Secretariat Idil Biret / Brussels
This was a year of travels for Idil Biret, engagements taking her to places as far as Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, and Allentown in Pennsylvania USA. January started with the now traditional annual recital in Rome at the Theatre Ghione master pianists series. She then went to Paris for an appearance on the Radio France program “Cordes Sensibles” presented by Jean Michel Damien. Mr. Damien started the program by saying:
“You are a mythical person in the universe of music. After a childhood as prodigy ‘par excellence’ when you were admired by the greatest musicians you have moved into a career where you continue to surprise doing something extraordinary every five or six years. You performed and recorded the complete Beethoven symphony transcriptions of Liszt; then you recorded all the piano works of Chopin receiving a Grand Prix Chopin in Poland; then after a few years came the recording of the 3 Sonatas of Boulez an extremely difficult, inaccessible summit. You have a career out of the ordinary and you are a person unique in the world of music…Last week I was in Nantes with friends who asked me what I was doing in my next program. When I said I would be receiving Idil Biret, there was a sigh of astonishment. They looked at me in wonder as though I was receiving the Queen of England. For you are such a mythical and somewhat mysterious person. I have been trying to bring you to this program for quite some time. So, welcome to Cordes Sensibles. ”
During the three hours that ensued he spoke with Idil about her early years in Paris and her later international performing and recording career also playing her many recordings. Idil then performed the Bach/Brahms Chaconne, Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata, Schumann’s Tocatta and other works in front of a full house audience in the large hall of the French Radio for which she had made her first ever recording as a small child in 1949. Idil then travelled to Texas for concerts with the El Paso Orchestra performing Beethoven’s 3rd Concerto.
In March Idil was in Cologne playing Brahms 1st Concerto with the West Deutsche Rundfunk Orchestra and together they then toured Turkey performing the same program in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. April’s main event was Idil’s appearance at the Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw where she played Beethoven’s 2nd Concerto. Maestro Antoni Wit who recorded all the Brahms and Rachmaninov Concertos with Idil had invited her when he became the music director of the Warsaw Philharmonic the previous year. In May she was in London for an interview/recital at the BBC Radio 3 studios. This was followed by another session of recordings in Brussels for six more Beethoven Sonatas bringing to a total 26 the Sonatas so far recorded. She expects to finalise the series of 32 by recording the remaining Sonatas, which include the Hammerklavier, Tempest and Pathetique, next year.
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The summer then started in June with a recital in Toulouse, France and a concert with the English Chamber Orchestra in London where Biret played Beethoven’s 3rd Concerto. During the same month she was also in Ankara to make her first studio recording in Turkey with the Bilkent Symphony Orchestra performing Liszt’s 1st and 2nd Concertos. The veteran engineer Günther Appenheimer who recorded over 20 of her Naxos CDs, including all the Brahms and Rachmaninov concertos with the Polish Radio Orchestra, travelled from Heidelberg to Ankara to make the Liszt recordings. In July Idil went to the Far East for a recital at the Singapore Festival. Here she played for the first time in public Etudes of Ligeti which she has recorded for Naxos. The Stravinsky Firebird transcription, in great demand since her award winning 2003 performance on the Naxos CD, was also on the program here as well as in many of the recitals throughout the year. The month ended with a visit to Bayreuth to attend the Tannhäuser performance. Idil said afterwards that she knows no other hall anywhere in the world with such magnificent acoustical qualities which make it a special experience to hear Wagner’s music in Bayreuth.
August was the month of rest in Idil’s much loved Sedef island off the coast of Istanbul. The smallest of the Princes Islands Sedef is a residential place with one grocery shop and one restaurant. Only bicycles are allowed here. Idil and her husband Sefik rent part of a house here overlooking the sea where in the garden there is also a rare Sequoia tree (only 40 years old and not as tall or broad yet as the cousins in California). She swam for hours each day touring the island many times, preparing in solitude for the days of work ahead. Then, at the end of the month came an unexpected opportunity to give a recital in the small, old and abandoned church in Gümüslük near Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassus). Idil chose to perform the Beethoven’s 9th Symphony transcription of Liszt in preparation for the Weimar Festival concert in a few weeks. The ancient village church could only take about 70 people. So, seats were arranged outside for a few hundred more who watched the concert from a screen projection and listened to the music through the open windows, the wind carrying the sound to the churchyard and beyond to the moonlit bay of Gümüslük in the distance.
Idil opened the new season on 3 September at the Weimar Festival playing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony upon the invitation of the festival director, the eminent musicologist Nike Wagner, the great grand daughter of Richard Wagner. Performing the 9th in the city of Schiller and Goethe gained a different meaning for the artist and audience. Altogether it was a memorable and moving event. Another recital in Germany followed, at the Benedictine Monastery near Münster where she played the works of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Naxos record company which has its headquarters in Münster had a surprise for Idil that evening. Their director came on stage after the concert to announce that the sales of Idil Biret’s Naxos CDs had passed 2 Million copies and presented her a platinum disc to commemorate this memorable event. The Naxos press release issued the same day started with the words, “Numbers like that are quite rare in the world of classical music” (see enclosed). In an article which appeared in the Westfalische Zeitung after the concert the reviewer wrote,
“As Hans von Bülow said almost 130 years ago, the three great B’s of music are Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. After her concert in Gerleve tonight there was no doubt that the fourth great B is Biret”.
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Idil Biret then travelled to Salonica, Greece where she played two concerts performing Chopin’s 2nd Concerto and the next day, replacing an ailing colleague, Cemal Resit Rey’s ‘Katibim Variations’. Afterwards, a young Greek named Vasilios Mitsopoulos wrote her a touching letter saying,
“You made me cry with your playing…Before I heard you, I liked Chopin…After you, I love him! Thank you for making me a better person with your playing.”
A visit to Egypt followed in October where, after an interval of more than 30 years, Biret gave a concert at the Opera House in Cairo playing Chopin’s 2nd Concerto. The next day she gave a master class to the piano students of the Cairo Conservatory. She then travelled to Addis Ababa finding a very different land there then the Ethiopia of Haile Selassie that she had last visited in 1967. Her recital took place at the concert hall of the Italian Cultural Institute. After listening to the program of the 12 Chopin Etudes op.25, the Preludes of Saygun and Stravinsky Firebird transcription, the British musicologist Brian Willson, who is also an accomplished pianist, wrote one of the most extraordinary concert reviews of Idil’s entire career in an article titled Life after Perfection: Idil Biret . Asking “Is there life after perfection?”. Mr. Willson then answered his question at the end of the essay/article, saying,
“Yes, and preferably only then: for this erstwhile child prodigy turned musician, the perfection would seem to have come first. But, both are necessary. And after hearing her last Wednesday, nobody can doubt that she is well and truly alive.”
From Ethiopia Idil went to the south of France to attend a colloquium on her teacher and mentor Nadia Boulanger held at the Academie Villecroze. Musicians who had been students of Nadia Boulanger and musicologists who knew her work well came from Europe and USA to this retreat among pine forests in the hills behind Nice. For three days they discussed the life and work of this great French musician and pedagogue of the 20th Century. Among the participants were Noel Lee, Dominique Merlet, Remy Stricker, Jean Louis Hagenauer, Ronald Zollman. Evenings were music making time. The final night, Idil and classmate from the Paris Conservatoire Dominique Merlet played the two piano version of the Brahms Piano Quintet. The last event of October was a recital in London for the Mil Hill Music Club. That evening, while taking Idil to the concert venue, the president of the music club said, memorably,
“Since 1955 many great artists including Menuhin, Moiseiwitch, Schwarzkopf and Rubinstein performed at our concert series. We had one great artist missing – Idil Biret. Today we are rectifying this.”
Following the Naxos announcement of the sale of 2 Million CDs, the editor of the Classical FM magazine in England had expressed the wish to produce an article on Idil Biret. Her London stay provided the opportunity for the photo session for it at the Henry Wood Hall and she was then interviewed by one of the magazine’s senior staff. The article will appear in a four page layout in the magazine early in 2005. BBC Music magazine broke the news to its readers in its January 2005 issue with the title TWO MILLION AND COUNTING, saying, “Million – disc sellers are a rare phenomenon in classical music, so hats off to Idil Biret. Sales of the Turkish pianist’s Naxos CDs have now crossed the million mark not just once…but twice.”
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The first week of November Idil travelled to the USA for two recitals in Allentown near Philadelphia, sponsored by a Turkish doctor who has been successfully practicing there for many years. The first was an all Chopin concert and the second the music of 20th Century, with works by Prokofiev, Bartok, Saygun, Ligeti, Ravel and Stravinsky. The eminent musicologist and one time chief music critic of the Philadelphia Enquirer, Bernard Jacobson, was at the second concert. He wrote a review afterwards saying,
“The campus of Muhlenberg College in Allentown 50 miles north of Philadelphia, may not sound to the uninitiated like a major center on the international music map, but it was where you needed to be on Sunday November 14 if you are a lover of transcendental piano playing. Idil Biret, the great Turkish pianist, gave a recital devoted entirely to 20th century works, and demonstrated in this perhaps surprising context the true meaning of ‘virtuosity’: not flashy superficiality, but simply a technical command so complete that the performer can as it were take the solution of problems for granted and concentrate entirely on musical issues…She is a pianist and a musician of the first rank, and in this thoughtfully planned program she was at her best…If 20th Century music were always performed like this, it would surely not suffer from the hearer – unfriendly reputation that still too often bedevils it.”
Immediately afterwards Idil returned to England for two more recitals. This was followed by a week in Turkey for concerts and studio recordings of Tchaikovsky’s 1st and the rarely performed 2nd Concertos (in the original long version) with the Bilkent Orchestra which is now receiving well deserved international attention in the aftermath of an EMI release of the recordings made with the French pianist J. P. Collard.
A weekend of Jury work at a piano competition in the Hague, Netherlands, a recital in Istanbul and also an orchestral concert there (Bach F Minor concerto) to aid the financing of the reforestation effort at one of the Princes islands, Burgaz, which lost almost all its pine trees in a terrible fire a few years ago will bring December and the year to a close during which Idil played also many recitals and concerts in Turkey including those with the State Symphony Orchestras in Ankara, Izmir and Antalya.
The most touching event of 2004 was the backstage visit by an admirer, after Idil’s concert in South-end-on Sea, England, who said that he had travelled 300 miles to attend the recital, adding that he had all her recordings and her music meant so much to him that he hoped he would be listening to it to his dying day.
In 2005 recitals and concerts are programmed in England, France (Chopin Festival in Paris), Netherlands, Mexico, Turkey, North Cyprus and in the USA in Boston, Portland Oregon as well as a benefit concert at Maui in the Hawaiian islands. A concert in Tokyo will take place in October. Idil Biret will also participate in the juries of the Liszt competition in Utrecht, Holland in March and the Busoni competition in Bolzano, Italy in August. In December she will record the Piano Concerto of Jules Massenet with the Bilkent Orchestra conducted by Alain Paris for release in France in 2006. Idil Biret’s book project is nearing completion and it is expected to be published in France in 2006 and later in other countries. Finally, as mentioned earlier, completion of the recordings of the remaining six Beethoven Sonatas is planned.