Burçin Büke, whose talent has crossed Turkey’s borders and made him more well known overseas than in his homeland as one of the most important contemporary classical pianist/composers Turkey has raised, released his newest album of original compositions in mid-October.
Titled “Gözbebeğim” (The Apple of My Eye), the album is seen by experts as Büke’s masterpiece. In it, the 45-year-old musician praised for his wide repertoire ranging from baroque to jazz, presents 11 original compositions, on which he is accompanied by bass baritone Zafer Erdaş in vocals, Ayşe Özbekgil on violin, Yahya Dai on saxophone, Volkan Hürsever on contrabass and Deniz Dündar on drums.
Büke was born in İzmir in 1966. He started taking his first piano lessons at the age of five from his father, who was also a musician, thus taking the first step to later being billed as a child prodigy. Büke won the Extraordinary Talent Prize given by the Ankara Conservatory in 1977 and completed the normally 11-year study in the Ankara Conservatory in five years, obtaining the right to become a member of the teaching staff at the age of 16.
In a recent interview, Büke spoke to Sunday’s Zaman about his new album, discussions on arabesque music in Turkey and how he feels about being billed as a “wonder child.”
Your newest album “Gözbebeğim” is being billed as your masterpiece. How do you assess these assessments?
This assessment is something that happened outside my control [but] it surely pleases me to hear. I can say it is the most important of the eight albums I have recorded to date. In it I brought together a selection of compositions I have been keeping in a corner for years. It includes a very colorful collection.
Is there a story to the album’s emergence?
All the songs [on the album] have different stories behind them. First the birth of my son, Sarp, and later my daughter, Maya, inspired me to compose new pieces. In time, as my compositions grew in number, my close friends and fans started asking me to record an album made up in its entirety of my own compositions. I put all my inspiration from people, nature, and the foreign countries I visit frequently [for concerts] together in my compositions.
You are sometimes criticized by other classical musicians for moving between various musical styles. What is your response to these kinds of comments?
I love them all and listen to their music with respect, but I bet they would all like to play the piano as I do. There’s no classical musician who does not like to play jazz, and vice versa. However, most of the time you cannot have two things at the same time, and not everyone is capable of that.
On the album there are two poems by Yunus Emre that you set to music. Last year you took part in a collective project on Yunus Emre with two other artists. What is the basis of your love for the Sufi poet and mystic?
Yunus to Anatolia was what Dante was to Florence in the 13th century. We premiered [a project called] “Yunus Emre: 5 Duyu” [Yunus Emre: Five Senses] in May 2010, which generated quite a hype. Yunus Emre’s humanist approach, sincerity and messages inspired me. I think we should first learn about our own culture and make peace with it. In my concerts abroad I play the pieces set to his poems and I try as much as I can to convey his [philosophy through my music.]
Doesn’t the title “Apple of My Eye” sound a little “arabesque-ish” for a classical music CD?
This album is not a standard classical music CD, nor is it a jazz or pop CD. It’s an album that presents the vibes that I feel. A person’s children are the apple of his or her eye. If this is the cause of the definition, then I am an “arabesque” person.
Speaking of which, there’ve been arguments going on -- again -- in Turkey about arabesque music, as of late. Where do you stand in this long-standing debate?
I’ve been hearing about those arguments. It should be admitted that there’s some arabesque [spirit] in each and every member of Turkish society, but your outlook is on the matter is important. I am a person who listens to all kinds of music, no matter what the genre, and is nourished by their beautiful aspects. I mean, if I like listening to Müslüm Gürses or Orhan Gencebay, am I not allowed to play Chopin? We’re in Turkey, a country where so many different cultures live side-by-side. Here, there are people who love both Chopin and Orhan Gencebay; both Sezen Aksu and The Beatles; both Beethoven and Pink Floyd. Some go to the opera, some frequent Türkü (Turkish folk music) bars. People should be free in making their musical choices.
Turkey has many classical instrumentalists; however, only a number of them are constantly in the limelight. In this respect, do you think there’s a certain lobby in the field of classical music in Turkey?
As an İzmir-born musician, I have not received an invitation to play at the İzmir International [classical music] Festival to date -- despite having played in many prestigious concert halls and festivals around the world. Of course there’s a lobby; it’s always the same soloists, the same repertoires, people who await new projects but at the same time have no idea of what quality music is, organizers who strive to bring the most popular musicians to festivals and earn the biggest money through ticket sales. Festivals are crucial for the promotion of a country overseas, not for commerce. … In these respects, yes there’s a certain music lobby in Turkey. And more sadly, I have musician friends who are supportive of this [system].
Do you think this lobby is against you? Do you think this has a role in preventing you from being better a known name in Turkey’s classical music scene despite your brilliant career?
I’m trying to stay away from polemics. I’m just doing my job. Every day I work harder to play the piano better and try to make it a part of my nature as much as I can. If the audience at my concert leaves the hall content, I’m the happiest person on earth. Does an instrumentalist play better when he or she is more popular? That’s something I’m not capable of answering. As for the lobby, of course they don’t want me [to succeed], but they have to answer why, not me. Yet I’m sure of one thing, they will never be able to feel the delight I feel when I’m playing my piano.
In Turkey, classical music has always been imposed and seen as a criterion for modernity. But you’ve always remained outside these discussions. How do you assess this kind of outlook?
I find it extremely ridiculous. Is there a prerequisite that says jazz and classical musicians are more intellectual [than other artists]? Germany is the country that raised such classical musicians as Beethoven and Bach, but this doesn’t mean there are no shallow people in Germany.
Many classical musicians in Turkey take part in various projects from time-to-time in an effort to increase the public’s knowledge of the genre. Does everyone really have to love classical music?
When a musician sincerely introduces his or her product to the audience, even if a person is hearing your work for the first time, even if he or she doesn’t understand what you do, they should at least respect it.
A [pianist] must make the 88 keys of his piano speak, instead of speaking himself. For a musician, making music must be the focus; the rest is nothing but ridiculousness.
Has the epithet “wonder child” ever disturbed you?
I can’t say I like it. The only reason I managed to complete the 11-year education at the conservatory in only five years is my talent in playing the piano. Whereas “wonder kid,” as an adjective, can define such musicians as Mozart, Liszt, Paganini and Beethoven. One should know his or her place.
What is your biggest dream for your career?
There’s no end to dreams. I wish I could travel across Anatolia to discover young talents -- even if I have to continuously travel from one village to another. But, you know, it’s difficult.