Jerfi Aji's 'Reflections' at Süreyya Opera


TODAY'S ZAMAN, March 10, 2014


Pianist Jerfi Aji titled his program at the Süreyya Opera House on March 3 "Yansımalar" (Reflections). With works by Beethoven, Liszt, Granados, Erten and Prokofiev played on the opera house's new Fazioli grand piano, Aji threaded his thematic sequence like a string of pearls with different colors that gleamed by virtue of their individual backstories.

Beginning with Beethoven's "Tempest" Sonata, Op. 31 No. 2, Aji explained to the audience how it was related to Shakespeare's play of the same name. This early work pushes the boundaries of the strict classical sonata form of that era (circa 1802) by attempting a theatrical drama. Full of storms and nervous stillness before the storms, the sonata bursts with erratic excitement. Aji's ultra-sensitive approach to that stillness and the fearless but controlled rage that ensues were appropriate to what was to come in this colorful recital.

He followed with Liszt's "Valée d'Obermann" (Obermann's Valley), inspired by a novel whose central character is overwhelmed by disappointment and pain, and is one of six volumes of "Années de Pèlerinage" (Years of Pilgrimage). Aji spoke before he played, explaining that this piece reflected Liszt's own experiences during his many journeys in Europe. The emotional content of this work also reached operatic proportions with a soft, introverted beginning, culminating in a blitz of bombastic octave artillery. Instead of merciless battering in those fortissimo sections, Aji used them as outpourings of feeling rather than egotistic opportunities.

Two pieces by Enrique Granados: "Quejas, o la Maja y Ruiseñor" (Complaint, or the Maiden and the Nightingale) and "El Pelele" (The Puppet) from his suite "Goyescas" and the later opera of the same name, furthered the thematic journey with effusive trilling of birdsong and compelling rhythmic stylings inspired by the paintings of Spanish artist Francisco Goya. The world premiere of Emil Tan Erten's "Süreçler" (Processes) revealed a promising young composer. Still a student, Erten has written an appealingly crafted work that hauntingly referenced one particular note as a centerpiece, with ample breathing space around it for contemplation.

Aji's final work was Prokofiev's Sonata No. 7, one of three "War Sonatas" written during World War II. Aji remarked that a "war atmosphere can only be expressed on one piano by Prokofiev," as we heard the first movement's "preparing us for war," the second movement's lazy reverie where "you think it was all a dream" and the final "danse macabre" where diabolical forces bubble like steaming tar pits. The Fazioli piano, with its still-new crispness and incredible punch, was the perfect instrument for Aji to bring out the raw vividness of Prokofiev's musical battleground.


The idyllic mixture of Aji's thematic cohesion, highly varied repertoire, masterful technical acumen and personal communication with the audience created a remarkable concert experience. I'm not surprised the hall was filled with fans; his multi-layered musical integrity is a magnetic force.