Famous for his innovative programming and devotion to contemporary music from his homeland, Georgian conductor Jansug Kakhidze gained wide recognition during his life as a close friend and strong advocate of composer Giya Kancheli, recording his entire cycle of seven symphonies along with many other works.
Nicknamed "the Slavic Karajan" for his charismatic style, Kakhidze was born in Tbilisi, Georgia, at a time when the state was controlled by the former Soviet Union. He received an initial diploma in choral conducting from the Tbilisi V. Saradjishvili State Conservatory, where he later returned to complete a diploma in orchestral conducting under professor Odisseiy Dimitriedi. Following his graduation, he spent considerable time in Moscow, where he worked with renowned conductor Igor Markevitch.
In 1957, Kakhidze founded the vocal ensemble Shvidkaca, which within two years would claim top honors at both the sixth World Festival of Youth (Moscow) and the International Exhibition (Brussels). During this time, Kakhidze was also the music director of the Georgian State Choir.
Beginning in 1962, Kakhidze was able to utilize a post as conductor of the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theater as a springboard for his guest-conducting career. With his additional engagements abroad, Kakhidze began to introduce an increasing amount of Georgian contemporary music to the rest of the world. In the early '70s, Kakhidze brought the Georgian opera Abesalom and Eteri by Zakhari Paliashvili to Lodzy, Poland. In addition to standard operatic repertoire, later productions included numerous Georgian works such as Kancheli's Music for Alive and Bidzina Kvernadze's In the Eighth Century and the Princess of Kolkhida.
Testament to his enduring leadership was Kakhidze's position as music director at the helm of the Georgian State Symphony Orchestra beginning in 1973. Lasting two decades, his tenure was marked by significant enhancement in ensemble quality, breadth of repertoire, and visibility west of the Black Sea, especially evident during a series of tours of Europe and the British Isles in the late '80s.
The peak of Kakhidze's career included numerous appearances conducting throughout Europe and Australia. His performance of Berlioz's Damnation of Faust with the Orchestra de Paris in 1990 drew high praise from critics and helped him secure further international success in places such as the United States, where he appeared as a guest conductor with both the Boston Symphony and the National Symphony Orchestra. A strong leader and arts advocate within the Georgian political framework, Kakhidze was able to see many of his personal projects successfully brought to life. In 1989, the Jansug Kakhidze Tbilisi Center for Music and Culture opened its doors to the public, bringing with it the coinciding annual music festival now known as Autumn Tbilisi. The Tbilisi Center, which contains numerous concert halls and a recording studio, continues to function as an important vehicle for the promotion of Georgian culture around the world. In 1993, Kakhidze founded his own Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra, with which he made a number of recordings and toured with extensively. Kakhidze also founded the Tbilisi Boy Choir, his final accomplishment before his death from throat cancer in 2002.
The recipient of a number of honors, Kakhidze received the 1977 Rustaveli State Prize, the Special Prize of the Tbilisi Municipality, and the Order of Honor of Georgia in 1996.