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Baroque on the Bosphorus

DAVID WILKINS visits the
thirty second Istanbul Music Festival


While much of the population of Turkey's (and one of the world's) greatest cities was justifiably anxious about the dangers and inconveniences of hosting a NATO summit, music lovers had the antidote of another wonderful music festival to enjoy. The pleasures of performance sit uneasily with the results of terrorist atrocity but, until 8 July 2004, the solace of art played its abiding role of evoking higher human values for the people of Istanbul. I would like to have worn a T-shirt emblazoned: 'Bombers come and go. Bach is forever!' But critics, perhaps, should be provocative more in their prose than their wardrobe and it was enough just to be present and share the balmy climate, the relaxed celebration, the sheer defiance of the whole thing!

The thirty second meeting in Istanbul had an exploration of the baroque at its heart. That didn't deny the delights of Pletnev playing Mussorgsky, Maazel conducting Dvorák and Respighi and performances of Cosi fan tutte by the Piccolo Teatro di Milano. This is a genuine international Festival with all the attendant glamour but with a comfortable, homely feel and, of course, an architectural and historical setting that astounds in harmony with the joys of the composers' varied genius.

Topkapi Palace: detail. Photo © Keith Bramich
Topkapi Palace: detail. Photo © Keith Bramich

On 17 June, Florilegium were joined by counter-tenor Derek Lee Ragin -- notable for his part in the film Farinelli -- singing baroque arias. Any concert in the church of the Haghia Eirene (restored! to its present state in something like 740 AD) is a guaranteed experience. Simply walking down its stone ramp into a basilica of astonishing beauty is enough to persuade you of the value of 'sailing' (well -- with Boeing wings these days, of course!) to Byzantium.

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Copyright © 25 July 2004 David Wilkins, Eastbourne UK


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