Classical music is appreciated in Turkey, Say says
İpek Yezdani – ISTANBULThe notion that classical music is devoid of interest in Turkey is simply not true, according to internationally acclaimed pianist and composer Fazıl Say.
The perception that “classical music is not appreciated in Turkey and that my compositions do not draw the interest they deserve” are not true, Say recently told daily Hürriyet after he received the International Beethoven Prize for Human Rights, Peace, Freedom, Poverty Reduction and Inclusion, one of the world’s most prestigious awards given by the Bonn-based Beethoven Academy, on Dec. 17.
Hürriyet recently sat down with Say in his home in Istanbul.
Last week, you received the International Beethoven Prize. What is the meaning of this prize for you?
This prize is not only related to music; it is full of Beethoven’s ideals. He was a composer with ideals like freedom and peace. He contributed to history not only with his music but also with his manner. This prize also has a humane goal. The revenue from the concert at the prize ceremony is donated to those who make music in refugee camps.
In your speech at the ceremony, you defined yourself as a multicultural bridge.
Since my childhood, Turkey has been in a Westernization process; so there is such a reality: I make classical Western music but I am a Turk. Therefore, I present something universal, something that Turkish people do not know well. I have played Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin in many places in Anatolia, even in villages. But as a composer, I have played the music of this land in many parts of the world. For example, “Istanbul Symphony,” “Black Earth” – which was composed in memory of Aşık Veysel – “Nazım Oratorio,” “Mesopotamia,” “Alevi Fathers,” et cetera. I have brought music from Turkey to the world.
Your works mostly have themes regarding Turkey. At the same time, you give place to Turkish rhythms in your compositions. Are they demanded in international circles?
When you look at the prizes I received and more than 120 concerts [I have given] in the world, you see the reaction abroad. It has been continuing for 20 years. I am a Turkish composer; of course it will be demanded more if I take something from Turkey. If I go to Germany and compose a work like a German, what would happen? Why would a Turk make a German-like composition in Germany? Music creates universal friendships; we know each other through music.
Before the prize ceremony in Germany, you made a call on social media, saying, “People from each section of society are invited to this honorable ceremony.” Did your call find an answer?
Yes, it did. The Turkish society in Germany was already interested. The concert hall was full; half were Germans and half were Turks. Some Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies were present, too, as well as German ministers and deputies. At the state level, Culture Minister Nabi Avcı called me to congratulate me. I wish they had been present, too. Over the last 10 years, I got my share from the process in Turkey; my works were removed from programs. Wrong decisions were taken, closing the way of scholars, scientists and the like. I think that this mistake needs to be corrected, and we need to be friends again. I think that there is nothing wrong in my promoting Turkish music to the world or world music to Turkey.
What did you feel when you got the call from Avcı?
I want Turkey’s people to be friends, to understand each other and embrace their own values at first. Otherwise, we will be a weak country. If we exclude our valuable academics or musicians, this will be the biggest mistake. I believe that this mistake will be corrected. Because it yields no result. In this regard, it is nice that the minister made a call to offer congratulations.
Do you think you are appreciated in Turkey as much as you are appreciated abroad?
I receive awards in Turkey. Until 2009, I had received some 20 honorary doctorate and honorary professorship titles in Turkey. I guess it stopped due to political reasons. But we have lots of artistic awards given for our CDs and concerts. There is a wrong perception: It is said “Classical music does not draw interest in Turkey, Fazıl Say is not appreciated.” This is not true. For example, there is crisis in all musical branches in Turkey. CD sales and concerts have stopped. But tickets for our “Nazım Oratorio” concert on Dec. 25 and 26 at the 4,500-capacity hall were sold out in two-three days. Tickets for the second and the third concert are sold out, too. I know only one name in Turkey who can reach the same figures: Tarkan. There is nothing like “Fazıl Say is not appreciated, nobody goes to his concerts, classical music is not understood.” My “İlk Şarkılar” (First Songs) CD was on top of the pop charts for five months. It is my best-selling album in Turkey. Turkish people like music with lyrics; this is a true.
What about your current projects?
I have a piano music work “Art of Piano.” I want it to be in 12 parts. I have so far composed three parts. The titled of the first part is “In Memoriam.” It reflects my feelings and mourning for the terror attack at the Ankara Train Station on Oct. 10, 2015. I played “In Memoriam” in Turkey 10-15 times.
As a country and society, we have been going through difficult days. May classical music have a healing effect on people during such times?
Last year I played in a documentary shot by Austrians. Its theme was “Is music therapy?” it will be premiered next month at the Mozart Festival in Salzburg. Yes, music is therapy to me. People in my concerts say the same thing. There is no need for languages as communication through sounds and music is spiritual.
You said “I have received more than 50 awards but the cats broke them.” How many cats do you have?
We’ve had lots of cats in this house. My daughter Kumru loved them; we used to have at last three to five cats at home all the time. We’ve had 15-20 cats in total so far. They slap and break the awards on the shelves. One of them was my ECHO award presented for the “Istanbul Symphony.” Now Kumru is abroad, and the days with cats are over. But I miss cats.