Sounds from the Three Seas – Tekfen Philharmonic

Nevit Kodalli
Telli Turna
Avaz Mansurov
Concert Fantasy
Haji Hanmemmedov
Hasan Rzayev (Ruzi)
Ilyas Mirzaev
Dördüncü Salem (H I Dede Efendi)
Saz Semaisi (Tanburi Cemil Bey)
Nazbare, Elmas
Ulvi Cemal Erkin
Sinfonietta (Adagio & Allegro)
Adel Gerai Memmedbeyli
Sehnaz & Bahçekurd (arr. Sh Badr Ad-Din)
Kara Karayev
Ayse & Dance
Göskel Baktagir
Nihavend Longa ∫(arr. Baktagir/orch. Mirzaev)
Üsküdar (an old Istanbul song) (arr. Mirzaev)

Naima Irgasheva (chang)
Şefika Eyvazova (kemancha)
Ercan Irmak (ney)
Osman Yurdal Tokcan (ud)
Göskel Baktagir (kanun)

Tekfen Philharmonic Orchestra
Professor Saim Akçil

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 3 April, 2005
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

On a perfect, sunny Sunday afternoon what could be more pleasant than taking your seat at the capital’s newest concert hall – Cadogan Hall, off Sloane Street – for some music that’s guaranteed you’ve never heard?

That was my position as I sat down in the comfortable confines of the raked stalls seating to await the UK première of the Tekfen Philharmonic Orchestra, made up of players from some 23 countries from the land of the three seas – the Ural, Caspian and Black – playing music from that swathe of countries north of what we see as the “Middle East,” from Greece to the various “Stans”.

To my shame, I recognised only three flags – Greece, Israel and Turkey – but the other 20 were similarly displayed around the back of the orchestra in an emblematic flourish that reminded of the European Union Youth Orchestra concerts at the Proms. Founded in 1992 (see Douglas Cooksey’s article for the full background) the orchestra pre-empted both Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project and Daniel Barenboim’s hands across the Israeli/Palestinian border, East-West Divan Orchestra, in bringing together musicians of different races and creeds to do what music can do best: play together.

All the composers in this concert were new to me, even Kara Karayev who was a pupil of Shostakovich. It was perhaps his works with their heartfelt string writing bringing the greatest bite and tone quality from the orchestra that made the most persuasive mark in this programme of appealing, but ultimately, light pieces which played to various folk heritages. Most of these – like Bartók’s folk-inspired scores – alternate slow and fast sections; and here there was added interest through indigenous instruments from various of the countries encompassed by both orchestra and repertoire.

Given the orchestral accompaniment (the second half mostly just strings, but some arrangements including flute, oboe and bassoon, as well as piano), the solo instruments were tastefully amplified. The chang – cimbalom like, with struck strings – was played in beautiful, yellow-bordered traditional Uzbekistan costume by Naima Irgasheva; her piece was by fellow-Uzbekistani Avaz Mansurov, while Azerbaijani Şefika Eyvazova played works by fellow Azerbaijanis, Haji Hanmemmerdov and Hasan Rzayev, on her stringed kemancha, played vertical with the sounding box (over which a membrane of breast skin from a fish from the Caspian Sea is stretched) resting on her knee. The Turkish ney player – Ercan Irmak – produced incredibly subtle sounds (carefully – almost inaudibly – amplified), like a gentle caress in pieces by Azerbaijani composer Ilyas Mirzayev, who joined the orchestra to play the piano part.

The second half began with strings alone, with two movements from Turkish composer Ulvi Cernal Erkin’s Sinfonietta before Turkish ud player Osman Yurdal Tokcan brought a touch of the ancient past – this lute-like instrument is thought to date back nearly 3000 years to the 8th-century BC. He played two beguiling pieces by Azerbaijani composer Adel Gerain Memmedbeyli, before the strings relished the afore-mentioned Ayşe and Dance by Shostakovich’s pupil Kara Kareyev, again hailing from Azerbaijan.

The final soloist was Göskel Baktagir from Turkey, master of the kanun (zither), who played his own solo Waves – tracing an oval path over the strings to emulate waves of sound – before being joined by the orchestra in Mirzaev’s orchestration of Baktagir’s own arrangement of a traditional piece, Nihavend Longa. The finale, again orchestrated by Mirzaev, saw the return of all soloists in the order that appeared in the concert and introducing an old Istanbul song, Üsküdar, with Baktagir taking the more upbeat second theme, eventually all joining in. Toe-tapping it certainly was and warmly applauded so that it was encored.

At the end the conductor and co-founder of the orchestra (originally the Black Sea Chamber Orchestra), Professor Saim Akçil, gestured for his fellow co-founder the octogenarian Nihat Gökyiğit to take his share of the applause.

While not stretching music’s capabilities in any way – no piece lasted more than ten minutes – this was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, which I hope encourages the orchestra to return with a much more in-depth programme with some major works from the many regions which it encompasses.

Finally just a word about Cadogan Hall. Like a cross between the Wigmore Hall and LSO St Luke’s, it is an impressive venue, with a warm acoustic and well-appointed seats and facilities. On this occasion the concert started with a minute’s silence in memory of Pope John Paul II who had died the previous evening.

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