1- Was your family musical, did they support your initial interest in music, and how old were you then?
My mother living in Anatolia as a young girl had a dream of becoming a pianist. Circumstances did not allow for that to happen to her unfortunately. Then she wished she would try it with one of her kids. A relation offered her a mandolin thinking it might be of use, she grabbed the chance and I started taking lessons age 10. A year later a family friend agreed to give me free violin lessons and a year later I entered the Ankara State Conservatoire. No piano but she was very happy to be close to classical music. No, there are no musicians in the family. My grandfather was extremely upset when I got into ASC.
2- What made you chose the mandolin, or was it chosen for you?
Just by luck it was available.
3- Is there a story behind your decision of switching from violin to viola during your early years?
A love story, a violinist girl-friend who I was crazy about borrowed my fiddle during summer holiday while I was playing the viola at a summer festival, when I returned to get my violin back she did not want to give it back to me (a school violin) saying she was better than me and deserved that quality instrument. I said ‘fine you can have it’ and decided to become a viola player. Female power..!!
4- Can you tell us more of the circumstances that resulted in the conductor George Weldon securing a scholarship for you to study in the Royal College of Music, London.
A soloist was taken ill a day before an Ankara State Orchestral concert, the management asked me and a violinist friend if we could perform the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola.
Eminent musician George Weldon was the conductor, he liked our playing very much and asked me if I would be interested studying in England. So that was my lucky break.
5- How do you remember your time studying at the Royal College of Music, can you tell us a bit about your professors and peers?
I had no English when I arrived. Some people used think I was from Torquay because of the way I pronounced my country. In general people were very helpful and tolerant. The standard was very high and teachers were so approachable. I had a very happy time.
6- Once again fate seems to have intervened and on your last day of studies at the Royal College of Music, you were invited to study in America. How did this happen?
On the last day at RCM someone said William Primrose was upstairs listening to viola players. I entered the room and told him I wanted a have go as well. He liked my playing and organized a scholarship for me to go and study with him in Indiana University at Bloomington, USA.
7- How was your time in America?
I loved it there. There were some very good players, the atmosphere was so friendly and warm and we used play a lot of chamber music. William Primrose was history within himself, I found him very interesting.
8- When you returned to Turkey you became principal viola with the Presidential State Orchestra, is there a story behind this advancement?
I became the principal viola for the orchestra through an audition. Before me players were just appointed. My time with the Presidential State Orchestra was an excellent experience.
9- How did the Özsoy String Quartet come about, and how did it feel like to perform with them for the first ever live TV performance of classical music in Turkey?
İlhan Özsoy was the leader of the Ankara State opera and an amazing violin player. The quartet took the name from him (he really wanted a different name) and played a lot works for the 1st time in Turkey like Britten, Walton, Suk, Akses to name a few. İlhan was an excellent leader and could work out anything and working with him was as educational as enjoyable. The first ever live TV broadcast was very exciting. The sound in the studio was terrible but being so proud of doing something historical was so satisfactory. I always wonder what happened to that tape?
10- After your military service you returned to England. Was it to look at opportunities that took you there, or were you invited by the Royal House Opera Orchestra which you joined?
After my military service (2 years) I went back to London because I always wished to taste the professional life there. While I was studying at the RCM I experienced many good concerts, I just wanted be in the thick of things.
11-You describe your time serving in the English Chamber Orchestra as a co-principal viola as ‘one of your biggest learning times’. Can you tell us more about this period please?
Pinchcas Zuckermnan was my hero at the time although much younger than me he had a style I adored and suddenly I was on the same stage, same car, same studio with him in the English Chamber Orchestra. The same goes for Daniel Barenboim, I learned a lot and being with them gave me a tremendous pleasure.
12- In 1979 you joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra as their principal viola and you stayed with them for 10 years. Can you tell us about some of the more memorable experiences during this tenure?
The London Philharmonic Orchestra days were a good example of how my orchestral life is in London was. We worked very hard but at the same time had a very good time. In my first year I had to play the viola solos in R Strauss Don Quixote. Rostropovic was conducting, Pierre Furnier was the cellist and I played the viola solos. A day before the concert Rostropovic came to me said “excuse me I never heard this piece before, would mind playing the viola solos for me while I play the piano” so we had a rehearsal and he was very happy. Years later reading his life story I learned that he had played the piece when he was 19 or something like that.!! I guess he did not want to scare me..!!
I recorded the Ahmed Adnan Saygun viola concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the Turkish conductor Gürer Aykal that was a memorable occasion. Whenever Klaus Tennssted came it was bliss... George Solti started playing the piano for fun and I did 3 concerts and a TV programme with him for the BBC playing the Mozart piano Quartet when he used come to conduct us... So with the LPO in Glydnebourne they were very good years.
13- During your 1988-2000 period with the BBC Symphony Orchestra you performed with a whole range of impressive names from İdil Biret to John Williams. Does a particular collaboration stand out above the others in your memory and why?
The BBC Symphony Orchestra years for me is really about Pierre Boulez, not only because I came across his style of music that I had not played before but also as a man of capability he was so impressive.
I played the Bartok viola concerto during the Istanbul Festival with BBC Symphony Orchestra and so many other concerts tours, recordings and solos.
İdil Biret and John Williams connection is to do with the London String Quartet of which I was a member for 15 years. We did collaborative recordings with İdil Biret for Mahler, Franck quartet and quintets and with JW Bocherini I had the pleasure of recording other quintets.
14- You clearly had a close working relationship with Turkish composers including Ahmed Adnan Saygun and Yalçın Tura, whose pieces you sometimes premiered. How was it like working with these people?
I played with Ahmed Adnan Saygun and Yalçın Tura viola concertos for the first time in the world. I spent a few days with Saygun during rehearsals he was nice to me but never said anything about the piece or about my playing. Tura came to the first performance of his piece and again he did not say anything either so no anecdotes. But both wrote a very nice letter thanking me.
15- The poetry of Orhan Veli has clearly been important for you since your childhood. Can you tell me how these poems enter your compositions and how they shape your delivery during performances?
Orhan Veli was a class mate of my father Kazım Guneş. When I was 8-9 I started reading his poetry, his language is so clear and friendly which left a huge place in my heart. In my early days in UK when people asked to give them for a little sound of Turkish I used read an Orhan Veli poem. I have been writing sort of music to Orhan Veli poems for years but I now I have started composing them for the viola and piano. I will be playing one in my recital on April 9th in London, I recite in Turkish but I have good translations for most of them.
16- You have been a music teacher at Yaşar Univerisity since 2008 and what is the most satisfying part of this job?
I just love teaching in Turkey at Yaşar Univerisity, Izmir. Kids are so hungry I feel like a mother bird bringing food to wide open mouths.
17- Do you still compose or arrange pieces? What inspires you?
My fiddling with writing or arranging is still all with Orhan Veli poems. I am trying to get enough poems done so I can do an Orhan Veli concert, I mean no Beethoven, no Mozart, no Saygun, no Brahms. Just what I have written since they are all sincere feelings for a man who was ordinary at the same time somebody who was interesting, amazing, hardworking, honest and unlucky. The day I do a whole concert of Orhan Veli poems will be my highest point in my musical life or my whole life.