İDSO salutes Strugala, Casal’s cello speaks, dark jazz spooks

Polish maestro Tadeusz Strugala conducts the İstanbul State Symphony Orchestra (İDSO) during an Oct. 12 concert at the Aya İrini Museum in İstanbul. (PHOTO Piotr Dopierala)

October 16, 2012, Tuesday/ 17:37:00

The İstanbul State Symphony Orchestra (İDSO) had a lot to celebrate at their Oct. 12 concert in Aya İrini.

 This occasion marked their long relationship with Poland, Polish musicians and composers, the 40th year of Polish conductor Tadeusz Strugala’s service as a guest conductor in Turkey and his 107th performance with İDSO, and the 170th anniversary of the founding of the nearby village of Polonezköy.

Maestro Strugala received an award from the orchestra, represented by board member and principal oboist Emin Özistek. Attending this concert was the director general of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland, Jacek Olbrycht, who also expressed his wishes for the continuation of the long-term friendship of Turkey and Poland. In addition to Deniz Bank, another concert sponsor was the Consulate General of Poland, which has been connected to İDSO’s programming of Polish music and musicians, particularly in the past two years.

Maestro Strugala, who has chalked up 450 concerts in Turkey so far, is something of a movie star as well. In the 2002 film “The Pianist,” a Polish-Jewish musician’s skills as a pianist help him survive the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. A concert scene with the protagonist playing a solo with the Warsaw Philharmonic features Strugala as conductor. Movie career notwithstanding, he is one of İDSO’s favorite maestros. Ertuğrul Köse, principal horn in the orchestra, says: “We have worked with him for 40 years. We are very proud to work with him. A whole generation has grown up playing under his baton.”

Strugala energetically led the orchestra in a patriotic program that included a relatively unknown early piece by Wagner: “Polish Overture,” written to commemorate Poland’s freedom fighters of the November Uprising of 1831. Also from the mid-19th century was M.K. Oginsky’s “Polonaise in A minor (“Farewell to the Homeland”) and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 performed by Piotr Paleczny. An esteemed artist in Poland and internationally, Paleczny has a special fondness for this concerto. “This is the piece that I won the Chopin Competition with,” he said in an interview with me, “so it’s very close to my heart.” And a heartfelt performance it was, replete with expressivity that never overly indulged its inherent sentimentality. The second movement’s graceful sweetness was a high point. He rewarded the audience with two encores by Chopin. His only demon to struggle with was Aya İrini’s acoustics that threatened the clarity of solo piano performance, especially in speedy sections. The Turkish touch that concluded the program was Erkin’s sprightly “Köçekçe,” which suffered the same fate as speedy pianism in the voluminous church. But this celebratory evening will long be remembered in the annals of Polish-Turkish history.

Tempest Trio at         Albert Long Hall

Boğaziçi University’s Classical Concerts kicked off their 2012-13 weekly concert season on Oct. 10 with the Tempest Trio -- violinist Ilya Keler, cellist Amit Peled and pianist Alon Goldstein -- who performed trios by Beethoven, Bloch and Brahms. But there was a fourth performer that night that had every right to steal the spotlight -- Pablo Casal’s cello.

This cello’s sound shone unmistakably with a glowing personality. Boğaziçi concerts director Evin İlyasoğlu commented, “It’s a whole orchestra unto itself!” The rich sonority stood out in the beginning of Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 1, and throughout Ernest Bloch’s untitled, rhapsodic trio in three movements. Even Peled’s tuning process before the pieces provided ear candy.

The three musicians, just having arrived from the United States that same day, managed to turn in a sizzling performance despite their jet lag. Violinist Keler quipped, “We use Duracell -- we just keep on going,” also referring to the next morning’s flight to another country. Tempos never lagged and tone was brilliant.

I asked Peled after the concert how he had acquired Casal’s cello. “I played for Casal’s widow and she offered it to me. As of today, I’ve had it for only two weeks, and I’ll get to use it for two years,” he explained. “It was Pablo’s cello since 1913, and it hadn’t been played in a long time. When I first took it, I was shaking! But strangely enough, the first sounds were disappointing because it had been asleep for many years. I wanted just to play the open strings at first. I wait for ‘him’ to suggest to me.” Casals’ cello is already singing bold and beautiful arias.

Dark jazz

The Kilimanjaro Dark Jazz Ensemble played at Babylon on Oct. 10 as part of the ongoing Akbank Jazz Festival. This Dutch group of five musicians originally came together in 1999 to create new soundtracks for the classic films “Nosferatu” and “Metropolis.” Since then, they’ve continued making their distinctive gloomy soundscapes they christened “dark jazz.”

I first discovered the dark jazz genre (and this group) on Internet radio and loved its continuous flow of ambient darkness that wasn’t funereal. I was curious to see how it could work in live performance. At Babylon, they showed fuzzy old black & white film clips behind them while their extended acoustic and electronic blend wove itself into our subconscious. It’s never boring because each sonic landscape changes with each psychic kilometer. There are no grooves, no words and no obvious framework: just an ominous, dynamic texture with occasional ionospheric storms or a muffled scream.

I asked co-founder Jason Köhnen how he defines dark jazz. “Well, it’s all about space and darkness,” he explained. “It’s mysterious, and it leaves space for your imagination. Even though I was born in the ‘70s, I grew up with the noir films of the ‘30s and ‘40s, so we have a dark mindset from these film references.” To me, dark jazz is more a reflection of the new millennium’s plunge back into the Dark Ages -- the blue funk that underscores the existential angst of the corporate takeover. In Kilimanjaro’s final moments, their bodies left the stage, but their laptops continued the sound.

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