Secretariat Idil Biret / Brussels
2003 was another active year for Idil Biret. Naxos released her recordings of the Ligeti “Etudes” in March and the Stravinsky “Firebird” ballet transcription in July to much critical acclaim. The Gramophone magazine in England selected the “Firebird” as an editor’s choice in November saying “Idil Biret takes on this fiendish work with abandon and great deal of panache”. In Germany Peter Cossé, who had written an article and many reviews of Idil’s recordings in the Fonoforum, gave a 10/10 rating to the “Firebird” stating that “Biret had played the individual scenes with admirable confidence and lucidity”. In the Sunday Times review of the Ligeti Etudes, Paul Driver wrote that “Biret had a history of recording bold repertory and she was thrilling in dispatching these poem-pieces that push the keyboard to its extremities”. The Piano magazine in France gave the Ligeti Etudes its highest rating “Coup de coeur” saying that “after Boulez it was the turn of Ligeti to benefit from the marvelous talent of this exceptional pianist”. Interestingly, when questioned about the availability of the Ligeti CD, a record shop in New York, reported that 20 copies they had ordered were all sold in one day.
Separately, Idil Biret launched her own label Idil Biret Archives to produce recordings from her past archives as well as newly recorded works. The first among these is the 9 Beethoven Symphonies’ piano transcriptions by Liszt which Biret had recorded for EMI in 1986. The copyrights of these works having reverted to Biret, they were produced as a 6 CD box set with the support of the SABANCI Holding. Further, continuing the Beethoven Sonatas recordings, the 3rd volume of the series was also released earlier this year, the issue being dedicated to Idil’s mother Leman Biret and mother-in-law Nedret (Ölçer) Büyükyüksel. Biret has now completed recording 20 of the 32 Beethoven Sonatas which are being released as sponsors become available. Bilkent University’s own label BMP released in a box set of 3 CDs Biret’s live recordings of Beethoven’s 5 Concertos this time together with the Choral Fantasia. All the Beethoven recordings are available worldwide through the German internet record shops Albert and JPC (Beethoven Symphonies only) where also all the Naxos recordings of Biret are sold.
Coinciding with the release of the Ligeti and Stravinsky recordings major interviews with Biret were published in the Fonoforum (Germany), International Piano (England) and Piano (France) magazines. Fonoforum article also referred to the Beethoven Sonatas, Concertos and Symphony transcriptions recordings with praise. The Piano magazine in France gave its readers a CD with Biret’s recordings of Beethoven’s two Sonatas and the 1st Symphony transcription.
Idil Biret gave concerts with orchestras and recitals in New York, Rome, London, Antwerp, Mexico City, Monterrey (Mexico) and the Espoo Festival in Helsinki. She also gave a series of master classes at the Mannes College of Music in July in New York and participated in the jury of the Messiaen piano Competition in Paris in November. In Turkey, in addition to her concerts with all the State Symphony Orchestras (except Istanbul), she gave recitals in Ankara (for the benefit of the CSO), Istanbul, Izmir and for the first time in Edirne and also in Denizli where she played an orchestral concert. There were also two concerts with the Bilkent Symphony in Ankara where Biret also received an Honorary Doctorate degree from the Middle East Technical University in May.
Following the Festival recital in New York where Earl Wilde, Jerome Rose, György Sandor, Marc-André Hamelin and Jeffrey Swann also played, Patrick Meanor wrote in the International Piano magazine, “The highlight of the entire Festival was the appearance of the stunningly gifted Idil Biret. She began her programme with the seldom heard Brahms arrangement for left hand of the Bach ‘Chaconne’. She then launched into one of the most exciting performances of both books of the Brahms ‘Variations on a theme of Paganini’ that I have ever encountered. Ravel’s ‘Gaspard de la nuit’ was performed with a grace, charm and sheer fantasy that few pianists could match, while her five encores climaxed in a breathtaking performance of Schumann’s notorious ‘Tocatta’ “. Some years ago, following the release of Biret’s complete Chopin recordings, Patrick Meanor, who is also a Professor of English literature, had conducted an interview with Idil Biret in New York which was published in the Listener magazine. He had concluded the interview by saying, “…After an hour and a half I sadly departed from one of the most gracious and egoless major musical figures on the planet. What I found in her music, I found in her: a clarity, a richness, a warmth and openness that I so rarely encounter in anyone. That kind of graciousness is quietly but quickly disappearing from an almost totally commercialized musical scene that has become predictable and safe. Thank heavens there are Idil Birets around to remind us that music is still a human proposition”.
A book project “Conversations with Biret” is underway in France. It will also give the story of Naxos records and in that context contain a series of conversations with Biret – referred to by some as “the jewel in the crown of Naxos” – about her career, past and present work and future plans. In the book there will also be interviews with eminent musicians, musicologists and friends who have known Biret closely over the years.
A casualty of the intense activity of 2003 was the release of Biret’s recordings of the 20th century composers made for Atlantic/Finnadar in the 1970s. This project was postponed to 2004 and may be incorporated into the Idil Biret Archives series. Separately, an event took place early in the year which in Shakespearean tragedy would be called “comic relief”. The Islamic party which came to power in Turkey sent Idil Biret into retirement (together with many ambassadors and senior state officials) from the position of the piano soloist of the Presidential Symphony Orchestra (CSO), a post of symbolic value which she has held for many years. Many journalists and opposition party politicians publicly ridiculed this action, which came during the most productive period of Biret’s career; later it was reversed by a decision of Turkey’s Constitutional Court. Claude Samuel, an eminent name in the world of music in France (who was the head of Radio France Musique through the 1990s), referred to this act mockingly in an article in the French Diapason magazine saying “the Turkish government which is trying to reconcile its islamist sentiments with its European drive put aside Idil Biret who throughout a brilliant career always remained loyal to her native country”. The article then noted the modernization drive in music in Turkey since 1920s referring in this context to an important discussion between Atatürk and Wilhelm Kempff in 1927.
Idil Biret was also the subject of articles in the German press. In May 2003 articles appeared in two prestigious German newspapers, Die Welt and Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung (FAZ), describing the success of the Naxos record company. The article in the FAZ was titled “Goliath shrinks, David grows”. The biblical reference was due to the phenomenal success of Naxos which sells classical CDs at budget prices with an efficient worldwide distribution at very low budget prices. Naxos has become the top seller of classics in many countries outperforming the major labels Universal, EMI, Sony, Bertelsmann and Warner. Both articles referred to Idil Biret, one of the most successful artists recording for Naxos. The FAZ and Die Welt articles were reporting that the major record labels’ close relationship with the concert agents was preventing Idil Biret from performing in the main cities and prestigious halls of Germany because of her association with Naxos:
Die Welt (21 May 2003)
“…There is a certain diminishing discrimination of the agents against Naxos artists…and some like Idil Biret…are still not to be found in the concert life of our capital city (Berlin)…”
Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung (31 May 2003)
“…The major labels have drawn certain benefits from their close relationship with the concert agents. Brendel, Perahia and Kissin are still under contract with the major labels – while Idil Biret does not get a chance to play in the Philharmonie (the major concert hall of Frankfurt)…”
The events in Idil Biret’s career from the time she started recording for Naxos in 1990 confirm this serious allegation. They also provide evidence indicating that the major record labels’ illegal practice of causing discrimination against her is not limited to Germany but is spread throughout Europe and North America.
Despite all this, 2004 promises to be another active year. Among Biret’s many appearances are the concerts with the El Paso Symphony in Texas in February, the Warsaw Philharmonic in April (Beethoven 2nd), English Chamber Orchestra in London in June (Beethoven 3rd), a tour with the West German Radio Orchestra in March (Brahms 1st) and recitals in Rome in January, New York and Singapore in July, Weimar in September (Beethoven’s 9th Symphony transcription) and two recitals and master classes at the Allentown conservatory near Philadelphia in November. Beethoven Sonatas recordings will be continued with the 4th and 5th volumes of the series to be released in 2003 and the recordings of Liszt’s 1st and 2nd Concertos and Tschaikovky’s 1st and 2nd Concertos are planned. Work is also underway to organize tours in Japan and Egypt later in the year. Biret will also take part in a symposium on Nadia Boulanger in France in October and participate in the jury of a piano competition in Holland in December.
For further information please refer to Idil Biret’s website www.idilbiret.org