Istanbul Symphony is a live concert album by Turkish classical pianist and composer Fazıl Say, will be released on September 24, 2012 on Naive. Produced by Fazıl Say, the album was recorded during live concerts which took place in Istanbul and Mannheim in 2009 and 2011.
Istanbul Symphony is inspired by the city of Istanbul in Turkey, with each movement being representative of something unique and specific about the city. Much of this inspiration appears to have come from places within and around the city that Say has called home for almost ten years. In Hezarfen, Say’s inspiration is Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi, the Ottoman era aviator said to have achieved flight during the 17th Century when he flew from Galata Tower to Doğancılar square in Üsküdar.
“Istanbul Symphony”op. 28 Movements
The first movement of the Istanbul Symphony starts with the rustling of the Sea of Marmara. As you know, there are instruments which produce the sound of waves. I used one of these instruments called “ocean waves” in the beginning of the Istanbul Symphony. The symphony rises and surfaces from the depths of the sea, and at the very end, the end of the 7th movement, the music will again be buried in the sea, back to where it came from. What I mean by nostalgia is this: we are taking a journey back to Istanbul of the 1940s or maybe the 1910s, an unknown date, but a time when Istanbul was still beautiful, romantic and nostalgic.
II. Religious Order
The second movement is “Religious order”. In the secular history of Istanbul, the religious orders occupy a very important place. These religious orders have zikirs (a litany of religious incantation) on ritual nights which attract us with their music and choreography. What interests me about these ritual nights are the elements of repetition and rhythm. The repetitive chants of la ilahe illallah la ilahe illallah, sometimes slow, sometimes faster, are imbued with rhythm of course. In some of this zikir music, we can find elements of the sounds and rhythms produced in these night rituals.
III. Blue Mosque
The third movement of the symphony is “Blue Mosque” which refers to the Sultanahmet Mosque. It is one of the most famous and beautiful architectural works in Istanbul; it is also one of the most recognised images of Istanbul throughout the world. Its interior is an infinitely meditative chapel; it is glorious. This slow movement is like a ney concerto. The ney is continually leading the melodies; and the orchestra, accompanied by the ney and the kudüm, ends the section with large explosions, reaching an almost otherworldly realm. The first theme began in the Segah makam (a makam is a modal style of Turkish classical music) and it now gives way to the violas of the second theme. This, for me, represents my desire to express the beauty of Sultanahmet.
IV. Merrily clad young ladies aboard the ferry to the Princes’ Islands
The fourth movement is called “Merrily clad young ladies aboard the ferry to the Princes’ Islands”. These Islands are a place of reverie; they are Istanbul’s summer hideaway. Islands where Greeks and Jews have been living happily together with Alevi and Sunni Turks in a cosmopolitan paradise for centuries. Istanbulites, the old Istanbulites, make regular weekend trips to the islands for recreation and relaxation.
V. About the travellers to Anatolia departing from the Haydar Pasha train station
Of course like Sultanahmet, the Islands, and the Conquest of Istanbul, Haydar Pasha train station is also a symbol of Istanbul. We all passed through Haydar Pasha, especially me, as my childhood years were in Ankara and I used to take the train to Istanbul. There is a remarkably beautiful night train trip from Istanbul to Ankara. All trains that depart from Haydar Pasha make their way to faraway destinations in Anatolia, Asia, and the Middle East.
VI. Oriental Night
The sixth movement “Oriental Night” starts with a kanun improvisation. The only part that isn’t mine is of course the kanun solo. That beautiful solo is followed by the oriental night section. Of course the main focus here is delivered by the köçekçes (lively dance tunes); The köçekçe found at the very end of the section is one I wrote in the Karcığar makam. Naturally all the köçekçes are similar to each other particularly if they are in the Karcığar makam. The theme I used in the middle of this section however is taken from a well-known song. I have used it as a metaphor.
Naturally, the Istanbul that I have been trying to describe was always a nostalgic, dreamy, vintage Istanbul. The composer, the work, the ney player, everyone is in search of that Istanbul. And what they want to find, what they want to come back to, is the hijaz theme of “Nostalgia” which comes before the F sharp formation at the beginning of our symphony. And just as the symphony rose through the rustling of the waves of the Sea of Marmara at the very beginning, and so at the end it will be buried in the waves again with hijaz makam theme.
“Hezarfen” Concerto for Ney and Orchestra op. 39 Movements
I. Istanbul 1632
The first movement begins with a complicated structure in the Sabâ makam, representing the morning that Hezarfen wakes up and suggesting that maybe he hasn’t slept that night. Indeed, Hezarfen’s main theme is in the Sabâ makam, which starts with A, B, C and D flat notes, including both minor and major harmonies. It is also the makam of the morning muezzin’s call to prayer. In this first section, we wanted the kudüm and the ney to illustrate Hezarfen’s thoughts and excitement.
II. Galata Tower
There is a great crowd of people gathered around the tower and they have come to watch the show. Hezarfen arrives. Among the mocking crowd waiting impatiently to see how Hezarfen will fly, there is one man who taunts Hezarfen by calling “Fly if you can! Fly if you can!” Now if you think about it, there is a certain rhythm to every word we say: “Fly if you can! Fly if you can!” Everything is phonetic.
III. The Flight
And so, from the top of Galata Tower, Hezarfen releases himself into the emptiness. From then on a strange music starts, as leaping from a tower must indeed give you a strange feeling. He is the first human to fly, he will fly for four kilometres and he must have a grave fear of death. He must have great excitement and happiness inside him; at that moment, he is accomplishing a lifelong dream. This movement lasts 7-8 minutes, which is about the same amount of time it takes for Hezarfen to complete his journey from Galata Tower to Üsküdar.
IV. Algerian Exile
Hezarfen is now seen as a dangerous man and the Sultan sees fit to punish him. His experiments had gained support before but this flight throws a different light on matters now and he is viewed with suspicion. And so begins his exile to Algeria. The contrabassoon and tuba, very low-pitched instruments, are used here to represent the Sultan and his Vizier. There is also the constant pounding of a large drum. Hezarfen is of course the ney. Throughout the piece, the ney represents Hezarfen or becomes Hezarfen himself.
All texts by Fazıl Say (excerpts from a film documentary on “Istanbul Symphony” and “Hezarfen”
“Istanbul Symphony” op. 28
Nostalgia 9 ’37
Religious Order 3 ‘42
Blue Mosque 7 ’04
Merrily clad young ladies aboard the ferry to the Princes’ Islands 4 ’09
About the travelers to Anatolia departing from the Haydar Pasha train station 4’14
Oriental Night 7 ‘21
Final 6 ’14
“Hezarfen” Concerto for Ney and Orchestra op. 39
Istanbul 1632 6 ‘11
Galata Tower 4 ’57
The Flight 7 ‘30
Algerian Exile 7 ’04
Istanbul Symphony Live Concert
Istanbul Symphony Documentary
Hezarfen Ney Concerto Documentary