2009 was a year of travels, concerts and release of a record number of CDs (19 altogether) on Idil Biret’s own record label IBA (Idil Biret Archive) which was launched internationally in December 2008.
The year started with a concert in Potsdam (Germany) in January in memory of Wilhelm Kempff who had lived there before the second world war. His children Irene and Roland were present at the concert. Then Idil started her series of concerts in Turkey which took her to Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana, Gaziantep, Antalya, Eskisehir, Karabük as well as to universities in Mersin, Burdur, Pamukkale, Edirne, Konya, Nigde, Edirne, Erzurum and the Middle East Technical University in Ankara throughout the year.
In February Idil made a tour in the USA giving recitals in Allentown Pennsylvania, New York (NY Times Centre Hall) and Houston (Wortham Center) followed by concerts in March with the Caracas Symphony Orchestra in Venezuela (Grieg Concerto) and the Havana Symphony Orchestra in Cuba (Beethoven 4th) conducted by Francesco Belli who was a disciple of the legendary conductor Sergiu Celibidache. The Cuban orchestra was an outstanding ensemble under the direction of an exceptional conductor; the first rehearsal was of recordable quality with the concerto being played through without the conductor stopping the orchestra even once – a good example of the fact that today in our world many an orchestra and conductor without “star” denomination make music much better than those considered “stars” by the commercialized world of classical mainstream music. The week spent in Cuba was memorable with a visit to Hemingway’s house and attending a performance of Giselle by the famous Cuban National ballet in the presence of the legendary Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso. In Caracas Idil visited the museum of the great Venezuelan pianist of the late 19th Century, Teresa Carreno. During the week between the concerts in the USA and Latin America Idil took a cruise in the Carribean, visiting Cartagena in Colombia and crossing the Panama Canal to the Pacific Ocean. Afterwards she gave a benefit concert in New York for the “Send a Piano to Havana” organization whose members had organized the concert in Cuba.
May started with a concert in London at the St. John Smith Square where Idil played the Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto with the Whitehall Orchestra to a capacity audience. This was followed by a visit to Athens for a benefit concert for the Gina Bachauer Foundation established thirty years ago in memory of the legendary Greek pianist. A free day in Greece was spent visiting the ancient city of Mycenea, the Corinth canal and the Epidaurus theatre. In June the English translation of her book “A Turkish Pianist on the World Stages” was printed in a private limited edition. Idil received an honorary doctorate degree from Bilkent University and after giving further concerts in Turkey she boarded the boat in Fethiye for the annual two week trip in the Aegean.
July turned out to be a most unpleasant month with a deplorable incident that will long stay in memory. Following the publication of an inflammatory article in a reactionary, religious newspaper in Istanbul, a demonstration took place outside the Topkapi Palace where Idil was about to give a concert. The concert posters were burnt in front of Biret’s eyes and the national press and TV made headlines of the event for days. This incident is described in detail below. Idil spent the last part of July and the month of August in her dear island Sedef, off the coast of Istanbul resting, swimming and working. A week of master-classes in Ayvalik on the coast of the Aegean followed at the end of August. In September she went to the south of England for a concert with the Worthing Orchestra (St. Saëns 2nd Concerto) after which she traveled to Cornwall for a long planned visit. October to December were months with many concerts ending an eventful year.
Idil will start 2010 with the recording of Tchaikovsky’s Concert Fantasy in January with the Bilkent Orchestra conducted by José Serebrier after which she will travel to the US for a concert and master-class at Yale University. In February she will go to Poland for a concert with the Cracow Philharmonic conducted by Kazimierz Kord (Chopin 1st Concerto), and for recitals in Lublin and other cities as part of the celebrations there for the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth. In March she will be in London to perform Chopin’s 2nd Concerto. Recitals in Potsdam (Nikolaisaal), Glasgow and Berlin (Konzerthaus) will be among the important concerts of the year. Idil will also appear as the soloist with the Yale Symphony Orchestra in their concerts in Istanbul and Ephesus at the end of May and early June. She will be on the jury of two piano competitions, in Glasgow (September) and Berlin (October). Discussions are under way to organize a tour in Spain with an orchestra in October. In March the translation of André Gide’s book “Notes on Chopin” will be published in Turkey with a foreword by Idil together with a CD of her recordings of works referred to by Gide in the book. A most important event of the year will be the release on IBA label the 9 LPs Idil Biret recorded in New York for the Finnadar label of Atlantic Records produced by Ilhan Mimaroglu. Long deleted from catalogues and only available to collectors through e-bay auctions, these recordings, including many 20th Century compositions by Ravel, Stravinsky, Boulez, Boucourechliev, Miaskovsky, Scriabin, Prokofiev and Mimaroglu, will all be released on CD anddigitally on major websites, including Naxos Music Library, ClassicsOnline, iTunes, eMusic and Amazon during 2010.
Information on all the CDs being released on the IBA label can be found on the website
TOPKAPI PALACE INCIDENT / 11 JULY 2009
Idil Biret was engaged to perform on 11 July, in the courtyard of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the Tchaikovsky 1st Concerto with the Whitehall Orchestra which traveled from London for the event. The day before the concert the reactionary, ultra religious, sharia supporter, Vakit newspaper, much admired by some leading politicians governing Turkey, published a headline first page article condemning the concert saying that western music would be played and wine would be drunk at the Topkapi Palace near the building where some holy relics of prophet Mohammed are kept. The article concluded that this was a sacrilege and that acts like these would bring the downfall of the country. This was all nonsense, of course; the editor of the newspaper obviously did not know or did not want to remember that such events always took place in the courtyard and only recently the prime minister had given a party there on the occasion of a NATO conference where much wine was served. A nationalist/religious ultra right group, misled by this newspaper article, organized a demonstration by 70-80 of their members who gathered at the outer gate of the Palace shouting Allahu Ekber (God is great) and tried to enter the courtyard where an audience of some two thousand people were waiting for the concert to start oblivious to the events developing outside. Some members of the group, angry that they could not pass through the police barricade to enter the grounds (had they been able to do so a disaster could have followed), started pulling down the three meter (nine foot) concert posters hanging on the walls of the palace wall. They kicked them around on the ground and then burnt them – in front of the eyes of Idil Biret who had just arrived to enter the courtyard through the same gate. She observed the unruly crowd silently, listening with patience to the words of abuse against the concert and audience shouted by the group and then saw with distress the posters of her concert torn down and burnt by the crowd in front of her – only minutes before she was to go on stage to perform a concerto. She had to be hidden among a group of women so as not to be noticed by the unruly crowd at the palace gate. Finally, Idil was taken by the back door to the palace grounds and she performed admirably the Tchaikovsky Concerto followed by an encore – Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude, a very proper ending under the circumstances. All the newspapers and the TV stations of the land made headlines of the event the next few days, strongly condemning it (except Vakit which went on heaping abuse on the concert and its organizers). After two noisy days where Idil’s name made the press and TV for an event other than musical for the first time in her life, the leaders of the widely condemned ultra nationalist group realised that they had made a mistake in attacking the concert of an artist who is a national icon in Turkey and they decided to apologise for what they had done to her. The formal apology itself became an event, conducted in the office of the Topkapi Palace director followed by declarations of good will by both sides in front some thirty TV cameras in the same courtyard where the concert had taken place. Interestingly, except for the German newspaper Der Tagesspiel where a long article appeared on the incident with the title “Barbarians in the Palace”, none of the foreign press reported the incident. It was said that the foreign correspondents in Turkey who write many rosy stories about the so-called moderate Islam governing the country were afraid that this violent outburst would be seen abroad as a manifestation of the islamization of the country – which it certainly was –and therefore chose not to report it.* Had they done so, their readers would discover that the rising Islam in Turkey was not so moderate after all. So much for objective journalism !
* This is all the more striking when one remembers that immediately after the release of the film “Mustafa” in Turkey about the life of Atatürk, Le Figaro in Paris, The Times in London and New York Times published long articles saying that the legacy of Atatürk was finally being critically reviewed in Turkey. Seemingly, news from Turkey that suit their vision get the attention of these gentlemen of the press – those that do not do not.
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