A night at the Antalya Symphony is a bit different from symphony concerts at home. First, the theater is in a large park, and you walk down a path lined with fragrant pine trees and whimsical statues to get there. Also, their seating system isn’t computerized; a little old lady at the box office takes your 10 lira (5 if you’re a student or senior citizen), about $6.50, marks an x on a seating chart and writes the number of your seat on a piece of paper. Sometimes she writes the same number twice, but this can easily be resolved at your seat; the large, modern theater is usually only half full. But audiences are enthusiastic; you can expect to hear a movement of a concerto repeated as an encore.
Turks may not get excited about particular seats, but they do get excited about politics. At a recent concert, which was billed as “Celebrating the 2016 exhibition”, someone came to the podium to speak about the exhibition. He was heckled before he could complete a sentence. People were standing up, pointing at him and screaming “We didn’t come here to see you! You’re not on the program!” He was attempting to show some slides of the plans, but the audience was having none of it, and I was afraid a riot was going to break out.
Why all the fuss? Well, the speaker was a politician from the AKP ( the conservative Justice and Development Party), the party of current Prime Minister Erdogan. Antalya, being a liberal bastion and a University town, is predominantly CHP ( Republican People’s Party). The audience didn’t want to listen to someone from the AKP, regardless of what he had to say. Before long a large portion of the crowd was chanting and clapping “concert, concert!”, and the speaker left the stage with his tail between his legs.
This week’s concert , in which all the drama came from the music, was especially satisfying. It began with the bizarre cello concerto of Friedrich Gulda. The first movement’s main theme was a a 12 bar blues, which was odd enough, but what really made it weird was that the section was punctuated with a Mozartian cadence leading into the contrasting lyrical theme. The juxtaposition made me laugh out loud; it reminded me of those PDQ Bach concerts I used to go to In high school. But this wasn’t a joke, and I was the only one laughing. Oops.
And that was just the first movement. The last movement sounded like an organ grinder heralding Barnum and Baily. What is this supposed to be?
(On a side note – When I found this on YouTube, I was surprised to recognize the conductor, Christian Arming, with whom I worked at Strasbourg’s Opera National du Rhin when I was singing Kontchakovna in Prince Igor. I didn’t recognize the cellist, but my katakana was just good enough for me to sound out “kapuson” and find the cellist Gautier Capucon, who happens to be performing in Ankara next month.)
The theater was packed, which usually only happens at free holiday pops concerts and performances by Turkey’s classical music star, Fazil Say. A program of an obscure cello concerto and a Dvorak Symphony didn’t seem to fit the pattern. Only after I read the program did I realize it was the conductor they had come to see.
Gürer Aykal, Music Director of the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic from its founding in 1999 until 2008, has quite the resume. After completing studies on the violin and composition (under Ahmet Adnan Saygun, about whom I wrote earlier) at Ankara State Conservatory he went on to the Guildhall in London where he studied conducting with Andre Previn, and then to Rome for his DMA at the Santa Cecilia Academy. He’s conducted many major orchestras, including the London Philharmonic and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw.
He was also the founder of the Antalya Symphony, so audiences here owe him a great debt. I could feel the reverence in the theater when he spoke. Although I found the Gulda concerto bizarre, I couldn’t fault the performance of the ensemble or the superb Italian cellist Massimo Macro. The Dvorak Symphony #7 was passionate and exciting, and was especially enjoyable because it was new to me. It’s always a great experience hearing a masterpiece for the first time, and I was grateful to have been introduced to the piece by this spirited performance.
With its near-perfect weather and natural beauty, there are many advantages to living in Antalya. But who would have thought its Symphony Orchestra would be one of them?Google+