, Maspindzeli Choir deliver Georgian songs with enormous panache. Yet there's hardly a Georgian among them: that strife-torn land in the Caucasus has long cast its spell over Britons, of which this group of enthusiasts is proof. "We don't know what the words of that song mean," says Manley, disarmingly. "But deep down, of course, we do." Shut your eyes and these really are Georgian voices, with the female soloists finding exactly the right hard, bare sound, just as they do in Tbilisi. — Michael Church, The Independent, 9 December 2003.
Ancient polyphonic sounds of Georgia (bare, beautiful and once heard never forgotten) from this London-based choir. — Time Out, 25 May 2011.