TSO’s Istanbul Symphony

featuring Hakan Güngör, Burcu Karadağ, and Aykut Köselerli under Howard Griffiths

Dear TSO,

I think you’ve found your calling. Tonight’s program was just remarkable.

And I’ll explain what that is, but first I want to say that I’ve come to have a large degree of trust in the Taipei Symphony’s programming. Varga puts on lots of stuff I’ve never heard or even heard of, that could make me as a ticket buyer a bit hesitant about getting a ticket to this or that concert, but I have increasingly been beyond impressed, thrilled, blown away by not only the interesting programs, but how spectacularly they’re played, and tonight was no exception.

I’d never heard anything from Fazıl Say, that I could say, but six months ago, when these tickets wen on sale, the uniqueness of this program struck me, and I bought a ticket based solely on TSO’s history of success.

Fast forward six months to an unseasonably warm and then eventually cool and rainy November day, when I realize that this performance must certainly be the Taiwan premiere of the work, so I asked a TSO friend, and indeed it was. Also, it turns out, it’s a ‘shared’ Asian premiere. If you follow Say on Instagram, you’ll see he’s in Japan, where the work was performed this same evening, under the baton of the conductor who came here almost exactly a year ago to lead the TSO in a delightful performance of Mahler’s fourth symphony.

So they played it an hour before we did, but we got Howard Griffiths and the above soloists, who all took part in the world premiere of the work, to my understanding.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First on the program was Respighi’s Belkis Queen of Sheba suite, a spectacular, vibrant piece that Griffiths led with both power and delicacy. It was a wonderful setup for the Istanbul Symphony, the obvious star of the evening, but it itself is a really wonderful composition. If you’ve heard any of the composer’s Roman Triptych and came anywhere close to liking it, definitely check out this suite. In any case, it’s a colorful, intoxicatingly exotic-sounding work that the TSO gave a passionate, convincing reading of, casting a spell on the audience that would hold for at least the rest of the concert, if not hours to follow.

Intermission and a potty break. We are very excited for what is to come.

Except I have literally zero idea of what this piece is about, but was told we are very fortunate to have Griffiths and the trio of soloists joining us this evening.

We got a brief introduction to the three performers’ instruments, Hakan Güngör on the kanun, Burcu Karadağ the nay, and Aykut Köselerli performing a small handful of percussion instruments, the kudüm, bendir, and darbuka. Go look the performers and instruments up. Fascinating stuff.

I can’t really get into a discussion of the piece itself, but it’s in seven movements, one for each of the seven hills in Istanbul, and representing a different aspect of the culture. It’s been added to very near the top of my list of works to feature in the new year. We shall see.

In any case, I don’t want to reduce this work to just a label or two because I promise it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard in the concert hall. It’s vibrant and individual, exotic, foreign, but approachable and mesmerizing, captivating and powerful and emotional and tender, just incredible.

But if I had to try to convey to you how amazing it is, I’d say it’d be like if Bartok had been born in Turkey and suddenly was compelled to write a Mahlerian-scale symphony of that kind of scope and intensity. It is vibrant and soul-shaking and thunderous, but also pensive and tender, vivid in color and imagery. Without a look at the program notes, I immediately knew when the Bosporus was being referenced, a few guttural wails from the tuba, instant visions of the seaside, or a market, or something more solemn. And I’ve also never been to Turkey.

And I’ve also never experienced a piece of music of that uniqueness and intensity, or played with that kind of passion and naturalness. Griffiths led the TSO like it was his orchestra and his piece, and the TSO played it like it was their national song, a compelling, truly world-class performance, sheer perfection. I cannot fathom how it could have been any better.

And that’s what I opened with earlier. There’s something unique about the Taipei Symphony, that I think you guys, with your quality of playing, the uniqueness of your programming, and the passion you guys have for it, that there’s a reputation to be made for owning the Taiwan premieres (or Asian premieres) of some truly amazing work. We had that opportunity with Christian Lindberg and Allan Pettersson’s fourth symphony, probably Rolf Wallin’s Fisher King, among much else. The Respighi for this evening might also have been a local premiere, and the Taipei Symphony does them justice. Keep it up: you guys played a modern Turkish symphony with the poise and intensity that many ensembles lack when they play centuries-old repertoire standards.

I really… am near speechless. I can’t convey what this program was like tonight, but… even listening to the piece from a recording, it’s just not the same. Sorry, but if you weren’t there tonight, then…. it just sucks to be you. It was incredible. If the piece is ever on a program anywhere near you, then get there.

Bravo.

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