Istanbul will be European City of Culture in 2010. These two of these three CDs unofficially celebrate that event and have been produced quite independently of the official city and government bodies. The ‘missing’ first work in the trilogy is Seven Days in Istanbul
by Hasan Cihat Örter.
The recordings have a colossal and resonant sound. It’s
the sort of popular audio-image one might hear in celebration
of some Olympic auditorium event - subtle and local it ain't.
The sound-blast is redolent of the commercial lapel-grabbing balance
in River Dance
I asked Mem Productions about the forces used in these recordings and their reply is worth quoting:-
“Some instruments in the symphonies have been used by sampling voices …. But especially the strings (violins, violas, and cellos) have been mostly played by the members of the "Istanbul Symphony Orchestra..." They were all our friends... The CDs were recorded in Istanbul, in 2008... You can mention the conductor as Tuğrul Karataş if you like, because he directed the musicians while they were playing for these albums in the studio. We named them "Golden Horn Symphony Orchestra ... [or Bosphorus Symphony Orchestra]" We did this because all of the members of the Istanbul Symphony Orchestra were not present. In Yunus Emre Symphony, the "Ney" eastern flute was played by Türker Dinletir. In Bediüzzaman New Age, electric guitars were played by a Jewish guitarist named Izi Eliah, who lives in Istanbul ... We call him Izi Eli ... The fretless guitars were played by Hasan Cihat Örter in the same album. Also we used "baglama (saz)" in Bediüzzaman New Age for the folkloric melodies. The Anatolian Guitar Concerto will be played in the future by an international guitarist, from Russian Georgia, named "Kako Vashalomidze". So we had to use sampling guitar sounds for now.”
With the exception of two traditional melodies the themes across all three discs are by the project's leading voice, Murat Malay who also wrote the notes. The orchestration and musico-technical creative process is by Tugrul Karatas.
The Anatolian works on the first CD include a six movement travelogue. The first two combine Glass-style pummelling insistence with melodies the character of which Western audiences may associate with Borodin and Balakirev. The beetlingly close, almost intimidating, sound is lent distinction by the use of ethnic instruments. Relentlessness is abandoned in the more staid Aegea
movement with accordion sounds synthesiser hyped. A gracious and almost Spanish flavour, not inappropriately, dominates the Mediterrane
movement. East and South-East Anatolia
return us to the steppes of Central Asia with romance contrasted with folk-dance. The huge sound also applies to the gigantically magnified guitar concerto - seemingly the first such Turkish work. This combines Bachian figuration and cantilena with Turkish folk voices as in the Anatolian Suite
. A whirling and bumpy-grindy excitement is also woven in - especially in the finale. This is Khachaturian, Carmen, Bach and Borodin on handfuls of steroids.
The seven movement Istanbul Symphony
is another cavalcade of character portraits - a grand symphonic suite. The Europe
movement has one of those pounding Philip Glass pulses but mixes it with a more 1950s romantic quality of a type I associate with French cinema scores by Francis Lai. The chugging Bolero
style - there's even a side-drum - ostinato of the Asia
movement provides an aural bed for some not specially Asiatic themes. Golden Horn
also has a slightly different chugging foundation with a Mozartean patina. Dede Efendi
sounds like a Palm Court-affluent gavotte and the strings take on, not for the first time, a synthetic sound. Beyoglu
is a gawky pennywhistle-style saunter along some aristocratic promenade. It’s a strange amalgam of gamin-cheeky and top-hat-and-tails - at least to Western ears. The Bosphorus
movement takes the character of Beyoglu
a stage further and adds a faintly Magyar touch - no wonder given the contiguous border. Uskudar
is the finale - a peaceful smiling piece taken at walking pace.
Bediuzzaman - New Age
is in three movements or portraits: Old Said
starts, as do all three movements, with the sound of waves on a beach - very New Age. The score has a popular commercial close-up balance with pop-style keyboard and rock-guitar riffs and ululation. Seclusion Days
is the central movement. After the sound of the wind and the waves on the shore you hear a long Muezzin call. This paves the way for cool and comfortable electric guitar solos. The score also uses the baglama saz -a seven-stringed Turkish instrument of the lute family similar to the oud or bouzouki. It's all rather Hollywood 1980s with quasi-echoes of the Bond theme from A View to a Kill
. The final New Said
movement takes us back to soft-focus TV scores of the 1980s with drum-kit, oboe and sumptuous strings though kept on a fairly tight leash. It's the most pop movement of the lot. This disc in particular has a Hollywood travelogue glare that is rich in nostalgic dazzle.
is reckoned the Turkish - or we should perhaps say Anatolian - Dante or maybe Dante is the Italian Emre. He lived from circa 1241 to circa 1321. His poetry is concerned with mysticism and with poetic descriptions of physical events. Emre’s writings became a banner for the nationalism movement of the 1920s. His international standing was recognised in 1991 which was declared International Yunus Emre Year
by UNESCO. The poems that inspired each of the four movements of this symphony are printed in the insert which - like those for all three discs - is poster-style rather than booklet format.
The four movement Yunus Emre
symphony is again folksy but not as high voltage as the Anatolian works disc. The Split My Heart
movement is the first. The balance still towers over the listener but there is a little more light and air now. The music veers between Slav-Russian exotic references and a cooler almost classical world. The second movement, Dervish's Love
has a bump-and-grind drum and a tabla (it’s probably not the tabla) ostinato over which the strings insistently muse with increasingly sumptuous sound. It is rather like Bolero
but with the luxuriance of the orchestration intensifying rather than the volume. Secret of Headstones
has a main melodic line foregrounded by what sound like panpipes. The Allegro Finale, Out of this World
again features a stamping drum-ostinato. The breathy panpipes sinuously and seductively writhe in the breeze. This is more a suite than a symphony but it’s hypnotic even so.
These discs can be sourced together or individually from www.memyay.com
The full scores for the music for the Istanbul 2010 Trilogy are available in a single paper-bound volume.
We can look forward to more recordings from this source. They are working on CDs of "Mevlana Symphony", "Anatolian Violin Concerto" and "Greatest Turkish Poets".
I have no doubt that the City of Istanbul will see that discs lend themselves to promotional use in hospitality sets, receptions and media promotions. The music, while redolent of previous decades to Western ears, is very skilfully and confidently done. I do hope though that the Turkish government will not forget their other classical heritage in the shape of the music of Ahmed Adnan Saygun, Cemal Resit Rey, Ulvi Cemal Erkin, Hasan Ferid Alnar and Necil Kazim Akses. Meantime this glossy, commercial, highly skilled and confident music will serve, with some distinction, as the soundtrack to Istanbul's 2010. We wish the city well knowing that it will enjoy a myriad soundtracks. It will continue to yield further rich cultural rewards in years to come.