Conductors Goetzel and Pirolli shine; pianist Aji plays in

TODAY'S ZAMAN, 26 February 2013


Many conductors, regardless of how many genres of music they conduct, have a particular style that suits them the best. It's the music that flows the most naturally, whether it be from where they grew up, what most accurately reflects their personalities, or whatever they have a pronounced instinctive feeling for. I heard this on two occasions last week: Sascha Goetzel conducting the Borusan İstanbul Philharmonic's (BİFO) performance on Feb. 21 and Antonio Pirolli conducting the İstanbul State Symphony (İDSO) on Feb. 22, both held at the Lütfi Kırdar Congress Center.

In Goetzel's case, Gustav might as well be his middle name. He conducted Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 3 with solo alto Monica Groop, the women of the Coro dell'Accademia di Santa Cecilia, the Borusan Children's Choir and Superar Children's and Youth Choir. Both Goetzel and Mahler are Austrians, and when these two are matched up on the stage it's magic. In the past three seasons, Goetzel has also programmed Mahler's No. 1, No. 5 and 6. All those renditions were memorable, but I do recall that in each of these symphonies, as well as in the 3rd, the slow movements are places where Goetzel's communication with Mahler's anima is exquisitely apparent. The final movement of the 3rd, named only "Langsam" (Slowly) was a prayerful and intimate experience, as though we were witnessing a very personal, almost religious transmigration of the soul. The next Mahler opportunity via Borusan and Goetzel will be May 23 with baritone Thomas Hampson, famous for his many recordings of Mahler lieder. That should be on everyone's bucket list.

Italian conductor Pirolli, who has been a popular conductor for the Turkish State Opera and state symphonies for many years, delighted me with his insightful readings of French music with the İstanbul State Symphony. His way with Debussy's "L'après-midi d'un faune" and Maurice Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe" Suite No. 2 was simply sublime. Smooth and lush, full of exciting surges of orchestral richness, the performance under Pirolli's baton was ecstatic and radiant, but beautifully controlled at the same time. The program also included Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto (performed with resplendent tone by Alexander Hülshoff) and Özkan Manav's "Dört Türkü." This latter suite was four folk melodies from Anatolia that the composer had abstracted in clever orchestrations, offering up humorous treatments of themes like "Ah, Bir Ateş Ver" (Oh, Give Me Some Fire) and "Kesik Çayır Biçilir mi" (Can You Reap Cut Grass?). As successful as both of these non-French works were, it was in the French impressionist repertoire where Pirolli revealed his affinities.

Jerfi Aji's musical landscapes

Pianist Jerfi Aji provided some especially vivid "Müzikal Manzaralar" (Musical Landscapes) to an overflow crowd in Süreyya Opera House's foyer on Feb. 18. He is to be commended on not only his superb music-making, but coping with the hazards of such a perilously open setting.

His inspired program of Chabrier, Debussy, Scriabin, Chopin and a world premiere of a new piece by Tolga Özdemir was one of the programming highlights of the musical season. Aji's concert proves you don't need to play Mozart or Beethoven to put people in the seats.

Starting with the music of Emmanuel Chabrier, a contemporary of Debussy and Ravel, Aji selected five of the 10 pieces in the suite "Pièces pittoresques" to beguile the listener with dance-infused confections. Chabrier's music bridges Bizet's structural influence into the French impressionist period with great charm, and though they may feel comparatively lightweight to Debussy's more profuse tonalities, they are not by any means easy to play. "Paysage" is a chimerical carnival at the keyboard that hints at Francis Poulenc's elegant humor, as does "Improvisation." "Idylle," perhaps the most well-known of the bunch, is an atmospheric cocktail that lingers long in the memory. Aji's inclusion and interpretation of these lesser-known gems was a rare treat.

He followed with Book I of Debussy's "Images": "Reflets dans l'eau," "Hommage à Rameau" and "Mouvement." Aji dove into the exotic reveries of late 19th-century French impressionism with plenty of tonal color and nuanced shaping. This music is so akin to painting and Aji's masterful brushstrokes, particularly in "Reflets," helped us dip our toes into blissful waters.

Tolga Zafer Özdemir's "Dört Küçük Sahne" (Thumbnails) was more than an auditory experience, it was theater. Written for Aji, one of these quirky four pieces required him to drink a glass of water while he played, then use both hands in a silent mimed dialogue between them, like a puppet show. When the hands were back on the ivories, Özdemir's music was a crazy quilt of different compositional styles arranged with a cabaret feel. Their originality was more in the way he set the notes in a kind of mise-en-scène, rather than the actual notes themselves. The final two selections, Alexander Scriabin's mystical and cataclysmic one-movement Piano Sonata No. 5 and Frederic Chopin's über-elegant "Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante," further showed Aji's ability to extract sensitive soul from each composer's arsenal of virtuoso effects. His encore was Fazıl Say's devilish "Dervish in Manhattan," both a fervent tribute to the composer's day in court and a blazing finale to a brilliant program.

While he packs plenty of the requisite fortitude, Aji's real power comes from a human, breath-injected phraseology, as opposed to more carnivorous approaches popular with so many young lions of the piano. Instead of only roaring, he gives a full artistic spectrum that's more like an expressive singer at the keyboard. And more to his credit, ignoring the amount of rude audience disturbance surrounding him as he played -- children wandering close to his hands, and people freely walking behind him and thoughtlessly bumping his arms -- was a real test of his concentrated ability to deliver such delicious musical goods to us.