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In a year of desperately challenging circumstances and seemingly impossible restrictions imposed on live events, John Shakespeare Dyson has found himself pleasantly surprised and his spirits lifted by a range of memorable concerts – both classical and jazz. Bravo!
In a year in which many musicians have been reduced to getting jobs in restaurants or selling their instruments, any concerts that actually took place were a source of deep gratitude. And so I must express my heartfelt thanks to the İKSV (Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts) for keeping their annual classical music and jazz festivals going with a series of online concerts, thus providing our musician brothers and sisters with at least some work, and at the same time keeping us listeners aware of what it is like to be a human being in possession of two ears and more than that number of feelings.
In November 2019 and the succeeding months, the Istanbul Recitals in the
Seed – the Sakıp Sabancı Museum’s bubble-like subterranean concert hall in Emirgan – featured three outstanding pianists. First we heard Nikolai Demidenko, a Russian now resident in the UK, play works by Chopin, Schubert, Scriabin and Prokofiev. Mr Demidenko impressed with his precision, his restraint and his chameleon-like ability to produce a new pianistic style for each piece – the mark of a top-rank musician.
In the next recital, Irishman Finghin Collins showed that apart from being a master of timing, he has the gift of communicating passion without allowing himself more than the merest smidgeon of rubato. We heard two Beethoven sonatas, including the hand-crushing Appassionata; then, in the later of Schubert’s two A major sonatas, Beethoven’s harsh histrionics gave way to a mouth-watering limpidity.
Things can’t go on like this, I thought… but they did. In March the British pianist Imogen Cooper treated us to some Chopin, Schubert’s Moments Musicaux and his Sonata in G major. Ms Cooper’s pianissimo was exquisite in its calm intensity – so ethereal that one could almost hear the voices of the Little People coming through. This unforgettable concert, coming as it did just prior to lockdown, was a most fitting farewell to the joys of listening to live music.
The Istanbul Recitals also featured the Armenian cellist Alexander Chaushian and Soyoung Yoon, a Korean lady violinist.
Mr Chaushian played two of Bach’s solo suites. The bass notes boomed so viscerally that had he been playing down on the shore they might have vibrated the funnels off
the ships passing along the Bosphorus.
Ms Yoon, meanwhile, entertained us – accompanied by the German pianist Mario Häring – with Dvořák, Brahms and Bartók. The experience of hearing a violin played with such excoriating robustness was so overwhelming that afterwards I was left gasping and unable to rise from my seat. It was a good thing the audience took a long time to disperse; otherwise I might have had to be shooed out by the cleaners.
In March I attended an orchestral
concert – the last I would witness in the flesh in 2020 – at the Zorlu Center. The Avrasya Philharmonic, conducted by
Rengim Gökmen, played Beethoven’s euphoric Symphony No 7 and his Piano Concerto No 5, in which the soloist was the redoubtable İdil Biret. The orchestra responded well to Mr Gökmen’s skilful direction, but my gratitude goes chiefly to the lady sitting next to me for submitting
me to a test of spiritual grit: she spent
the entire concerto communing with her
two mobile telephones. I hope they appreciated the attention.
The rest of the year’s diet of classical music was all of the online variety. In September a concert featuring young string players from Turkey, the UK and Germany was streamed from a church on Büyükada. Their conductor, Dr James Ross, had initially come to the Princes Islands in March and then been stranded there by the pandemic. As a result of this enforced residence his Turkish is now substantially improved. These days Turkey is producing a string of good harpists (no pun intended), and the solo part in Debussy’s Danse sacrée et danse profane was ably performed by Ms Yonca Atar.
The İKSV Istanbul Music Festival then sprang into action. I most enjoyed a concert recorded in the Tophane-i Amire building, once a cannonball foundry. String players were conducted by Mr Cem Mansur in works by Sibelius, Arvo Pärt, Piazzolla, Turina and Puccini. The playing and conducting were excellent, and the recording quality so good that one could almost pick out the voice of each individual instrument. Streamed concerts do have their advantages.
And so to jazz. Back in November 2019,
I heard ace vocalist Sibel Köse, genius trumpeter İmer Demirer (now, sadly, retired) and friends perform at the Badau, a club located in a shopping mall on the Asian side. I react to shopping malls – those gleaming horrors – as one would to a hissing cobra displaying a different brand name on each of its fangs. However,
I overcame my aversion for long enough
to hear the waiters tell each other how “good” the performers were. Wrong choice of adjective: the performers were superb.
No sooner had the İKSV Istanbul Music Festival got under way than the İKSV Jazz Festival popped up like a most welcome jack-in-the-box (“jazz-in-the-box”?) in early October. I heard Selen Gülün, Ece Göksu and (once again) Sibel Köse display their multifarious talents. Then, in a concert that featured pop rather than jazz, Make Mama Proud – purveyors of pessimistic rock – were followed by BaBa Zula, whose upbeat interpretation of Turkish ethnic genres created a lighter mood – one almost felt able to give the finger to current troubles.
Rather than look back to the days when we innocently thought we would always be able to go to concerts and sit next to each other, let us take heart from the astrologers. The traditional significator of infectious diseases is Neptune, and on March 13, 2021 (at the Pisces new moon), lovely Venus nears a conjunction with Neptune that should soften the scourge-monger sea god’s heart as both the sun and moon make conciliatory overtures to bad boy Pluto. So I cherish the hope that, before long, the Masked Muses will be gracing our stages once more. u
TURKISH ORCHESTRAS TO WATCH
Orchestras are understandably reluctant to commit to concert programmes, but ones
to watch are the Presidential Symphony Orchestra (cso.gov.tr), İzmir State Symphony Orchestra (izmirsenfoni.gov.tr), Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra
(idso.gov.tr), Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic (borusansanat.com). I will give a shout-out on my blog, cornucopia.net/musicalshares,
if there is any sign of Musical Muse Euterpe’s panpipes popping up again.
John Shakespeare Dyson is a freelance writer, translator and editor, and Cornucopia’s music critic; email@example.com
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