Turkish viola doyen Ruşen Güneş dies
Fuad Kavur – LONDON
Ruşen was born on March 17, 1940 in Ankara where, after primary school, as a musical prodigy, he was sent to study violin at the Ankara State Conservatory. However, in 1963, winning a scholarship, he was sent to the Royal College of Music in London, where he switched from violin to viola.
Soon after graduating, Ruşen was snatched by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, then by the BBC Symphony, ending up in 1972 at the Royal Opera House Orchestra, where he led the viola section, under the baton of countless legendary conductors including Karl Böhm, Otto Klemperer, Wolfgang Sawalisch, Joseph Krips, Sir Colin Davis and Sir Georg Solti.
Indeed, it was at the Royal Opera Covent Garden, in the 1970s, where I was working as an assistant stage director when I met Ruşen. Sharing a love of music and life, we soon became close friends. Those days Ruşen lived in London’s Hampstead, with his attractive English wife Ruth, a violinist whom he had met while both students at the Royal College of Music, and their two toddlers, Leyla and Kerim.
I was a frequent visitor to their house, often abusing their hospitality, chatting about life and listening to records until late.
By the late 1970s I left Covent Garden, now working exclusively with Sir Peter Ustinov. However, if less frequently, Ruşen and I still saw each other fairly regularly. Indeed, in 1984, he was of great help to me in “fixing” the session players, when I produced a movie, “Memed My Hawk,” and needed an orchestra to record the film score.
Ruşen handpicked the players, the best instrumentalists in London, for the recording sessions. Sadly, the Greek composer, Manos Hadjidakis, failed to finish the score on time, and we had to record in Athens.
In the 1990’s, Ruşen moved on to become the principal viola at the London Symphony Orchestra- alongside Berlin, Chicago Symphony, and the Vienna Philharmonic, one of the very top symphony orchestras in the world. By then, Ruşen was also a most sought-after soloist, recording the Walton and Hindemith Viola Concerti; and working with John Williams, Pinkhas Zukerman and Daniel Barenboim.
Sadly, also by then, Ruşen’s marriage had dissolved - and to my surprise - he left a magnificent house with a huge garden, which he just had bought, to his wife, because he did not want “the children to grow up in a different house.” So, without a word, he moved into a minute bed-sitter. Happily, a few years later, he found his foot again, and married his second wife, Karin, a most gentle and devoted South African lady.
Ruşen was also a great promoter of Turkish music, performing works by Adnan Saygun, Necil Kazim Akses, İlhan Usmanbaş and Yalçın Tura, who composed pieces especially for him.
Moreover, he has many recordings with İdil Biret, and with Suna Kan, most notably, the Symphony Concertante by Mozart.
Ruşen was a professor of music at İzmir Yaşar University and was made a “State Artist” of the Republic of Turkey.
On a final personal note, despite all the achievements and the accolades, there was one characteristic which distinguished Ruşen from others: He had absolutely no “airs or graces” — quite common in the world of classical music. Most of all, “honor” meant a lot to him. That, I believe, was the secret of his philosophy of life.