The harp has always been fascinating to me not only because I love my instrument but also because it offers a multitude of fascinating identities. Across time and place, a variety of historical and traditional harps have led and still lead vibrant existences. With origins going back as far as humankind, one surely would not expect otherwise from harps. My entire formal music education has been in the area of western classical music, where I played only one kind of harp, namely the pedal harp. I remember that towards the end of my studies, I was especially taken with “contemporary” composers whose output for the harp was influnced by traditional harps and /or traditional music. So I started to collaborate and play music by composers from Latin America (Gerardo Dirie, Ricardo Lorenz), Korea (Jeeyoung Kim), Turkey (Hasan Uçarsu) and Azerbeijan (Franghiz Ali-Zadeh) from the early 90’s on. In my performing career I did remain grounded in the pedal harp with some new music containing the above-mentioned traditional flavors until 2007. Over the years, I premiered solo and chamber music works by these composers at various festivals in Turkey and abroad.
Istanbul and the Harp
I conceived “Istanbul and the Harp” project in 2010 with a desire to foster new works for the harp from Turkey. I asked the following question to six Turkish composers: “What do you, as a Turkish composer today, hear and feel when listening to Istanbul’s deep geography of sounds?”. That year, Istanbul was the European Capital of Culture, so the question seemed fit for the occasion. The broad theme with the Istanbul focus seemed exciting to all of us. The city is an outstanding amalgam of sounds across time and place. Each composer answered with a composition.
“Istanbul and the Harp” consisted of three components which were commissioning, recording and premiering the works. I chose to collaborate with composers Hasan Uçarsu, Özkan Manav, Turgay Erdener, Mahir Çetiz, Arda Agoşyan and Barış Perker. The project resulted in two solo works, one duo, two trios and one quartett . The ensemble pieces featured both Western and Turkish instruments. The premiere was given Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall on December 19, 2010. The project was implemented by the Association for the Art of the Harp and funded by the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency.
Here is Özkan Manav’s solo from the project:
List of Commissioned Works in Istanbul and the Harp Project
“Güvercinler” / Pigeons for solo harp / Özkan Manav
“Sabah Sabah” / Early Morning for flute, viola and harp / Mahir Çetiz
“Issız Çocuklar” / Deserted Children for flute and harp / Hasan Uçarsu
“Yerebatan” / The Basilica for kemençe, double bass and harp / Arda Ardaşes Agoşyan
“Yedi Resimle İstanbul” / Seven Images of Istanbul for solo harp / Barış Perker
“İstanbul’un Ağaçları” / The Trees of Istanbul for kemençe, ud, kanun and harp / Turgay Erdener
Collaboration with Hasan Uçarsu, 1999-2014
I nurtured an extensive collaboration with Hasan Uçarsu, starting in 1999. His music has strong musical and philosophical ties to Turkey. He first wrote a solo piece for me. Then I was able to obtain grants to commission a duo, a trio and a concerto. I have premiered and recorded all works in this collaboration. In 2014, we presented a restrospective concert of his opus for harp by playing all works in a concert; in addition to a quintet he had previously composed. A pre-concert lecture was held in which we talked about the importance of collaborative efforts.
This is the first piece Hasan wrote, upon my request, in the aftermath of the big earthquake in Turkey, in 1999 “Blue Moon Grey-Yellow Night Wall”:
Works that resulted from my collaboration with Hasan Uçarsu:
“Blue Moon Grey-Yellow Night Wall”, solo harp
“Deserted Children”, flute & harp
“Ones being dragged”, flute, viola and harp
“Uninvited guests”, Concerto for çeng, harp and orchestra
Collaboration with Yinon Muallem 2006-2009
My collaboration with Israeli percussionist Yinon Muallem was my first attempt to perform traditional music. I used some of my existing performing repertoire which led itself to be re-interpreted along with percussion, but it was the first time I actually tried some traditional tunes. We performed over a period of three years and released a recording (Telveten) together.
The wonderful presence of the çeng in Turkish music motivated me to also introduce other harps to traditional music, especially where, in a more complicated and faster moving music, the çeng demonstrated its shortcomings. I based my idea on the fact that the çeng could be used for music where it is suited. When not, other harps could offer other benefits and prove perhaps even progressive from a performance point of view.
I explored, along with, harpist Meriç Dönük, the repertoire of the türkü genre which are mostly anonymous songs, known in the cultures across Anatolia and handed down aurally through generations. A lot of türkü yielded easily to be instrumentally re-interpreted. Over a period of one year, we went through roughly 100 türkü to come up with one possible selection. They were to be played by our duo of pedal harps along with percussion. The American percussiınist Jarrod Cagwin As we sorted throughthis repertoire, we paid careful attention to how we approached them so that the result would not be over-harmonized, keeping as close as possible to the “horizontality” of the melodies. As it is an essential part of Turkish music, we left places for improvisations before or within a piece and also tried to match a significant number of harp gestures to articulate the melodies. Elements of jazz, Western classical and contemporary music showed up in our interpretations. After one year’s worth of work, we released a recording entitled “Elişi” (Handcraft).