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A week to remember

DAVID WILKINS' reflections on the opening week of the
30th International Istanbul Music Festival


Napoleon thought that, if the world were to consist of only one nation, Istanbul would have to be its capital. It has been many cities -- Byzantium and Constantinople are but its most familiar earlier manifestations -- and, in important respects, it remains many cities still. The old cliché about the meeting-point of Europe and Asia is little more than a geographical distraction, however much the shimmering presence of the Bosphorus adds to the magic of the place. The real shock of contrast can occur as easily at the end of a sultry day when you leave behind the unceasing bustle of Taksim and the new city, cross the Golden Horn to Sultanahmet and pass through the Imperial Gate into the first court of the Topkapi Palace. With the Hagia Eirene Museum as your destination and the opening concert of the Music Festival in prospect, expectations run as high as the humidity. What was once, appropriately enough, the Church of Divine Peace -- as old as Justinian's Hagia Sofia itself -- now houses the majority of the concerts. Having to share the space with the occasional nesting bird somehow only enhances the effect. To hear fine music-making in this glorious building can seem an experience as priceless as the Topkapi dagger.

Istanbul. Photo: Keith Bramich

The Istanbul of the 1970s was considered to be something of a cultural desert -- certainly in terms of classical music. The city was fortunate enough to have, at that time, a group of enlightened pioneers who saw the absurdity of such a crossroads of civilizations and trade not being a significant artistic centre too. Under the leadership of Dr Nejat F Eczacibasi, a funding committee was established and the first festival inaugurated in 1973 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. Since then, separate Film, Theatre, and Jazz Festivals have been added along with a Biennial devoted to the plastic-arts. Sundry problems for the Turkish economy have created more than the usual degree of festival financial-management headaches but the dedicated and inspiring team of proud workers at the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts has seen their events grow into the major-league of international festivals.

Topkapi Palace. Photo: Keith Bramich

In some previous years, the planning of the Music Festival (now in the able hands of Director, Ahmet Erenli and with much, no doubt, genial but highly canny assistance from Sir John Tooley as General Advisor) has had a national focus. The Turkish / British linkup was, apparently, amongst the most successful. The 'topical highlight' of staging Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio within the Topkapi Palace was discontinued after the 25th festival. For this 30th year the recognisable (though never exaggerated) theme is a somewhat nostalgic one as many of the most-loved artists who have been previous visitors return to Istanbul.

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Copyright © 30 June 2002 David Wilkins, Eastbourne, Sussex, UK




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