Hekimbaşı Salih Efendi Yalı perches like a queen’s ruby underneath the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, the object of envy for casual boaters who dream of residing in summer mansions. From the back, it hides behind the stone wall that rims the main seaside road past Anadolu Hisarı. With the clouds threatening winter rain and the Bosphorus churning, we descended into the Hekimbaşı for an afternoon concert of classical music.
The mournful swoon of strings was the perfect soundtrack for the gray and dreary day. Outside, the wind cracked its cheeks, raged, blew; inside, we were wrapped in the warm sounds of Baroque harmonies, the lull of adagios, the quiver of a violin’s vibrato.
Launched in 2009, the Yalı Concert series brings classical musicians into the intimate salon of Hekimbaşı and regularly offers an opportunity to see one of the more special Bosphorus mansions. The descendants of Salih Efendi, the chief physician to the court of the sultan in the mid-19th century and the yalı’s original owner, still live on the premises. Though the building is open for these very classy concerts, there are still toothbrushes in the bathroom and photos on the mantle. This is no museum.
The artifacts of a lived-in home sit alongside the elegance of the yalı. Oil paintings of flowers with thick gold frames and large canvases adorned with religious calligraphy in deep blue ink hang on walls. Heavy crimson curtains drape the windows and an ornate crystal chandelier with curving translucent shapes and red decorations centres the space. Lace and china in vintage wooden cabinets stand across from the harpsichord, where a musician from AKOB-Mersin Baroque Music Ensemble tunes the instrument with an assist from an iPhone app.
The ensemble, a quartet of four women that also includes a violinist, violist and cellist alongside the harpsichordist, plays a selection of Baroque work by Marini, Buxtehude, and Corelli, ‘one of the most important composers in Baroque music, especially for violins,’ according to Isabelle Monique Kollo, the violinist.
As the musician launch into a chamber piece written by Corelli, the music makes the yalı feel holy, like we are the congregants at a secret church meeting, warming our souls at the shrine of the Baroque. The harmonies have a delicate warmth, a lightness, that feels delightful and holy all at once. The chord progressions resolve in triumph. For this afternoon, the yalı is our cathedral.
Patricia Daunt wrote about the Hekimbaşı Yalı in Cornucopia (a piece included in the recent book The Palace Lady’s Summerhouse), and the opportunity to visit this splendid gem on the water is a gift. The harpsichord might be tuned with an app and the steel expanse of the second bridge might loom over the oxblood exterior, but the experience of listening to classical music in this Ottoman villa is one that exists out of time. In the warmth of the yalı walls, we forget that life continues on outside. There is only the sweet strain of music, and the singing of strings.