Wollny’s wild ride; La Fura’s flying; Say’s ‘Mesopotamia’
Fazıl Say (C) seen during the world premiere of his specially commissioned symphony “Mesopotamia” at İstanbul’s Haliç Congress Center.
German jazz pianist Michael Wollny’s Trio [EM], with bassist Eva Kruse and drummer Eric Schaefer, came to Akbank Sanat’s “Jazz Days” on June 20.
Wollny is a creative avant-gardist whose musical landscape gives the appearance of chaos but in fact is carefully synchronized. He moves from utter stillness to a steam-roller in an audacious joy ride that never stoops to cliché or bores with predictability. Though his eponymous trio has been playing his original music for 10 years, it still glistens with an exhilarating, shape-shifting journey.
With add-ons to the standard piano/bass/drum, like a short recording of a toy piano’s tones, an intimate tickling of the upright bass’ string or two, a xylophone and putting a drink glass on the piano strings, Wollny’s soundscape had many moments of delicate charm mixed with those of fortissimo overdrive where he might do as many as 10 ripping glissandos in a row. His genius lies in the perfect shape of things, the instinctual blend of reverie and revolution, and the fun we have witnessing it all live because it’s so visceral.
La Fura Dels Baus’ sky-high theater
The İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Art (İKSV) hosted the Catalan experimental street theater group La Fura Dels Baus on June 21 and 22 at the Haliç Camialtı Tersanesi in Kasımpaşa. The two performances of the specially commissioned “İstanbul, İstanbul” for İKSV’s 40th anniversary took place out-of-doors on the shipyard dock on the Haliç. The combined company of Catalans and Turks danced and sang on industrial cranes, on the sides of cargo containers and in sky-high riggings.
This unusual production (bearing a kinship to Cirque de Soleil) was thrilling for its daredevil acts, occurring tens of meters above terra firma. The theatrical aspects were well-designed sequences that used a continuous soundtrack of mostly recorded music that related to the various regions of Turkey. Two especially poignant scenes involved live singing by Sumru Ağıryürüyen, whose blood-curdling vocal ululations imparted deep historical heartache. The spectacular grand finale was the lifting of a giant flexible platform with 60 people suspended from it. At one point, all of them grabbed each other’s feet to form a huge cross-hatch pattern floating high above us in the evening air.
A C-minor evening with Fazıl Say
One of the high points in this year’s İKSV Music Festival schedule was the evening with Fazıl Say, as composer and pianist, in the Haliç Congress Center on June 23. Also starring the Borusan Philharmonic and three other soloists conducted by Gürer Aykal, this was the world premiere of Say’s specially commissioned Symphony No. 2 “Mesopotamia,” preceded by Say’s rendition of a Beethoven piano concerto.
Fazıl Say and Beethoven are soul twins. I can easily fuse Beethoven’s restless, renegade personality and iconoclastic compositions with Say’s idiosyncratic keyboard behavior and expressions of both fury and transcendental thinking in his own music. Originally scheduled to play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor,” Say evidently changed his mind and played No. 3 in C minor. I’m guessing it’s because it bears a key relationship -- literally, the key of C minor -- to what followed. His encore of his own piano solo, “Kara Toprak” (Black Earth), is based in C minor. His new symphony draws extensively on the brooding intensity of that key’s color and, in fact, he refers to “Kara Toprak” in one of the movements of “Mesopotamia.”
His performance of the concerto excavated the more ebullient aspects of the somewhat less inspired score than that of the “Emperor.” Say’s own first-movement cadenza, the semi-improvised bit near the end, was sheer brilliance. That sequence, beginning with a sinewy fugue, flew into a rhapsodic development of the theme that ended with delicate repetitions in the high register, resembling a toy piano’s tinklings. His and Aykal’s take-no-prisoners tempos for the rest of the concerto was a breathless ride that I’m sure Ludwig himself would have loved.
Before “Mesopotamia” was performed, İKSV showed a short film with Say at the keyboard, demonstrating some of its thematic material. The symphony is divided into 10 sections, each with its own title, and takes its anima from the history and mystery of the nexus of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Remembering his recent “İstanbul Symphony,” which has seven sections, I posit that Say is reinventing the symphonic format from the typical four movements to a chain of thematically related pieces.
Say’s devotion to historical figures and locations in this part of the world get his full attention, adoration and occasional opprobrium. Among the more benign titles of “Ovada iki çocuk” (Two Children in the Plain), “Ay” (Moon) and “Güneş” (Sun) are dollops of despair and destruction: “Ölüm Kültürü” (About the Culture of Death), “Kurşun” (Bullet) and “Savaş Üzerine” (About War), in which he lets us know how furious he is, with a full battering from the percussion section. Odd scrapings and creakings of metal on metal seemed to serve as connective fiber between sections.
Moving from the keyboard version in the film to the fleshed-out orchestra version, one can truly comprehend Say’s extraordinary ability to evoke an Eastern ethos through Western instruments. In this score, his soloists were Bülent Evcil on the bass flute, Çağatay Akyol on the bass recorder and Carolina Eyck on the theremin (the first electronic musical instrument invented), who skillfully contributed the eerily beautiful sounds of their less familiar timbres throughout. The overall effect of how these instruments were woven into the orchestra’s textures and his voluminous imagery from the past was one that will stick in the memory for a long time.
It might have been a C-minor evening, but it was a major event in the classical music world. The sold-out crowd, over 3,000, queued up hours early -- not to see Madonna or a soccer match -- but to hear a premiere of a new symphony. That’s major.