Idil Biret                                                           Secretariat Idil Biret – Brussels



 Idil Biret in 2017 and moving to 2018

2017 was a year of happy and sad days. Michel Devos, Idil’s friend, producer of many of his recordings since 1985, passed away. His proposal in 1985 to record Beethoven’s symphony transcriptions by Liszt for EMI had opened the way to a major recording career for Idil. Their last recording together took place in March at the Chateau de Flawinne in Belgium with the works of Franck, Mussorgsky and Glazunov. Idil wrote a memorial note which was read at his funeral (here below).

The year opened with a recital at the Süreyya Opera House in Istanbul, the entrance stairway of which is modeled on that of the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris. Other concerts and masterclasses in Turkey continued. After a break in Antibes, France, Idil recorded in March Franck’s Prelude, Chorale et Fugue and Prelude Aria et Final, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Glazunov’s Sonata No. 2. The daughter of Glazunov had given the score of his father’s work to Idil in Paris in 1961 and she had then played it at an all Russian program at Salle Gaveau. This was to be her last recording with Michel Devos who passed away in September after a short illness.

Further concerts continued in Turkey in April. She gave two recitals at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara followed by a recital at the British Consulate in Istanbul for the alumni of the English High School (alma mater of her husband). A benefit concert for the Sagalassos Foundation (of which she is a founder and board member), to support the excavations at this ancient city followed. There was then a performance of Beethoven’s 5th Concerto in Izmir and Mozart’s Concerto in D Minor, K. 466, at the Hacettepe University with their conservatory orchestra  in Ankara.

Idil then traveled to Canada to participate in the jury of the Montreal Piano Competition; There, in the jury, she met and became friends with the great Canadian singer Joseph Rouleau whose performances of Boris Godunov and King Philip of Spain, among others, are legendary. A gifted Hungarian pianist won the competition performing, unusually, Bartok’s 3rd Concerto in the final. Often winners play Tchaikovsky’s 1st or Rachmaninov’s 3rd to demonstrate their virtuosity skills to the jury and public (in the opinion of the writer of these lines, both these works should be prohibited from being performed at finals of piano competitions).

A recital at the Ganz Hall in Chicago followed. Having played many concerts in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Philadelphia, the only major city in the US where Idil Biret had not performed before was Chicago. Her program at this important recital was as below:


Bach                Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor

Bach/Kempff   Siciliano from Flute Sonata in F major

Chopin            Sonata in B Minor, Op. 58

Ravel               Gaspard de la Nuit      

Prokofiev        Sonata No.2


After a masterclass in Chicago, Idil went to Key West in Florida to visit Hemingway’s house. Other than the cats with six toes, there was little of interest to see. There was hardly any original furniture of Hemingway in the house. Only a few books were left in the small library. A lot of posters of films like Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Sun also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls,  copies of which one can buy anywhere, lined the walls. Next to the Hemingway house in Cuba, which Idil had visited after a concert in Havana in 2009, it was a disappointment. The house in Cuba is as Hemingway left it in 1959; full of his books, classical LP records, all the original furniture. He had intended to return. But, when he never did, the Cuban state turned the house into a museum and maintained it in good condition.

There was then a stay and a house concert in Boston at the home of William Buffet (a cousin of Warren) who knew Idil’s husband Sefik from his days at the New Trier High School in Chicago as an American Field Service (AFS) student. Afterwards, Idil went to New Haven to attend Sefik’s 50th class reunion at Yale University. There, Idil saw his room at Davenport College on the wall of which had hung her photo, long before they had met.

June was the month of the blue voyage with friends in a gület ship in the Aegean bay of Göcek that lasted three weeks. During this month a remarkable review of the Bach & Mozart Edition box appeared in a US magazine. It was written by the musicologist Marc Edwin who was born blind. The review opens with the following paragraphs:

The Turkish pianist Idil Biret celebrated her 75th birthday last November. To approach and honor this milestone, her own label, distributed by the now-venerable Naxos, has been releasing a series of comprehensive box sets traversing her entire career. The word “comprehensive” is not used lightly; in this set alone, the ninth in the series, we hear performances from her earliest radio broadcasts in 1949 to July of 2016, allowing Biret’s changing approaches to these composers’ works full documentation and exploration; it’s quite a journey, and I have heard no other pianist that has made the complex but still intuitively simple interpretive decisions Biret has made. 

Bach and Mozart are certainly not standard Dusted fare, and Idil Biret is probably not a name familiar even to those Dusted (magazine) readers receptive to Classical music. Her career as child prodigy and young firebrand, making her American debut on the day of President Kennedy’s assassination, is a story that should be better known, as should her many recordings of stunningly varied repertoire. She is one of the very few pianists who can make not only convincing but uniquely visionary cases for works as chronologically and stylistically diverse as piano sonatas by Beethoven and Pierre Boulez.  

As with Alfred Brendel, a pianist of similar distinctions, there is a real sense in which Biret stands at the end of an era. Her approach to the scores, at once quite romantic and intellectually rigorous, places her outside of the bland and cookie-cutter perfection that has become a performance trend in European art music. This seeming dichotomy renders Her Bach and Mozart iconoclastic in the best sense, somewhat difficult upon initial audition but yielding many rewards on repetition. * 

Mr. Medwin called Idil from Washington DC and had a long discussion with her before writing this article.

In July Idil went to Moscow. She gave a recital at the Turkish Embassy residence which was attended by the director of the Tchaikovsky conservatory and the head of the Rachmaninov museum in Ivanovka. Also present was the widow of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey who was heinously slain by an islamist policeman in Ankara in December 2016. Afterwards, Idil made a 650 km journey by train and car to the Rachmaninov museum in Ivanovka, the family farm which was Rachmaninov’s summer residence from 1890 until 1917. He had composed many of his greatest works, including the 2nd and 3rd piano concertos there. The farm houses were destroyed during the revolution. In the 1980s the two main houses were rebuilt according to the original plans and most of their furniture, found at homes in nearby villages, were brought back. Alexander Ermakov has been in charge of the place for nearly 30 years and is guarding it with love and affection. Idil gave a recital in the main house where she played Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42 and the Six Moments Musicaux, Op. 16. A pine tree was planted in her name in the garden, as is customary. A concert hall is being built near the museum where an annual Rachmaninov Festival will take place as from 2019. Idil was invited to be one of the first to play there by Mr. Ermakov.

Another memorable concert in July was in the antique theatre at Stratonikea, near Mugla in Turkey. An large group of some 8000 people filled the seats  completely. The theatre had not seen such a crowd since its heydays in antiquity. In these dark days of Turkey, Idil is seen to reperesent the founding ideals of the Republic and audiences fill up her concerts hoping to find a moment of relief in her presence. Idil played an early Mozart concerto, K.271, and hopes to return there next summer with the Tchaikovsky 1st.

August was spent at the Sedef island, in Istanbul, the summer abode of Idil. There, she completed the work to revise her solo piano transcription of the 4th Symphony of Brahms. This score will be published by SCHOTT in Germany in the fall of 2018. 3rd Symphony and four song transcriptions from the cycle Die schöne Magelone will follow.

Idil was in Munich, Germany during the first ten days of September to participate in the jury of the piano competition organized by the Bavarian radio (Bayerische Rundfunk). While the first two rounds passed without any event, a problem arose in the voting for the finalists. A few jury members seemed to have collided to ensure that all three finalists were from countries in the far east. A fine German pianist, deserving to be in the final, was eliminated with this vote (an often practiced way of removing a potential challenger from the final to ensure he/she is not a threat to the one who is wanted by some in the jury to win the competition). Having had enough of these jury machinations which she had experienced also at other competitions, Idil said she would resign unless the vote was retaken. The threat worked. The vote was taken again and one pianist left his place to the German whose fine performance at the final won him the second place. Many people thought he should have won the first prize.

The traditional ten days of masterclasses at the coastal town of Ayvalik, near Izmir followed. Beethoven was the composer of the year. Best five of the students were taken to a recital at the Leyla Gencer concert hall in Istanbul to play different sonatas; a performance that ended with the sonata Op. 109 played by Idil Biret herself.

October began with a concert in England where Idil played Mozart’s Concerto in C Minor, K.491 with the Worthing Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Gibbons. Together they had recorded the same work with the London Mozart players at a concert in London a year ago, in October. Idil then traveled to Ankara to perform the opening concert of the season with the Presidential Symphony Orchestra. Beethoven’s Fantasy for Piano, Orchestra and Chorus was on the program together with Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise. The week after, she played with the Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra under the baton of the Polish conductor, Ms. Marzena Diakun,  Chopin’s F Minor 2nd Concerto. The concert was attended by the Polish Ambasador.

Then there was a trip to Wagner’s temple city Bayreuth, in Germany. Prof. Dominique Xardel, the author of the book on Idil Biret Une Pianist Turc en France had asked her to come there for a recital and to give masterclasses to gifted amateur pianists. The recital took place on 22 October at the concert hall of the Steingräber piano factory with a program that consisted of Liszt’s transcription of works by Wagner, Schubert, Bach and the Rachmaninov pieces she had played in Ivanovka. October 22nd was also the 41st anniversary of her wedding which was celebrated at a post concert dinner with friends.

Another important concert of the year took place on 10 November, the anniversary of Atatürk’s death, in Eskisehir, arguably the most civilized, modern city in Turkey thanks to the decades long efforts of its mayor Yilmaz Büyükersen. Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy was the concluding work of the day’s program.

Finally, Idil was invited by the Russian Ambassador to perform at the memorial service for the first anniversary of the killing of his predecessor in Ankara, on 19 December. There she played to an audience including members of the Russian parliament,  Rachmaninov’s six Moments Musicaux.

In November, the IBA Brahms Edition (16 CDs) with the complete piano solo works and the two concertos as well as Biret’s transcriptions of the symphonies 3 and 4, the piano quintet and the two sonatas for cello and piano was released internationally by Naxos.. This will be followed by the Concertos and Solo Music Edition early in 2018**. Then all the ten box sets produced since 2011*** will be put together in a Superbox of 130 CDs and released worldwide by Naxos in May 2018.

The Russian translation of Biret’s book of memoirs has been completed and will be published by the Rachmaninov Museum in Ivanovka in January 2018.


*The complete article by Marc Medwin is at the link below



All the solo works and concerto studio recordings not included in the nine  box sets released earlier. These are:

(1) Tchaikovsky  Concertos Nos. 1 and 3; (2)  Tchaikovsky  Concerto No. 2, Concert Fantasy; (3) Saint Säens Concertos Nos.2 and 4; (4)  Saint-Saëns  Concerto No. 5, Ravel Concertos in G major and D major (for left hand); (5)  Massenet ConcertoFranck Variations symphoniques, Les   Djinns; (6) Schumann Concerto, Grieg Concerto;

(7)  Schubert Wanderer Fantasie, Two sonatas, an impromptu; (8) Berlioz/Liszt  Symphonie Fantastique; (9)   Scriabine  Etudes Opp. 2, 8, 42; (10) Scriabine Sonatas No. 6, 7, 9, 10 Ravel Gaspard de la nuit; (11) Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition, Glazunov Sonata No. 2, Balakirev Islamey; (12) Franck  Prelude, Chorale et Fugue, Prelude, Chorale et Finale; Fauré Theme et Variations; Alkan Le chemin de fer

***The ten boxes are the following Editions:

Beethoven (19CDs), Liszt (9 CDs), Brahms (16 CDS), Chopin (15 CDs), Rachmaninov (10 CDs), Schumann (8 CDs), Bach & Mozart (12 CDs), LP Originals (14 CDs), 20th Century Piano Music (15 CDs), Concertos & Solo Music (12 CDs)

Michel Devos (in Memoriam 1947-2017)

I was introduced to Michel Devos in 1985 by my then US agent Jacques Leiser for a possible recording project. Michel’s suggestion was to record the transcriptions of two Beethoven symphonies by Liszt for the Belgian EMI.  Having performed and recorded many piano transcriptions of symphonic works, I readily agreed. In July 1985 we recorded the 4th and 5th symphonies at the church in Chaumont-Gistoux with its glorious acoustics on a piano with a wonderful sound, provided and tuned by Jos Sibret. Henry Langlois, director of EMI in Brussels liked these recordings very much and sent them to the head office in London. They then proposed that we record all the nine symphonies to be released internationally in 1986, during the Liszt Centennial year, in a 6LP box set. My husband recalls Michel coming to his office late in the afternoon one day and telling him about this by saying, “Sefik we have hit the jackpot”. The condition, though, was that the master tapes would have to be delivered by May of next year. That gave us only about six months to prepare and record the remaining seven symphonies. This required some sixteen hours a day practices from my side and eight all night recording sessions at the church in the cold of mid-winter February and March days of 1986. But, we made it. The masters were delivered in May and the box set was released by EMI in the fall. This was the first ever complete recording of the Beethoven symphony transcriptions. The critics all referred to the great piano sound and the impeccable quality of Michel’s recording. Thus started a collaboration and a bonding of friendship between us and our families that has lasted over thirty years.

The EMI box set’s wide critical acclaim led to a major offer from the founder of Naxos, Klaus Heymann, for me to record the complete piano works of Chopin, Brahms and Rachmaninov. This kept me busy recording for them at their studio in Heidelberg all through the 1990s. But, Michel recorded some of my concerts (e.g. in 1993 at the Lille Festival) and in 1994 we recorded three Beethoven sonatas at the church in Chaumont-Gistoux for a sound test  which gave superb results. Then, in 2001, we decided to record all the 32 piano sonatas of Beethoven. With one or two sessions a year we completed the work in 2008. The sonatas were released internationally by Naxos (on the new Idil Biret Archive label) initially individually and later in a box set of 19 CDs together with the nine symphonies and all the piano concertos of Beethoven. I remember how happy Michel was when we gave him this box set at his home in 2011.  This was the culmination of our joint work that took over twenty three years to complete.

Having finalised our Beethoven work we then moved to other composers. Michel had just discovered a wonderful venue, the Château de Flawinne near Namur. There we began a series of recordings of works by Schubert, Schumann, Scriabin and in a marathon three long sessions, in 2015, the 48 Preludes and Fugues of the two books of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. There was also a session in 2014 with my long time friend the cellist Roderic von Bennigsen when we recorded the two sonatas for cello and piano of Brahms. Laure Renaud-Gou joined Michel helping the recording and edit work at this time. Finally, following Michel’s 70th birthday party last February, we returned to the Château during the first week of March in a joyous mood to record works of Franck, Mussorgsky and Glazunov. When we dined with Michel at the restaurant on the banks of the Meuse in full moon to celebrate the recording we did not know, and could not believe if told, that this was to be our last production together. Michel, as Nicole told us, followed the edit work of this recording, being done by Laure and Alexander in the summer, and even listened to the final master during his last days at home. What a remarkable man, a true professional and a great friend. I shall forever be thankful to him for what he has done for me with his impeccably produced recordings distributed now all over the world by Naxos. I am certain that while we are remembering him now on this sad day many people around the world are listening to his recordings of the works of Bach, Beethoven and the other composers. Let his soul rest in peace.

Idil Biret     5 October 2017

List of the recordings with Michel Devos                                                                                                                                 

Beethoven            Symphonies 1-9 (1985/86); Sonatas 1-32 (1994, 2001/08)

Liszt                       6 Paganini Etudes (1987)

Schumann            Carnival, Papillons, Arabeske, Waldszenen (2013)

Scriabin                 Etudes Opp. 2, 8, 42 (2014)

Brahms                 Two Sonatas for cello and piano (2014)

Bach                      Well Tempered Clavier Books I & II; Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue; Italian Concerto;                                 English Suite No. 3; French Suite No. 5; Partita No. 1 (2015)

Schubert                Two piano sonatas, Impromptu No. 3, Fantasy “Wanderer” (2016)

Mussorgsky          Pictures at an exhibition (2017)

Franck                   Prelude Chorale et Fugue; Prelude Aria et Final (2017)

Glazunov              Sonata No. 2 (2017)

6 LPs and 22 CDs in total