It’s only been 24 hours since we landed in Turkey, but it feels like ages ago. Traveling with a purpose is great, but with the aim of making music with locals it’s simply blissful. Exciting too: will they be interested in what we propose? Will we be able to communicate properly? Is our music too predictable? Or rather too ambitious? Will we reach a nice balance in the end?
Nothing could go wrong during our outward journey, except for lagging luggage or so, but after a few kilometers along ‘domestic’ and ‘international’, and back again, we find the last piece of baggage and not of lesser importance, our driver. Dirk and I had left behind Thomas, Ilknur, Karen, Stijn and the two Jonathans in Istanbul. Now we’re in Izmir. Our video director Mathijs waits for us at the hotel. We go out for a late night snack in a rather touristy restaurant with strange food (fries with yogurt) on the dike; the beer is good though. Mathijs turns out to be an experienced traveler and an excellent guide. We end up on a terrace with on one side nocturnal fishermen and on the other side a nightclub with a live band …Sloshy container ships at anchor, and thousands of twinkling lights of the city that lies around the bay.
The encounter with our fellow musicians
After a short night’s sleep and an early wake-up call we have a nice savory breakfast. Şirin and Meriç, the two harpists, stop by before they go to their luthier for the tuning of the ceng (Ottoman harp from the 17th century). A little bit later we could go to our rehearsal space, in a stately building with historic charms where the Izmir Music Festival is located. We got a room with great acoustics and went straight to work. Şirin proposes some songs that refer to migration and being on the road. Her suggestions are to our liking. Harp, viola da gamba and clarinet turn out to blend wonderfully.
Şirin doesn’t have her harp with her, it’s being repaired at the luthier’s. She decides to listen to us playing instead. Meriç plays the Scottish harp, Dirk the viola da gamba and I play the clarinet. After an hour a kemence player joins us, Mehmet Yalkin; he is not only a performer and a teacher, he also builds musical instruments at the university. Soon we notice we really have encountered some exceptional musicians. Bora Uymaz had been rehearsing with the state choir and now joins us as well. Before lunch things go quite naturally, but afterwards we are really challenged to get to know and explore each other’s musical grammar. We rehearse 7 compositions, both old and new; even self-penned songs from Bora are discussed. The works get new intros, improvisations, recaps, tessitura… We happily experiment.
Sausages, stories and a good night’s rest
All of a sudden the rehearsal is over, everyone packs his things and we leave for an acquaintance of the musicians. This very friendly fan and friend of our Turkish foursome expects us at his terrace by the sea. We are a bit late so we immediately go inside. The wife of Bora and their twins come along as well. Şirin, Mehmet and Bora have a history in Izmir. Şirin’s family on her mother’s side lives there, but she moved from Istanbul to Geneva, Indiana, Washington, New York and now lives back in Istanbul. Bora and Mehmet live in Izmir whereas Meriç grew up by the coast in the south, but has been living in Istanbul since her music studies.
Our host grills sausages for us and we get the time to ask our fellow musicians dozens of questions. Especially Şirin is very fluent in English and is eager to share her story. She has an exciting career as a harpist, and is working on various ambitious projects. In between rehearsals and the concert in De Centrale on November 9th, she still has a few concerts planned in Scotland. Bora appears to be a Sufi, Mehmet, the instrument builder, has already played with Ross Daly and regularly gives master classes in Germany. From Meriç we do not get too much information, but since 2009 she forms a duo with her teacher Şirin.
We conclude our pleasant evening on a terrace near the bell tower of Izmir and attend a concert of two local musicians: singing and baglama. The audience is enthusiastic and if they do not start to dance, they sure sing along to the songs. I am now ready for a good night’s rest and for the second rehearsal tomorrow; I look forward to it.
Text written by Mattias Laga, clarinetist and saxophonist from the jazz scene
The original text in Dutch you can find here.