Mom! A spider came out of my ear
On the Back Streets of Old Istanbul
Music for Wind and Strings
[All UK premieres]
In Trace of the Memories Lost in the Infinity of Time
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 28 June, 2004
Venue: Hackney Empire, London
Like that of most South European countries, classical music in Turkey has maintained a precarious existence within its own borders and been all but ignored outside of them. So credit to Musicstage and the Hackney Empire for holding this week-long festival of contemporary Turkish music in all its manifestations. This concert featured Ensemble 10:10 – drawn from the ranks of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and itself making a rare and welcome visit to southern climes.
The concert opened with Tolga Zafer Özdemir’s Mom! A spider came out of my ear (2003) – a vibrant and brightly coloured curtain-raiser, propelled by a rhythmic momentum that not even a sometimes extraneous percussion complement could impede. There was considerably more textural variety in Özkan Manav’s Wanderings (1996): its five continuous sections alternate fast and slow tempi, though the piece seemed to lose focus between its incisive beginning and driving instrumental interplay of its final section. Füsün Köksal’s brief Wind Quintet (1999) revelled in its Varèsian timbral pungency and heterophonic intricacy, while Ilhan Usmanbas’s Music for Wind and Strings (1994) pursued a more monumental confrontation through its terse chromatic motifs – an uncompromising work from the now-senior Turkish classical composer whose music should have had wider exposure in the West.
Yet it was the works closing each half of the concert that left the keenest impression. The title of Hasan Uçarsu’s piece, On the Back Streets of Old Istanbul (2001), promised a medley of folk and traditional tunes, and the use of a qanun (plucked 75-string zither) alongside a relatively standard ensemble might seem to confirm this. What, in fact, emerges is a rhapsodically unfolding evocation of time and place, its subtlety and allure transcending any consideration of ethnic fusion. Equally haunting was In Trace of the Memories Lost in the Infinity of Time (2002) – Mahir Çetiz tracing the “relationship between humanity and time”, in a piece whose climactic gestures emerge pointedly yet enigmatically from translucent instrumentation before drawing back into the textural ether from where they came. Individual, absorbing music which would grace any contemporary music festival.
Which, interestingly enough, it did at Huddersfield two years ago – making it the only work tonight to have been heard here previously. Yet such was the expertise and conviction with which Ensemble 10:10 executed the programme that one thought that this music had become an integral part of its repertoire. The composers present appeared very satisfied, and the small but appreciative audience echoed Clark Rundell’s remarks that this is music we in the UK should be more aware of.