Written by: Colin Anderson
Türkfest is being billed as ‘the UK’s first festival of contemporary Turkish music’. And so it may be. Yet the term ‘contemporary music’ can be the kiss of death at the box office. But, have no fear! Türkfest’s programmes cover a much wider content, rooted in Turkey’s musical history. A celebration, then? “Yes, that’s absolutely true” – the words of Türkfest’s Artistic Director, Oliver Butterworth.
The week of concerts begins on 26 June, the Bosphorus Performing Arts Ensemble literally kicking things off. “It’s a two-hour show, and a nightmare because they keep changing the dances! It’s political and progressive, taking traditional folksongs into something very 21st-century, but the roots are absolutely there. This will have a big appeal to the audience going to Michael Nyman’s concert.”
Nyman’s Band closes Türkfest on 3 July and shares the stage with music by Kamran Ince, who is one of Turkey’s finest exports, so to speak; Oliver describes him as “an American minimalist. But there’s also an exoticism, a stream running through all this music that links it to Turkey. I’ve always known and liked Turkish pop music, and I wondered if the country has other music. It turns out there’s masses of it. If you turn on the television in an Istanbul hotel room, there’s a concert on. And there are orchestras and conservatoires all around. Actually, there are lots of composers I couldn’t fit in. And I really believe in each of these pieces. There’s a mix of tradition and experimentation, and each composer has a proper voice.”
After the vibrant Songs of Fraternity that opens Türkfest, the following night brings the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Gürer Aykal, to play Mozart, Beethoven (the latter being his Piano Concerto No.3 featuring international Turkish pianist Idil Biret (who has made several Naxos recordings) and the Concerto da Camera by Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907-1991), which Oliver describes as a “great string piece, European influenced, with echoes of Stravinsky and elements of the music for Psycho.”
Some of the Turkish classical pieces being heard include parts for traditional Turkish instruments, and some works are vividly titled – ‘Fantasie of a Sudden Turtle’ for example, a piano quartet by Kamran Ince with the composer playing the piano part, part of a Vellinger Quartet recital on 30 June also including an “amazingly experimental” String Quartet by Ilhan Usmanbas, “it’s maybe not the most profound work, but it shows a wonderful imagination.”
Türkfest’s diversity further includes a concert on 28 June, given by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s 10:10 Ensemble, in which five of the six pieces are UK premieres, including ‘Mom! A spider came out of my ear’ by Tolga Zafer Ozdemir, a “Turkish John Adams”, the entire programme enthusiastically talked about, at Türkfest’s launch, by the concert’s conductor Clark Rundell. A few nights later, one of Turkey’s best-known pop stars, Candan Ercetin, appears, a “very sophisticated artist with her own band.” And there are also opportunities to hear young Turkish artists, such as the mezzo-soprano Ezgi Saydam who, following appearances in Vienna in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, will include Schubert, Schumann and Brahms in her recital on the 29th.
All this will be at the 1300-seat Hackney Empire, which is ”becoming an important venue for classical music. It has a wonderful acoustic.” The Turkey-born viola player Rusen Gunes (of the London Philharmonic and BBC Symphony) “started us off, and we’ve followed every lead he gave us. It’s a side of Turkey that no-one imagines exists. It has great football, holiday venues and pop music; it also has young composers and musicians that can be counted with the best. We hope to offer some clever ticket things, buy this and get another one half-price. I don’t like ghettoism in musical appreciation and I have a fantasy that people who go to one specific concert will also want to go to others. This festival doesn’t fit into categories – except for being a musical portrait of Turkey.”