Kancheli's works often focus on the themes of light, dark, nostalgia, grief, fear, solitude and memory; and is filled with simple, organic sounds and poignant silence. Michael Walsh of Time notes, "In Kancheli's hands the sounds of silence are hauntingly eloquent." But Symphony No. 5 introduces a new theme imagery rooted in unpretentious glimpses of children and memories from the composer's own life. Symphony No. 5 is a perhaps a philosophical exploration on naïvetè and wonder of the world, juxtaposed with an irrecoverable sense of what Kancheli calls "letting go...The Fifth is permeated with the ravaged, almost ancient breath of fate. In the central section it is as if the irretrievable is being mourned. Yes, the leitmotif of childhood breaks off after it has hardly begun. And, not once is it heard completely. That's just it, everything rests on this theme. That's like childhood, isn't it?"
Symphony No. 5 received its first performance in Tbilisi in February 1978 by the Georgian State Symphony, conducted by Djansug Kakhidze. The work received its Western premiere that summer in Italy, as di Bonaventura conducted the work at the 22nd Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds, with Samuel Barber, Luciano Berio, and Gian Carlo Menotti in attendance. The US premiere took place on 5 March 1982 at Boston University.
In 1988, Giya Kancheli traveled to Boston, MA, and made his personal mark in the US during the historic American-Soviet music festival "Making Music Together." Since then, Kancheli's music has been programmed throughout North America. His commissioners include the San Francisco Symphony (Don't Grieve, written for baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky), the New York Philharmonic (And Farewell Goes Out Sighing... a millennial commission) and Seattle's Bridge Ensemble (Piano Quartet in L'istesso Tempo). Kancheli's guest residencies include the Winnipeg New Music Festival and the University of Colorado. His music has been featured at the Baltimore Symphony (who presented the US premiere of ...Al Niente...), the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Kansas City Symphony, and in choreographed works at BalletMet (OH) and the Alberta Ballet.Symphony No. 5, "In Remembrance of My Parents" (1977)