İstanbul’s music scene offers a dizzying number of choices every evening of the week -- and that’s just in the classical realm alone.
Additionally, there are plenty of venues that cross breed genres and come up with fun combinations. So instead of hitting the big halls to hear the symphonies and operas, I dropped in to see what was happening at some of the smaller venues in Beyoğlu.
I found variety and innovation.
The intimate jazz room Alt offered an evening of guitarist Bilâl Karaman’s version of gypsy swing; the German Consulate General hosted young cellist Nicolas Altstaedt, whose repertoire sparkles with experimentation; and the Borusan Music House presented an intriguing trio from Karlsruhe, the Kammerflimmer Kollektief, in a concert of dreamy, ambient music.
German cellist Altstaedt, the newly appointed successor to Gidon Kremer as director of the famed Lockenhaus Chamber Music Festival in Austria (which pays attention to lesser-known works), played an eclectic solo recital at the German Consulate General on April 4. At the spacious and acoustically vibrant Imperial Hall inside the historic consulate building in Taksim, Altstaedt began with the six-part Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major by Bach, but it felt almost as if he were playing the 17th century viola da gamba instead. His expert Baroque styling, emphasizing where a phrase is going rather than where it happens to be; the feathered cadences; and the energized but unpressured tone all forged consummate authenticity. He knows how to strip the music to its bare essentials, letting only the instrument (and Bach) speak without the player’s own ego interfering. The fact that it was played by memory lifted the interpretation to an even higher realm.
Leaping immediately to the 20th century, Altstaedt chose an extraordinarily dramatic piece by Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe -- his “Requiem,” written in 1979. For this, the cellist tuned his lowest string down a whole tone, a technique known as scordatura, “to give it a darker feeling,” explained Altstaedt. The six-part suite, particularly the extremely evocative third section, “Qui Mariam,” used simultaneous plucking and bowing, haunting medieval melodies, sudden violent scrubbing with the bow and heartbreakingly plangent motifs to express all levels of grief and anger, resignation and serenity.
After three very short pieces from “Játékok” by György Kurtág, Altstaedt launched into Australian composer Carl Vine’s “Inner World,” written in 1954 for tape and cello. This was a pulsating, cinematic piece that had a wide dimension and forward energy propelling us to its exciting climax. The tape part was more engaging than the cello part, largely because the cello was relegated to intermittent contributions, while the tape’s momentum never stopped. Compelling nevertheless, this piece was a fascinating example of an early work involving prerecorded elements. It and the Peter Sculthorpe piece deserve more performances around the world. I’m guessing the Lockenhaus Festival will be next.
Le hot club d’İstanbul
Also on April 4, but into the wee hours, Bilâl Karaman’s gypsy swing band occupied Alt, the little club tucked away in Beyoğlu’s warren of side streets off İstiklal Caddesi. This night, Alt became le hot club d’İstanbul with the sounds of “manouche” gypsy styles, jazz standards, polkas, waltzes and tangos under the leadership of guitarist Karaman, whose artistic resemblance to the great Django Reinhardt is unmistakable. A French gypsy (called Manouche in France), Reinhardt and his legendary rhythmic imprint on jazz stylings became known via his Quintette du Hot Club de France in the 1930s.
Karaman’s group: Violinist/vocalist İlker Görgülü, rhythm guitarist Jaime Fernandez and contrabassist Baran Say kept the crowd bouncing in their seats as they sailed through first-rate arrangements of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Ochi Chornya” (Black Eyes), “Tico-Tico,” old Turkish waltzes and tangos, “When I’m 64,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and Reinhardt’s famous “Minor Swing.”
Karaman admits that “playing gypsy jazz is tough. It has an unrelenting drive, which you can’t break.” He manages, though, to inject solo flights of comparative musical repose in creative introductions before the engine revs up. This is where his ingenuity and technical prowess are especially evident. He’s no ordinary guitarist; what he brings to any genre is stunningly deft and memorable. For this night, his finely wrought renditions reflected “my respect for Django and his people.” Karaman next brings his magic, with French jazz violinist Pierre Blanchard, to Nardis Jazz Club on May 16.
Kammerflimmer’s sound world
A childlike voice uttering a few nonsense syllables, a subterranean drone tone, repeated watery chords and tinkling little bells are some of the disembodied elements that are woven together in Kammerflimmer Kollektief’s ambient soundscape, connected by a single heartbeat.
The Kollektief: singer Heike Aumüller (voices, synthesizer, harmonium, bells), Johannes Frisch (double bass, electric bass) and Thomas Weber (electric guitars, loops, devices) created mysterious music without end on April 5 at Borusan Music House. They were part of the in-house Nova Muzak Series curated by Necati Tüfenk. Because what they do is hard to pigeonhole, I asked bassist Frisch how they themselves describe their music. “We don’t really know,” was his response. “It’s perhaps a little bit of everything and maybe nothing that has existed.” But they’ve existed as a successful performing group for more than 10 years, so they’re doing something right. Based in Karlsruhe, Germany, the alternative trio has found its audience among those who prefer a softer, kinder musical universe, but not without some dissonance. Far from sweet, their music harbors a slightly evil edginess and occasional lustful indulgence in all-out chaos. But they always come back to their baseline mood that suggests the eerie beauty of being in an underwater world.