The performers were seven singers from Rotterdam’s VocalLab, and Hezarfen, the contemporary music group from İstanbul.
The composer’s personal relationship with Rumi was the impetus for composing “Say I Am You” and it’s an innovative vehicle to deliver the mystical essence of Mevlâna to us all. The video installation showed the texts in English and Turkish with actors miming actions of Rumi, his wife and other characters. Hezarfen combined the Turkish ney and kanun with several standard orchestral instruments.
The acoustics of Aya İrini posed a challenge to hearing the song lyrics, but the overall effect of Ellison’s remarkable instrumental textures and occasional choral moments bordered on the supernatural. The character of Shams, whose relationship with Rumi is the subject of the title, was sung in a stratospheric tessitura (by tenor/alto Gunnar Brandt-Sigurdsson), suggesting an almost alien presence. The performances, individually and collectively, were impressive for their expert negotiation of a challenging score. Ellison’s opus, equally impressive for tackling the subject matters of belief systems and examination of personal values, was also an introduction to an intriguing musical language, striking in its otherworldly quality.
Concerto for loudspeakers
Miloš, the guitarist from Montenegro, was the soloist with the Milli Reasürans Chamber Orchestra in Aya İrini on June 28 for the İstanbul Music Festival. Conducted by Hakan Şensoy, the program included 10 of the 13 sections of Rodion Shchedrin’s “Carmen Suite,” Maurice Ravel’s “Le tombeau de Couperin” and Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.”
For his “Carmen Suite,” Shchedrin sliced up sequences from Bizet’s opera “Carmen” and spliced them back together in unpredictable ways, re-scored for strings and percussion. The impetus for this was Shchedrin’s wife, the great ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, who urged him to arrange “Carmen” for dancers.
Shchedrin explored orchestra variations to Bizet’s familiar score, but his version felt surprisingly traditional in the way he gave the violins predominance. At one point, he included the popular “Farandole” from Bizet’s “L’Arlésienne Suite.” I suspect this was a perky addition that made the dancers happy, because it bears no dramatic connection to the opera. Shchedrin took the famous theme of fate and used it in unexpected ways -- with tubular bells for example -- throughout the piece. By the end though, I was wearied partly by a lack of relief from the violin-heavy scoring, and partly by the orchestra’s turgid approach. However, when I heard it used for the final gala of İstanbul’s 3rd International Ballet Competition on June 30 (see below), I saw how beautifully it can work for dance.
Rodrigo was turning over in his grave for this performance of his well-known guitar concerto, which is famous for its ethereal second movement. Both Miloš’ performance and Rodrigo’s music were handicapped from the start by an over-eager sound engineer. A smidgen of subtle ambient miking for a guitar, to balance with the orchestra, could be a welcome help in the huge Aya İrini. But at this concert, the volume level was set so high and the mic placed so close to the artist, we could practically hear his dinner digesting. As a result, the audience was cheated of a balanced perspective on the beauty of this work. Worse, the guitar sounded like a twangy electric rock band variety instead of the rich, dark Spanish resonance that Rodrigo wrote for.
Ravel’s delightful “Le tombeau de Couperin,” gave welcome relief. Playing four pieces out of the six-part suite, Şensoy and the orchestra flooded the church with the dizzying bliss of Ravel’s orchestral colors, an inescapably brilliant feature of his work. Happily, all this satisfying sonority was being produced without the modern curse of artificial sound equipment.
Dancing for art and euros
Thousands of relevés, pirouettes and grand jetés galloped across the stage of Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall from June 25-30. The 3rd İstanbul International Ballet Competition, sponsored by the Turkish State Opera and Ballet and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, hosted contestants from 68 countries. The eminent Russian ballet master and choreographer Yury Grigorovich presided over a nine-member international jury. The contestants were required to meet standards within both ballet and contemporary dance.
Ballet is a demanding discipline, and I’m personally glad to see such hard-working and supremely talented artists get some money in their pockets. Dancers, whose career choice relegates them to a low rung on the income ladder, thankfully have worldwide competitions that can supplement their cash flow. İstanbul’s prizes totaled 55,000 euros this year. On the final gala evening, 15 dancers were awarded cash prizes ranging from 1,500 euros to 10,000 euros.
The Grand Prize winner was American male dancer Brooklyn Mack, whose technical and artistic brilliance captured a consistent lion’s roar of approval from the audience. I asked Mack, a member of the Washington National Ballet in the US capital, what made him decide to enter İstanbul’s competition. “It was Grigorovich’s presence on the jury that enticed me to come here. He’s a legend. He lends a high level of prestige. But, I personally like competitions in general, because you’re scrutinized in a different way. In America, we have short seasons and little money. In a competition, there’s more attention to detail and expression in the preparation process.” I asked Mack what he will do with his prize money. “Pay my rent,” he shrugged. “Washington, D.C., is very expensive.”