Borusan philharmonic rockets into the new concert season
The Borusan Philharmonic opened its 2011-12 season on Oct. 13 in Lütfi Kırdar Concert Hall with a program that revealed its phenomenal growth since maestro Sascha Goetzel officially took the helm in 2008.
In music by Hector Berlioz, Richard Strauss, Florent Schmitt, and Edouard Lalo, with violin soloist Vadim Repin, they showed the ability to quickly master a challenging new repertoire with technical finesse and ensemble polish. Additionally, it demonstrated a welcome commitment to moving far beyond the “Top 40” classical programming.
Strauss’ orchestral tone poem “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks” describes an impudent trickster from medieval German folklore who trotted around the countryside on his horse with an owl and a mirror, playing practical jokes. The colorful orchestration depicts Till’s adventures riding through a market upsetting the wares, flirting and chasing girls, poking fun at the clergy, upsetting the academics, and his resulting beheading. It concludes with the post-mortem echo of Till’s maniacal laughter. The score has wonderful solo opportunities for two instrumentalists who embody Till’s quirky character. Clarinetist Barış Yalçınkaya expertly screeched out the many acrobatic phrases imitating Till’s laughter (or maybe his owl), and horn player Cem Akçora delivered the famous opening horn call, Till’s theme, with precision. This performance was a premiere, both for this orchestra and for İstanbul. It was a joyful but careful rendition, so it has the potential to be fearless in future performances.
Lalo’s “Symphonie Espagnole” is actually the equivalent of two violin concertos, and the orchestra is an accompanist to a virtuoso showpiece for the soloist. Vadim Repin spun the magic with both sweet radiant tone and rapid-fire prowess throughout the five movements, the last of which is the most famous due to its catchy tune and technical wizardry a la Paganini. The obstacle to ensemble integrity is the constant change of tempo; the solo part invariably shifts from one mood to the next without warning. For this, Maestro Goetzel, who has conducted innumerable divas and operas, is an expert.
Schmitt’s “The Tragedy of Salomé” is a forgotten masterpiece of French impressionism. On this evening, Borusan makes a cogent case for injecting this intensely descriptive dance suite into the general symphonic repertoire. Originally composed for a ballet in 1910, it owes a lot to Debussy’s influence; in fact, there are numerous moments that seem to quote him directly. Devoted to one of history’s famous femme fatales, it begins with a very dark and foreboding prelude, then envelops us in decadent opulence, and ultimately plunges us into the emotional whirlpool of Salomé’s violent end. It makes us wish we could have seen the original ballet.
The fact that this orchestra, 14 years after its founding and three years after Goetzel took on the task of shaping and refining, can now succeed in this challenging season-opener after a long summer break is a testament to its exciting present and its thrilling future. “Imagine, if they can do this well at the beginning [of the season],” said Goetzel after the concert. “What will happen next? It’s a rocket, ready to take off!”
Two innovative guitarists
American guitarist Dominic Frasca and Italian guitarist Stefano Barone made their İstanbul debuts at the İstanbul Jazz Center in Ortaköy on Oct. 15 for two sets of, well, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what their music is. It’s not jazz, per se, but it’s best described as a stream of consciousness that sounds improvised. The club’s owner, Aytek Şermet, admits the music of Frasca and Barone is not everyone’s cup of tea. “It’s alternative, but that’s OK,” he says. I want people to experience different kinds of music.”
Şermet, in trolling for interesting music on the Internet, found Frasca on YouTube and liked his innovation. Frasca plays a custom-made guitar with 10 strings and with small metal screwed-in capos (for changing keys) that populate the fingerboard like polka dots. Frasca plays exclusively his own music on this instrument. He’s wired to a laptop and a series of hookups that allow him to record instantly and play duets with himself. While this equipment is now standard for pop/rock guitarists these days, Frasca, however, is not playing in any band. “My first gigs were with a rock band, and because I didn’t get along with the members, I wrote a tune to get rid of the drummer.” That “tune” was what next played -- a complicated repetitious texture whose rhythmic meters changed unpredictably.
While hilarious in its original intent, that composition served to carve his future -- creating soundscapes that use minimalist-style repetition. “I’m definitely influenced by Steve Reich,” he admits. “When I was in school in the ’80s, Reich and [Philip] Glass were laughed at. But their music impacted me in a visceral way.” Frasca’s own palpably visceral music is punctuated by percussive hits with his thumb while strumming and picking. The effect is almost orchestral.
Barone’s music, similarly minimalist in nature, has a different personality. A recording of Charlie Chaplin’s voice from his 1940 film “The Great Dictator” begins a long and somber soliloquy where we feel the utter futility of the truth of his words. It’s not a downer at all; in fact, it’s a soul trip coming from Barone’s heart. Another piece started with the sounds of an orchestra tuning up before he pulled his own sounds through various loops, and using an E-bow, a magnetic device that vibrates the strings. His use of minimalism is less about structured repetition and more about free sketching.
Technical aspects aside, once you let yourself flow inside their music, it’s satisfying because they intuitively know the correct psychological timing of their phraseology. And if you trust where they take you, you will be changed. Both Frasca and Barone may be united by the medium but offer us highly individual journeys into their (and our own) inner sanctums.