From Ankara to New Haven

A musical journey remembered on the 50th anniversary of Paul Hindemith

Making of Hindemith’s complete piano concertos’ recordings by YSO and Idil Biret

 

In the fall of 2009 a Yale alumnus friend in Istanbul casually mentioned that the Yale Symphony Orchestra (YSO) would come to Turkey for concerts in the spring. When I then asked him whether they would like Idil Biret (my wife) to be the piano soloist at these concerts, how could I know that this would lead to the first ever recording of all the piano concertos of Paul Hindemith by Idil with an all student orchestra, the YSO to be released worldwide by a major label, Naxos? The proposal was enthusiastically accepted by the Yale Alumni group in Turkey as Idil Biret’s legendary name there draws crowds to concerts like a magnet and ensures their success. By coincidence Idil was due to give a recital at Yale at Sprague Hall in the Horowitz Piano Series in February 2010. So, we took the opportunity to arrange to meet with the conductor of YSO Toshi Shimada and the manager of the orchestra Brian Robinson to discuss the program of the concerts in Turkey.

It was then, while we were in New Haven for the recital, that the thought occurred to me that there was a common thread which linked Turkey to Yale in the person of the composer Paul Hindemith who taught at the Yale Music School between 1940-1953. While Hindemith’s time at New Haven is well known to scholars (1) and modern music enthusiasts, his visits to Ankara in the 1930s and the work he did there is almost unknown outside Turkey. His biography on the website of Schott (the publisher of Hindemith’s music) mentions this only in passing, saying, “Hindemith undertook a number of journeys to Turkey”. These “journeys”, however, left a great legacy and had a lasting influence in Turkey. For Hindemith who was invited there by the Turkish government, following the recommendation of Wilhelm Fürtwangler, prepared three reports totaling over 200 pages for the organization of classical music life in the country during the four trips he made there between 1935-1937.(2) His bust stands today at the entrance to the State Conservatory in Ankara which he helped establish.(3) Based on the implementation of many of his proposals, today in all the major cities of Turkey there are conservatories, orchestras, operas, ballet companies with seasonal programs and an active classical music life with a proliferation of festivals with visiting orchestras and soloists while many Turkish musicians tour the world giving concerts and making recordings. In this respect Turkey is like an oasis in the desert of Islam being the only country in the world whose population is almost totally Moslem where classical music flourishes to such a high degree. All this was the result of the vision of Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey (4) together with dedicated companions and the work of Hindemith and those who implemented his plans there.

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Consequently, in view of the above, it seemed appropriate that the YSO should include a work by Hindemith in the program of their tour in Turkey. I proposed this to Toshi and Brian, and also mentioned it to Linda Lorimer (VP Yale) at our meeting in her office. Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Weber, a popular work of Hindemith was then included in the program, together with Chopin’s F Minor Piano Concerto to be performed by Idil. The concerts in Turkey which took place in May 2010 were a great success. The YSO played to full houses in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir with wide media coverage of the events. The concert in Istanbul performed in the magical setting of the historic Byzantine church of St. Irene (5th Century AD) was the most memorable and will long be remembered by the Yale students who played there. Some important personalities attended the Istanbul concert including Yasar Kemal, Turkey’s greatest author.

Following the last concert in Izmir, after a late night party, on the beach of the Mediterranean resort hotel Toshi, Brian and the Dean of Arts Susan Cahan said good-bye to seniors in the orchestra who had played for the last time with YSO. It is there that idea came up, perhaps inevitably, to repeat the concert at Woolsey Hall in New Haven. It was then agreed that Idil should to play a work by Hindemith, The Four Temperaments for piano and string instruments and the 1st Piano Concerto of Franz Liszt. The date was set for 18 February 2012. Woolsey Hall for me was a sacred temple of music where I had attended many concerts during my years at Yale between 1964-1967 hearing the great American orchestras of Boston, Chicago and Cleveland and some of the greatest musicians of the time.(5) So, after many years, to hear Idil perform there would be something very special and a moving event for me. That is why I thought of having the concert filmed and having all the five piano concertos of Hindemith recorded with YSO in Woolsey Hall for international release on Idil’s own label IBA which is distributed worldwide by Naxos.(6) After discussions, YSO management agreed and organized the post concert recording of two of Hindemith’s concertos. On my side, I arranged a professional crew from New York to film the Woolsey Hall concert with four cameras led by a NY Film Academy trained young producer from Istanbul, Eytan Ipeker, who is making a documentary film on Idil’s life and now preparing a short documentary on Hindemith’s years in Ankara and New Haven (also using material made available from the Hindemith archive at Yale). Sometime after the concert, Brian Robinson wrote to me saying, “Yale’s Office of Public Affairs would like to broadcast Idil’s concert with the YSO in its entirety on Yale’s official You Tube page, which is wonderful news”. The video film was then put on you tube under the title “Turkey and Yale reunite in sound”.(7) Three more Hindemith concertos were recorded in December and January to finalise the series. The 2CD set is scheduled for international release (also digitally) by Naxos in October 2013, following the proposal of Klaus Heymann, the founder and president of the Naxos label.

This is a significant project for many reasons. Perhaps for the first time, professional recordings made by an orchestra composed of college students will be released internationally by a major label (Naxos with which Idil Biret has collaborated for nearly a quarter century). This will be the first recording of all of Hindemith’s five works for piano and orchestra(8) including the left hand concerto the score of which became available only recently.(9) The recordings will be released in 2013 which is the 50th anniversary of the death of Hindemith whose work left marks both in the US and Turkey. Hence, in a collaborative project the concertos are being performed by a Turkish pianist and an American orchestra. This will be the 100th album release of Idil Biret during a long career of recordings which started in Paris when she was only seventeen years old.(10). It is also, perhaps by providence, the 50th anniversary of Idil’s American debut which had taken place on the tragic day of 22 November 1963 (11).

A word of thanks is due here to Linda Lorimer and other senior administrators of Yale and YSO who have encouraged and given support to the project since the very beginning. All the Yale students in YSO, who have courageously undertaken the challenge of recording some of the most difficult works of the 20th century repertory with Idil Biret under the masterly baton of Toshi Shimada are also gratefully thanked. This project made it possible for me to do something for Yale, my alma mater, in return for all that Yale gave me during my years in New Haven when I was privileged to be there on a full scholarship as a member of the class of 1967.

Sefik Buyukyuksel      Yale  DC ‘67

New Haven

January 31st 2013

(1) See the article “Hindemith at Yale” by Prof. Allen Forte.
(2) In 1935 from 3 April to 16 May; in 1936 from 2 March to 3 June; in 1937 from 29 January to 20 February and from 25 Sept to 25 November. These reports, totaling around 200 pages, have been published for the first time in Germany in 2012 by Staccato Verlag in a facsimile edition.
(3) A photo of Hindemith in Ankara and that of his bust at the entrance of the conservatory are available.
(4) Atatürk said to Wilhelm Kempff, in an all night conversation in Ankara in 1927, that without parallel reforms in music the reforms being made in other areas in Turkey would remain incomplete. See the enclosed note on Atatürk’s discussion with Wilhelm Kempff on the importance of classical music in the context of the reform movement in the Turkish Republic.
(5) Including Rubinstein, Menuhin, Arrau, Gilels, Rostropovich, Schwarzkopf, Tebaldi and, during my senior year when I was an usher at the hall, the great Horowitz who suddenly decided to “rehearse” for his upcoming Carnegie Hall recital in New York. On that historic day not only did I show his wife Wanda (Toscanini) her seat, hear an unforgettable performance of Chopin’s B flat Minor Sonata, I became also the only person to be admitted to the artist’s room backstage after the concert where Horowitz briefly talked to me and both he and his wife signed one of his LPs for me.
(6) Naxos is now the largest distributor of classical music in the world.
(7) Hindemith performance can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozZJ1vDPxjQ&feature=c4-overview&list=UUIrsnGZbDUx3wOtIAwHaB4g
(8) The five works of Hindemith for piano and orchestra are the following:
Concerto for the left hand, for Piano and Orchestra (1923)
Kammermusik No. 2 for Piano, String Quartet and Brass (1924)
Concert Music for Piano, Two Harps and Brass (1930)
The Four Temperaments for Piano and Strings (1940)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1945)
(9) Hindemith composed the left hand concerto in 1923 on a commission by the pianist Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961) who had lost his right arm in WWI. Wittgenstein came from one of the wealthiest families in Austria and after the war commissioned concertos for the left hand from many composers including Britten, Strauss, Prokofiev and Ravel. He never performed Hindemith’s concerto in public and also did not allow its performance by another pianist or its publication during his lifetime. The original manuscript of the work is lost. However, a fair copy was preserved in the Wittgenstein estate which became accessible in 2002. Leon Fleisher premiered the concerto in 2004 and also made its first recording with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christoph Eschenbach in 2009. (Partly from notes by Giselher Schubert in the Eulenburg score of the concerto)
(10) See www.idilbiret.eu
(11) Idil Biret’s US debut concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Erich Leinsdorf took place shortly after the announcement of the death of President Kennedy. The recording of this concert from the live radio broadcast can be listened to on the link http://www.idilbiret.eu/en/?p=318