20th-century musical gems at Süreyya and Enka
Süreyya Opera House's Monday night chamber music series welcomed the Ankara Contemporary Music Ensemble on Nov. 26. The octet of strings and winds performed an appealing program of 20th-century works by Ulvi Cemal Erkin and Sergei Prokofiev. Each of these two composers had individual ways of challenging old systems and drawing upon folk sources for inspiration.

The program was dedicated to the 40th anniversary of Erkin's death in 1972. Erkin represented, along with Ahmet Adnan Saygun and others, a unique way of showing Turkish influences in the harmonic and rhythmic life of his pieces. Born in 1906, Erkin was educated at Galatasaray Lisesi and received rigorous training at the Paris Conservatoire with the formidable pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. When he returned to Turkey in 1930, he became one of the "Turkish Five" (with Saygun, Cemal Reşit Rey, Hasan Ferit Alnar and Necil Kazım Akses), a group that created new directions for music composition in the early days of the Turkish Republic. Erkin's String Quartet and Piano Quintet, heard in this concert, showed how he fits his Eastern roots into the language of Western polyphony.

Although Erkin's most well-known composition is "Köçekçe," an entertaining orchestral piece that reflects the energies of Turkish folk music, his more serious works reveal a composer who, while challenging traditional boundaries, also clung to certain tried-and-true elements. His string quartet was an imaginative exercise in skillful avoidance of Western triads (do-mi-sol chord structure) and instead only using octaves, fourths and fifths as materials; whereas his piano quintet reveled in major triadic endings, as well as a bit of jazz, tips of the hat to Khachaturian and Shostakovich, and employed plenty of infectious syncopations. One overused facet, in my opinion, was the many one-by-one fugal entrances in the string quartet, usually starting with the cello and working upward. This Western idiom, commonly used in the baroque era, tended to stultify Erkin's otherwise exploratory spectrum. But his use of the Phrygian mode (common to Turkish melodies) in the final movement of the quintet wove a striking East-West tapestry of sound.

The performers involved in Erkin's pieces were violinists Ebru Karaağaç and Tangör Ertaş, violist Feza Gökmen, cellist Onur Şenler and pianist Kamerhan Turan. Cellist Şenler's tonal allure and technical proficiency shined throughout.

Prokofiev's Quintet, Op. 39 for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and double-bass is closely related to his "Trapeze" (written for a ballet) and is, in fact, a bit of a high-wire act. The composer was in Paris in 1924 for the dance troupe's engagement and the company only had these particular musicians, which inspired him to create works for that mix of instruments. The quintet's inherent tension and discordance until the final resulting C-major chord suggests his experimentation with the grittier aspects of these instruments, particularly in their high ranges. He gives only slight support duties to the bass, which is the only low voice under the screeching trebles above.

Prokofiev's "Overture on a Jewish Theme" is scored for string quartet, clarinet and piano, and is a complete stylistic contrast to the quintet. For this more melodic and charismatic sextet, which was commissioned by a Russian-Jewish ensemble in 1919, he exploits traditional folk songs with humor and evokes a bittersweet but festive tone throughout. Clarinetist Nusret İspir excelled here, as did oboist Selçuk Akyol in the quintet.

Café Tango's Argentinean/Turkish mix

One of the projects of the İstanbul Arp Sanatı Derneği (Art of the Harp Association) under the direction of harpist Şirin Pancaroğlu is "Café Tango," a delightful program of tango music with a bit of staging. After it made its debut in 2010 at İş Sanat, it was such a success that a revival was organized for this year at the Enka Cultural Center in İstinye on Nov. 27.

Pancaroğlu set the stage as if the audience were sitting in a café. She explains: "Imagine entering a café in Buenos Aires. What would it be like? I wanted to recreate the atmosphere. There would be playing, dancing, sipping coffee, tables, chairs, potted plants, even a coat rack. My guitarist Ricardo Moyano and bandoneonist Carlos Gustavo Batistessa both live in İstanbul, fortunately, so we put together our original group with two dancers, two harps, bass, flute viola and singer. Sometimes I ask people from the audience to sit at the onstage tables. We don't stop to take a bow after we finish a number, we just continue like it's real life."

The Nov. 27 version had guitarist Moyano and bandoneonist Batistessa and added singer Dilek Türkan and double-bassist Arda Ardaşes Agoşyan. Dancers Ali Alper Özdemir and Setenay Ersoy contributed an elegant visual life to the scenario. Fourteen tangos, some instrumental and some vocal, were a mixture of well-known tangos by Argentine composers Astor Piazzolla, Hector Samponi, Carlos Gardel and Augustine Bardi, but also included those of Turkish composers İbrahim Özgür, Necip Celal and Fehmi Ege. "In general," Pancaroğlu says, "the music is inspired from a piano score, and we improvise and arrange it kind of on the spot. We can do that, instead of just reading charts, because the musicians are so good. But for this concert, Agoşyan arranged the Turkish tangos, and we played them for the first time here."

"Tangos, originally from Argentina, were spreading throughout Europe in the '40s and '50s, including Turkey," says Pancaroğlu. "In the '50s and '60s, Turkish Radio would play them and Turkish composers started to write their own. People loved them." It was often hard to tell the difference between the Argentinean and the Turkish tangos, although Türkan's singing with Turkish lyrics gave it away. The fact that the audience sang along in a few of them was an indication of how far back this musical genre was adopted here, and still continues -- through Pancaroğlu's, and now with Agoşyan's, fine efforts.

(Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2012-12-04 20:00:01
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