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Tolga Atalay Ün - Piano


1. Who was your first music teacher?

I don’t remember my very first music teacher, because I was always having some kind of music lessons in my childhood, from kindergarten to now. But the one I remember, with whom I started learning to play the piano, is Erberk Eryılmaz, who is a pianist, composer and conductor and he lives in the U.S. He was also a student in Hacettepe University Ankara State Conservatory at that time. (the school where I studied before coming to London) We used to live in the same apartment and I always heard him playing the piano upstairs. Since my mother always wanted me to become a musician, we met him and I started having lessons. It didn’t last very long, because we had to move to another apartment. After this short time of piano playing, I had to change my piano teachers very often, until I entered to the Conservatory when I was about 11 years old. Then my professional conservatory training had begun.

2. Is your family musical?

My family is not a musical family at all. There is no other musician apart from me, but they very much appreciate art and love to listen to music. My mother had wanted to become a ballet dancer but she couldn’t. Therefore, she is very supportive to me about my musical education and she always says “Do whatever you want, I will always support you.” I also should say that my family is very talented in music. I can hear that when they accompany songs, they hear the right intonation and they can find the relevant character of music.

3. In 2004, you were accepted as a member of the Polyphonic Children’s Choir of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, conducted by Ahter Destan with which you toured for 5 years. Can you tell us more about this choir and your abiding memories of this time?

Being accepted as a member of this choir is one of the milestones in my life. In my opinion, singing in a choir is an essential training for everybody in the world, even for non-musicians, because you learn how to live together. It is not just singing songs, it is to be balanced with the other members of the same community, the people we live together. You learn how to communicate, how to contribute to the unity. So, I learned how to live shoulder to shoulder. Of course, another very important benefit of singing in a choir is that you get your basic musical training there, things like theory, ear training, and singing. We were all very lucky that we had such a fantastic conductor and colleagues. I had my basic musical training in this choir and this was a great preparation for my conservatory education.

4. In 2007, you were accepted into the Hacettepe University Ankara State Conservatory, where you started your studies with Sibel Özgün as a piano student. Can you tell us more of this period of your training and how it was to be coached by this lady?

I can say that I was very well prepared for the Conservatory in terms of ear training and musical theory so that I was able to commence my professional piano education. This seven-year-period of my life is the most important one of course, because I entered to the intellectual musical world. I gave many concerts as a pianist, conductor, accompanist, chamber musician and chorist. For all the things I have done during that time, I should thank my great teacher Sibel Özgün. She was so supportive and she always let me do whatever I wanted to do. This is very important, because very often teachers, especially piano teachers can be limiting so that they don’t allow their students to do other things than playing the piano. I was very lucky that she was a great teacher and she allowed me to make my own way. Another important thing for me was the affinity of our relationship. We were almost like mother and son that she was always taking care of me in any kind of situation, not only piano playing.

5. In 2010 you were awarded the “Jury Special Award” in “The National Chopin Piano Competition”, which was organized jointly by Başkent University and Bahçelievler Rotary Club in Ankara, Turkey under the auspices of the Polish Embassy, to commemorate Chopin’s 200th birthday. How did it feel like to receive this award?

It is of course a very good feeling to receive an award but the more important thing came after winning this prize. After winning this prize, I got invitation to become one of the founder members of Bahçelievler Interact Club. As an Interact, I have had the opportunity of participating in various social activities including gathering donations for The Rotary Global Eradication of Polio Project and for shelters for abandoned dogs. This is more important for me, because this way I can help somebody, otherwise it is just an award that I receive. We are musicians. We should make people experience a special feeling. If an award provides you an opportunity to achieve this kind of communication with people, it is great. Therefore I am so happy to have been received that award which made me contribute something afterwards.

6. Can you share with us an abiding memory in connection with one of your performances or competitions?

Life is a very interesting journey, full of surprises and coincidences. For me every single second of life is equally important, interesting and worth experiencing. Therefore, every single performance situation is a unique opportunity. It is very difficult to choose one of them. I experienced many surprising situations in performances, so I cannot think of one. But to give you an example, I can tell you one short story. After I played the Moonlight Sonata by L.van Beethoven in a concert, a lady came to me after the concert and said “You made me cry.” This is why I am still making music. If I can make people experience something, something special for them, when they forget everything else and just focus on that moment, this is an achievement for me.

7. How often do you practice?

I practice in every single second of my life. Practice is not something you just do in front of your instrument. Music is not just playing something. Music involves life in it and you need to live first, to make music. You need to breathe, feel, think, read and listen to make music. Everything I read and learn in life contributes my music making. I collect and collect and collect and then I play something to create a moment of experience. In a day, only four or five hours of actual playing is a part of my piano practice. Rest is reading, thinking, learning to be able to create something special while playing.

8. Would you consider teaching music in the future?

Nobody can teach “music”, we can only find an appropriate way to make it reveal itself. I remember one of my teachers saying “None of us is bigger than the music itself.” If I can find a very relevant way to make music reveal itself, I would of course be very glad to teach this to somebody else ☺

9. What advice would you give fellow music students who are at the start of their journey?

Read, think, listen, experience and the most important thing: live...

10. Who is your favourite musician and why?

This question is probably the most difficult one to answer ☺ It is nearly impossible to choose one of those great people who made the world somewhere we can live in. But I have a hero: Ludwig van Beethoven. I cannot remember how many times I listened to his Ninth Symphony with tears on my eyes. I cannot explain why, just listen to his music. He explained everything through his music.

11. How do you balance your study, performance and leisure times? What are the biggest sacrifices?

I think I gave the answer of this question in the seventh one ☺ I practice in every moment of my life. There is no single second I waste. If we know how to live, we don’t sacrifice anything. It is just being aware of the fact that you are experiencing, and this is life, this is what I do all the time...

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submission August 2015