Unlimited talents at St James’s

It was not uncommon in late 18th-century London theatres around St James’s occasionally to put on musical productions “by desire of His Excellency the Turkish Ambassador” featuring their own local casts of British or Italian artists. Over 200 years on, in London of the 21st century, the Turkish Ambassador His Excellency Mr. Ünal Çeviköz and Mrs Emel Çeviköz attended a concert in the same neighbourhood, in the beautiful Wren church of St James’s, Piccadilly, this time presenting a cast of young and promising artists from their own country, hosted by a London-based music charity also founded by one of their fellow nationals, Mrs. Canan Maxton. Such is the change of speed in a buzzing city today which also happens to be under the mayoralty of the grandson of once an Ottoman minister, I thought to myself, as I sat in one of the back rows of the packed out church on the evening of 25 April to savour the talents of the seven Turkish music students who, one by one, appeared at the altar as the late evening sun beamed through the tall windows in the heart of the bustling metropolis.

Presenting a rather eclectic programme from J. S. Bach to Pink Floyd, the musicians did not fail to rise to the expectations of an enthusiastic audience and apart from solo appearances interspersed throughout, they also displayed their amicable talent to perform together as an ensemble, a hugely important skill in the furtherance of their artistic and aesthetic skills. It was the consistency in the way they quickly adapted to this versatile transition on the stage, in between widely ranging musical styles, that impressed me most. First we heard Emre Engin play confidently the “Andante” and “Allegro” movements of Bach’s Second Sonata for solo violin in A minor, which echoed beautifully in the vast space of St James’s. Dvorak’s Piano Quintet in A major introduced four more musicians: Mevlan Mecid (violin), Nazli Erdogan (viola), Cansin Kara (cello) and Aysedeniz Gökçin (piano). The lyrical duet of the opening cello and the piano immediately switched our mood from the solo polyphony of the Baroque to the lush romantic with the ensuing tutti taken up with much gusto by all the players, who kept their engaging ensemble firm all throughout.

Dvorak himself was of course no stranger so St James’s having conducted his 7th Symphony at the long-vanished St James’s Hall in 1885 which was practically next door to the church. The alternating happy and melancholy themes of the second movement of the quintet, “Dumka Andante”, was almost like the entire evening’s concert in miniature, which at times brought tears to our eyes especially in the sensitively played Rachmaninov’s Trio Elegiaque No. 1 in G minor, but only to turn into a mischievous smile in Piazzolla’s Oblivion or an element of pleasant surprise in the unexpected Anatolian breeze of “Sivas” in Fazil Say’s Four Cities Sonata executed very articulately by Cansin Kara, prompting loud bravos from the audience.

Folkloric motifs, this time from Bulgaria, were also evident in Tabakov’s Motivy, for solo double bass, which as Emre Ersahin performed with much panache, showing us how this bass instrument is also able to sing comfortably in high registers of the harmonics. In the second half Opal Besli had the opportunity to display her virtuosic skills in Capriccio for solo viola by Viuextemps, who interestingly had visited Istanbul in the 1850s and was invited by Sultan Abdülmecid to become the director of the Imperial Conservatoire, which sadly he declined. A contemporary of Vieuxtemps and another favourite at the Ottoman court, Franz Liszt was the inspiration for Aysedeniz Gökçin in her Pink Floyd “Lisztified” Fantasia Quasi Sonata, composed and played with much bravura. This original and highly powerful composition clearly unites her love of classical and rock music and it has already brought her much global interest, which was also shared by some in her audience, who were keen to cross that dividing wall as evident in their body language. There was no limit to talent at St James’s that evening.

Emre ARACI, May 2013