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October 31, 2000

Modern ComposersLyric Concerto: Music for Strings from Turkey. Ulvi Cemal Erkin, Sinfonieta for strings; Cemal Resid Rey, Andante and Allegro for violin and strings; Nevit Kodalli, Adagio for strings; Cengiz Tanc, Lyric Concerto for flute, oboe and strings. Northern Sinfonia of England, Howard Griffiths, conductor. (KOCH International, CD # 3-1480-2) ND

Even with the current interest in "world" music, it is a good bet that not many people in this country are familiar with modern Turkish composers. One reason for that is that there are not many composers in Turkey writing music in the western classical style. Turkey has a long tradition of indigenous music of course, but music of Ottoman Turkey, including music of the traditional style being created today, is well outside the western tradition and the contemporary canon. Turkish musicians, both performers and composers, only began to venture outside the cocoon of Ottoman musical traditions in the 1930s. Cengiz Tanc, one of the foremost contemporary Turkish composers, explains that it took tremendous courage for those artists to make that step, for they were not just pushing the boundaries of an accepted form, as young composers grounded in the mainstream musical tradition are expected to do, but to leap entirely outside their own cultural milieu and immerse themselves in a completely new and foreign musical milieu. The ultimate objective of some of this group was to develop a distinctly Turkish, as opposed to an Ottoman or merely "eastern" musical style. But they found that they could not accomplish that goal by staking out a claim on a portion of the existing musical style of composition and performance; they had to make a complete break with those traditions, embrace the western classical musical world, then loop back and develop characteristically Turkish music from that external perspective. This recent release from KOCH International Records (part of a series of new albums called "Unknown Classical Music from Europa") is one of the few collections of the fruits of that project available in western markets.

The title work of the album, Cengiz Tanc's Lyric Concerto for flute, oboe and strings, was written in 1984 and had its premier performance five years later, by the orchestra that performs the piece on this album. Tanc lived and studied in England and the U.S. before taking a post as university professor of music. Because of his considerable exposure to both eastern and western musical styles, he was one of the first Turkish composers to successfully bridge the gap between the two. Following Bartok, Stravinsky, and others, Tanc initially wrote works using western forms but incorporating traditional or folk melodies. By the 1980s, Tanc had made sufficient progress along the loop through western classical forms and back to Turkish idioms that he no longer felt constrained by traditional forms. The Lyric Concerto is written in several "phases," rather than distinct movements, and the phases "do not differ in character or in style," eschewing the progression and development characteristic of a typical western-style concerto. The "structural disposition" of the piece, according to the composer, is "a spontaneous reflection referring to special events," though those events are not specified. A few subtle hints of folk elements remain in the concerto, but the individual elements of the concerto are conventional enough; the characteristic feature of the piece is in the overall form -- what Tanc refers to as its "structural disposition." It is an intriguing glimpse of a melding of old and new musical traditions.

You can hear the Lyric Concerto for flute, oboe and strings by Cengiz Tanc on WHIL-FM (91.3) Thursday, November 2 at 7:00 p.m. as part of their weekly series of music from after 1950.

-- J. Green


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