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Sound bites

John Shakespeare Dyson looks back over a winter of mouthwatering musical treats and chooses his favourites from a tempting summer menu

Well, autumn and winter came and went, though spring is taking its time getting under way in not-so-sunny Istanbul. But music has continued to pour down from on high along with the rain. The staple diet of classical-music fans has been the excellent Istanbul Recitals at the Seed, in the grounds of the Sakıp Sabancı Museum in Emirgan. These began in October with the Jussen brothers, a Dutch duo. Their programme included Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, a perfect rendition of Schubert’s Fantasie in F minor, and a piece written for them by Fazıl Say that involved plucking the piano’s strings. The brothers impressed with their rapport: even trills were perfectly coordinated.

In November Alexandre Tharaud gave us some Couperin and Rameau, with Webern’s Variations and Beethoven’s last piano sonata – in a marquee cleverly placed to include, right by the stage, a beautiful tree, its leaves turning gold and orange. All it needed was pirouetting Commedia dell’Arte dancers to accompany the elegant Baroque music.

In January the pianist was Freddy Kempf. He played us Prokofiev’s Sonata No 1, plus the chilling No 8, which left me deep-frozen by its relentless wartime ferocity. The finale was Rachmaninov’s Sonata No 2. Mr Kempf’s ultra-high-speed octaves were in no way inferior to those of Horowitz, and his careful gradations of tone evinced superlative musicianship.

February brought snow and Andrew Tyson. The American pianist warmed the cockles of his audience’s hearts with flawless performances of Romantic music. After Couperin and Messiaen, played with subtlety and sensitivity, he gave us Liszt’s Vallée d’Obermann, an appealing Respighi Nocturne, and Chopin’s Sonata No 3. Mr Tyson, although basically traditional in approach, somehow conveyed the impression of being an impassioned Romantic.

On March 15 the Croatian pianist Goran Filipec played Liszt. Three pieces from Années de Pèlerinage were followed by the incredibly challenging six Grandes Etudes de Paganini, the third of which is the famous La Campanella, the “Little Bell”. Mr Filipec managed the fearsome glissando octaves without damaging his fingers.

On April 12 we heard the American Stephen Kovacevich, deservedly famous as an interpreter of Beethoven. Despite a dreadful cold, eye problems and a terrifying cough, he made it through a programme of Bach, Beethoven and Schubert.

On May 11 the petite Korean Yeol Eum Son proved more than equal to the massive challenges of Rachmaninov’s Thirteen Preludes. The Recitals conclude with a concert by Anna Tsybuleva, from Karachay, Cherkessia in the Caucasus, on June 14.

The series was punctuated by orchestral concerts. The Tekfen Philharmonic Orchestra accompanied the Korean violinist Bomsori Kim at the Lütfi Kırdar Concert Hall on March 21 in a vigorous rendition of Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1. Ms Kim’s slight figure does not prevent her pulling out all the stops when necessary. Following this, Prokofiev’s Symphony No 5 was conducted with panache by Aziz Shokhakimov.

On April 5 the Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Hakan Şensoy, accompanied Antonio di Cristofano in Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 2. It was pleasing to see the Cemal Reşit Rey Concert

In Liszt’s famous ‘La Campanella’, Mr Filipec managed the fearsome glissando octaves without damaging his fingers

Hall in Harbiye nearly full. Classical concerts are becoming more popular, and though this orchestra still has some way to go before it matches the Tekfen and Borusan, one hopes standards will continue to rise.

Earlier in the year, there had been jazz in January. At the new Touché jazz club in the Zorlu Center the Israeli saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and Turkish guitarist Sarp Maden formed a harmonious duo. Mr Atzmon hit the nail on the head when he told the audience they were lucky to be living in Istanbul: “You’re pretty much sorted,” he said. “You don’t have to go to New York.”

On March 1 I braved ear-trouncing amplification at the Jolly Joker club to hear the Dolapdere Big Gang’s alaturca take on late-20th-century pop. Expert arrangements involved the swooping portando violin sound associated with the Turkish arabesk genre, and there was an interesting solo from the kanun (an instrument with strings arranged horizontally in a wooden box). I could swear I heard snatches of Debussy.

And so to the future. The İKSV (Istanbul

Foundation for Culture and Arts) Istanbul Music Festival, from June 11 to 30, opens with a concert by the Tekfen Philharmonic and the Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho. Many attractive concerts on the programme include one by world-famous viola player Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow Soloists on June 20, and Chinese pianist Yuja Wang with the Luxembourg Philharmonic on June 15. On June 16 there will be a tour of Greek and Armenian churches along a “Music Route” in the ancient seaside suburb of Samatya.

As if this were not already an embarras de richesses, there are to be some excellent chamber concerts, with performances by – among others – the cellist Alexander Kniazev with the pianist Boris Berezovsky (June 18), and the violinist Valeriy Sokolov, cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan and pianist Yulianna Avdeeva with the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic (June 22). The closing concert will feature Fazıl Say and the Shanghai Philharmonic. Yet another pleasing feature of this year’s festival (theme: Darkness of Being, Lightness of Being) is the hearing being given to works by contemporary composers.

The Istanbul Jazz Festival runs from June 29 to July 18, and I look forward to hearing the outstanding Turkish jazz pianist and composer Aydın Esen (on July 5). Other performers will include Kamasi Washington, Michael League with Snarky Puppy, José James, Makaya McCraven, Jacob Collier, Bill Charlap, Shai Maestro, Paolo Fresu, Lars Danielsson, Mélanie De Biasio, Nubiyan Twist and Elchin Shirinov.

Looking further ahead, the conductor Cem Mansur’s Turkish National Philharmonic Youth Orchestra swing into gear later in July with more classical concerts showcasing Turkey’s talented young instrumentalists and featuring the Moscow-trained pianist Gökhan Aybulus. Last year the orchestra was superb, and their performances are not to be missed. Details in my blog at

And so I wish readers a happy summer’s listening. I was described as “waspish” in the last issue of this magazine, and I can happily assure readers that my putative familiars will be there at every single concert, waving their antennae in time with the music.

To read the full article, purchase Issue 59

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Issue 59, June 2019 Behind Closed Doors
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Buy the issue
Issue 59, June 2019 Behind Closed Doors
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