Turkey’s most charismatic classical musician is in trouble back home. An atheist, uncomfortable with rising Islamist tides, Say retweeted a derisory comment last year and found himself prosecuted for ‘insulting the values of Moslems’ – accused, in effect, of the medieval crime of heresy. His case will be tried in February. Say has gone into exile.
A prolific pianist, widely recorded, Say is also an ambitious composer, rooted in the sounds and sights of his homeland. His symphony opens with a rush of waves, followed by a run of Mediterranean melismas. The movements are titled ‘nostalgia’, ‘religious order’, ‘blue mosque’, ‘merrily clad young ladies aboard the ferry to Princes Islands’, and so on.
To the post-modern listener, this may appears to be a leisurely travelogue in the manner of Saint-Saëns and Elgar, east meets west in a four-star hotel. The energy is powerful and the noise made by the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra very loud, but the music arrives about 120 years too late, a cultural anachronism. Others, less aware of musical trends, may be charmed.
Less contentious is Hezarfen, a concerto for ney (a kind of flute) and symphony orchestra. The throaty instrument adds a whispering authenticity and Burcu Karadağ, the soloist, exerts a hypnotic attention. A German audience at the world premiere sound hugely enthusiastic. I wanted to hear it again, at once.
Artists: Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra/Gürer Aykal
Norman Lebrecht is a prolific commentator on music and cultural affairs and an award-winning novelist. See his blog Slipped Disc.