Capitol Theatre, March 4
What a triumph of employing the arts as the apex of diplomacy! (Are you listening, Julie Bishop?) What a gift from Turkey in Gallipoli’s centenary year: 90 minutes of exceptional music – and for free! Presented by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism and Sydney’s Turkish Consulate General, and directed by Beyhan Murphy, this was the polar opposite of those awful “spectaculars” that ape the vulgarity of Olympic opening ceremonies. This was the pinnacle of traditional, classical and contemporary Turkish music performed with possibly the best live sound I have encountered – take a bow, Ibrahim Ozmen – and certainly the best live sound involving an amplified orchestra.
At the concert’s heart were seven improvising musicians playing traditional instruments, plus the brilliant Tarik Aydogan on bass guitar and cello. Every member of this septet was outstanding, including Ahmet Baran (qanun – a type of zither), Kamuran Umuzdas (oud) and the astounding Soner Ozer (percussion), who ensured that just a stately 4/4 rhythm had never sounded so aerated and intoxicatingly exotic.
With them were the Orchestra of Samsun State Opera and Ballet conducted by Aytug Ulgen, plus five classical singers of the highest calibre and local actor Josef Brown, who read touching letters from Gallipoli soldiers.
Among many highlights special mention must be made of Abdulkadir Meragi’s gorgeous A’med Nesimi, sung by soprano Demet Tugcu and Asik Veysel’s Uzun Ince Bir Yoldayim featuring Tuncay Kurtoglu’s commanding bass.
Although images – still and moving; some stunning, many distracting – played on a big screen throughout (presumably to appease the tourism types), the music was really an end in itself. Each formal composition was preceded by a solo improvisation (taqsim) from one of the traditional musicians, so the concert as whole became a dialogue between Turkey’s past and present. Except that this past was no museum, but a living, evolving, vibrant tradition that has become influential upon non-Turkish musicians and is now loved around the world – with this extraordinary performance no doubt winning many new hearts.