Secretariat Idil Biret / Brussels
2006 was a year rich in activities for Idil Biret, particularly in their variety; including the publication of a book, starting work on a new edition of the Chopin scores, new recordings, and a new CD release and of course concerts in many parts of the world.
The year began with a two week tour in Poland in January, in the freezing cold at sub zero temperatures reaching -25 at times, with concerts in Lublin, Bialystok and at Lodz (at the new Arthur Rubinstein concert hall). Lublin recital was particularly memorable with laudatory articles in the press prior to her arrival with headings like “a panistic genius coming to Lublin”. Her recital there in the impeccable acoustics of the Symphony Hall was greeted with a standing ovation. A weekend near the village of Kiermusy in an old manor house in the forest covered with snow was the highlight of the visit. It was here at the manor house, near the fireplace, that Idil finished writing the book on her life and thoughts on music. The manuscript was delivered to the publisher in February and work then resumed later in the month recording the remaining sonatas of the complete Beethoven edition. In March following concerts in Bursa, Ankara, Istanbul and Adana Idil gave a recital in Essen (Germany) at the occasion of the Bechstein Piano Competition where she was a jury member. April started with two concerts at the Ankara Festival with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra with Idil playing the 5th Concerto of Saint-Saens (the Egyptian) composed on the banks of the Nile river. Immediately after Idil travelled to Cairo to give a recital at the Manasterly Palace on an island in the Nile. Other highlights of the month were recitals in Ghent (Belgium) and Arnhem (Holland).
In the month of May Idil made her first major tour in Mexico organised thanks to the efforts of the friends Gerhard and Stenia Abel there. She started with two concerts in Monterrey performing again the Saint-Saens 5th with the Symphony Orchestra there. A recital in Cuernavaca followed. There were then a total of four concerts in Mexico City. Two of these were in the palatial Bellas Artes Hall, a marvellous example of 19th Century Mexican architecture. She played the D Minor Concerto of Bach there with the Bellas Artes Chamber Orchestra and gave the opening recital of the Piano Festival Blanco y Negro. Idil’s Naxos recordings had been widely distributed in Mexico for years and she was well known to the connoisseurs of classical music there who include the well known columnist Lazaro Azar. It was interesting to note that her concerts were attended by many Mexican pianists of renown and music students. She gave many interviews for radio stations and newspapers. A week of free time was spent visiting the cities of Puebla and Oaxaca in central Mexico. In Oaxaca Idil witnessed the beginning of the teacher’s strike with thousands of high school teachers filling the streets in dignity. One of the banners reading “our students should have at least one hot meal a day” was so saddening. She learned afterwards that the strike ended after five months with bloody encounters with the police. Within days after returning to Europe in June Idil travelled to Hamburg to give a recital in memory of her mentor Wilhelm Kempff upon the invitation of his family. The recital took place in the country side at Barnstedt in a 15th century church built of wood. Idil spent the rest of the month at the Aegean sea in a boat at the traditional annual blue cruise with friends.
In July for two weeks Idil participated in the Acanthes modern music forum in Metz (France) where she gave master classes, a recital and also a speech on the piano etudes of Ligeti. The Acanthes forum has been established some years ago by Claude Samuel who is the author of many books on music and was for a decade in the 1990s the director of Radio France Musique. August was the month of rest for Idil at the Sedef island off the coast of Istanbul with a daily swim around the island and preparations for the coming season.
In early September Diapasone and Classica/Telerama magazines journalists travelled from Paris to Ankara for Idil’s concert with the Bilkent Orchestra to interview her for the forthcoming release of her new CD and the publication of her book in France. Later in the month Buchet Chastel published the book of 320 pages titled “Idil Biret une Pianiste Turque en France” which Idil wrote responding to questions put to her by the author Dominique Xardel. In he book Idil describes her childhood years in Ankara, the passage of a law by the Turkish National Assembly to enable her to continue her studies in France, her arrival in Paris in 1949 at the age of seven years, the encounter with Nadia Boulanger and her studies at the Paris Conservatoire and her performance of Mozart’s two piano Concerto with Wilhelm Kempff in Paris 1953. The book then takes us through her concert career starting with a sixteen concert tour of the USSR upon the invitation of Emil Gilels, her first important London concert with Pierre Monteux and her US debut with Eric Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony performing Rachmaniof’s 3rd Concerto on the tragic day of 22 November 1963 where President Kennedy’s death is announced at the intermission taking us through the 1970s and 1980s leading to the recordings for EMI the complete Beethoven Symphony transcriptions by Liszt and then for Naxos the complete piano works of Brahms, Chopin and Rachmaninov. In the book Idil describes her mentors Nadia Boulanger, Wilhelm Kempff, Alfred Cortot, her thoughts on the performances of the great piano masters of the past and piano playing in general. After reading the book, the musicologist and ex-chief music critic of the French newspaper Le Monde has written the following words:
” I was struck with admiration by all the treasures contained in Idil Biret’s book. Before all – the wealth of information on the talent of Idil, the universality of her thinking, the force of her personality, the intensity of all her vision on music and the world around her without the least bit of conformity – and further, all that she tells us about her teachers, her colleagues without ever any touch of enmity and neither with any emphasis on her own importance nor settling of past accounts. This is a superb portrait of a being who is as original as she is enchanting and the book has been admirably well written.”
In Germany the book will be published by Staccato Verlag and in Turkey by Dünya Publications in their music books series. A Greek translation is also under preparation.
At the same time in September, the French Pianos label Alpha (French Midem best label of 2005) released Idil’s recording of the rarely performed Jules Massenet Piano Concerto and the Symphonic Variations and Les Djinns of Cesar Franck with the Bilkent University Symphony Orchestra (Ankara, Turkey) conducted by Alain Paris. This was the first time Idil had recorded with a Turkish orchestra and the recording was well received with a laudatory article appearing in the December issue of Gramophone where Ivan March (also he editor of the Penguin Guide) said,
“In this CD Idil Biret fully demonstrates the distinction of her playing. In the Massenet ‘Concerto’ it is the often exquisite romantic delicacy of her playing that captures the listener. This is a captivating work played with great imagination and understanding…Refinement is also the keynote of the equally impressive performance of Franck’s ‘Symphonic Variations’… In’ Les Djinns’ it is Biret’s easy virtuosity that carries the music forward, with warm lyrical contrast and fragile but glittering dexterity in the delectable coda. I greatly enjoyed these performances and hope there will be more recordings from this source and these artists .”
In October Idil finally completed the recording of the 32 Beethoven Sonatas cycle with the recording of the three remaining sonatas, Pathetique, Tempest and Hammerklavier. These will now be issued in 2008 in an all Beethoven box set of 18 CDs containing the 9 Symphonies transcriptions by Liszt, the 32 Sonatas and the 5 Concertos (in a new recording to be conducted by Antoni Wit). She then travelled to Paris for interviews at Radio France Musique and with the music critic of Le Figaro newspaper. Later in the month she played all Schumann programs in recitals in Bonn, Leverkusen and Wuppertal in Germany as part of the Bayer Cultural Series for the composer’s 150th anniversary. After the Wuppertal concert Hartmut Sassenhausen wrote in the Wuppertaler Zeitung and article titled: Pianist has Fire in her Fingers,
“Idil Biret – since the early 1960s the name is known to all the piano fans. On Tuesday evening the great pianist came to Wuppertal for the second concert of the (Bayer) Robert Schumann Cycle. Performing works by Schumann and Brahms she played a magnificient concert.”
In Leverkusen Klaus Winterberg continued in the Leverkusener Anzeiger in an article titled: Grand Dame of Piano – Idil Biret,
“Idil Biret is a phenomenon. In her decades long unprecedented and unequalled career she has acquired a repertoire that stands alone, unrivalled. From baroque to modern, from original works to transcriptions she has set the highest standards whatever she plays. Colossal energy and memory capacity, stupefying technique, steely energetic hard work must have lent wings to her formative years of development. As a self assured Grand Dame she encountered the public in the concert hall – and Robert Schumann. With her interpretation she detached herself from the Pollinis, Brendels, Arraus and , yes, even from her mentor Wilhelm Kempff.”
In early November Idil travelled to Ankara for a concert and recordings of the Schumann and Grieg Concertos with the Bilkent Orchestra conducted by Maestro Antoni Wit, the music director of Warsaw Philharmonic. Earlier, Idil had performed many times in concerts and also recorded all the piano concertos of Brahms and Rachmaninov with Antoni Wit when he was the music director of the Polish National Radio Orchestra.
November was spent in Turkey with Idil cris-crossing the country for concerts and recitals in Bursa, Adana, Ankara, Izmir, Istanbul and Mugla (with an enchanting side trip to the ancient port city of Knidos). At the beginning of December Idil made a visit to Minsk in Byelorussia to give a recital and perform the 3rd Concerto of Rachmaninoff with the State Orchestra. She had earlier twice played in this city during her USSR tours in the 1960s. The last concert of the year then took place in Doorn, Netherlands.
In December Idil completed the editing of Chopin’s Tarantelle, the first work to be published by International Music Co. in the US as part of the complete works of Chopin being newly edited for IMC by her. During the year it was also noted that Biret’s recording of Chopin’s Nocturne op.9 no.2 was used in the sound track of the film “Bad Santa” released in the US in 2003. A final piece of good news of the month was the announcement that Poland had decided to decorate Idil Biret with a Distinguished Service Medal in recognition of her work in helping spread Polish culture with her recordings and performances of Chopin’s music. The medal will be presented to Biret on January 23rd 2007 by the Polish President at a ceremony at their embassy in Ankara.
Among the important events of the coming year and the 2007/8 season are a tour of the United States with a recital in San Francisco and concerts with the Louisiana Philharmonic in New Orleans, participation in the opening concert of the Istanbul Festival where she will be given an award for her contributions in the past 35 years of the Festival and play the Bach C minor concerto for two pianos with the talented 10 year old Turkish pianist Mertol Demirelli, a tour of Poland including a concert with the Warsaw Philharmonic (Schumann Concerto) and a recital in Germany (Nordkirchen) as part of the 20th anniversary of the founding of Naxos as well as recordings of the Tchaikovsky’s 3rd Piano Concerto, Liszt’s Totentanz and the all the five Piano Concertos of Beethoven (the latter with Antoni Wit), participation in the juries of the Ferrucio Busoni (Bolzano), Scottish (Glasgow) and Sviatoslav Richter (Moscow) piano competitions.