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Beethovenfest composer: Zeynep Gedizlioglu

Sinem Özdemir
August 31, 2021

Turkish composer Zeynep Gedizlioglu's composition combines oriental and western sounds, and above all, an ode to present-day, COVID-induced isolation.

Zeynep Gedizlioglu, Komponistin
Image: Dan Safier

Entlang der Lieder (Alongside the songs): That is the name of the newest composition by Zeynep Gedizlioglu. Commissioned by DW and the German Music Council before the onset of the pandemic, the piece premiered as part of the "Campus Project" of the Beethovenfest in Bonn. The concert was live-streamed on the YouTube channel DW Classical Music for music lovers worldwide.

Inspired by Deep Purple

Zeynep Gedizlioglu is originally from Turkey, yet she does not define herself through her nationality, but as a "human, who produces art, independent of origin, nationality or sex."

The musician was born in 1977 in Izmir, a sun-kissed city in western Turkey that has been a melting pot of mutually enriching cultures since ancient times.

Cityscape of Izmir, Turkish city overlooking the sea.
'This city is a part of me': Zeynep Gedizlioglu was born in the western Turkish metropolis of Izmir Image: Imago/R. Mainse

At the age of 8, Gedizlioglu moved with her family to Istanbul, the metropolis at the Bosporus, which with its fascinating chaos is completely different from Izmir.

As the daughter of an actor and a painter, Gedizlioglu had already discovered her passion for music as a child. Her eyes sparkle as she speaks of her earliest experiences with music. On the cassette player, she heard Deep Purple playing their 1984 album, Perfect Strangers.

"Without knowing what the musicians looked like, without wanting to know who they were, I was enthralled by the acoustic experience," she remembers. The decision was made: She wanted to compose music.

Dreams of the limelight

Gedizlioglu began her musical training when she was 11. First she played the oboe, then after four years, she dedicated her time at the government conservatory to learning music composition.

Her dream was to hear her own works being played in concert halls: "That was unthinkable in Turkey during that time, except when it was for a piano solo," she says. The possibilities were limited and not many musicians would consider performing pieces by a student.

Zeynep Gedizlioglu (left) with Beethovenfest director Nike Wagner and DW employees
At the premiere in Bonn: Zeynep Gedizlioglu (left) with Beethovenfest director Nike Wagner and DW hostsImage: Barbara Frommann

And thus the 24-year-old came to Germany — which was not her first choice, but her best friend, who had studied here, had spoken about the good range of courses for aspiring composers.

In Saarbrücken, Zeynep Gedizlioglu studied under Theo Brandmüller, and then in Karlsruhe with the great Wolfgang Rihm, also known as the "Pope of New Music."

Like many international artists, she landed in Berlin one day, rather by coincidence, and stayed there for years. "Regardless of where you come from and who you are, you find your place in Berlin," she says.

Breaking stereotypes

Turkish, German, Berliner? For the composer, these terms are secondary, despite experiencing the fact that people are often forced into categories based on their origins. For instance, she doesn't want to focus on oriental sounds simply because she was born in Turkey. She says that she does not want to give into cliches; her music is multicultural.

Regardless, Zeynep Gedizlioglu has brought a slice of Turkey with her. "I do carry something of Istanbul, something of Izmir in me. The smells of my childhood, the longing, is always inside me."

Introducing 'Durak' by Zeynep Gedizlioglu

Indeed, there are touches of Turkey in some of her compositions. The piece, Jetzt - Mit meiner linken Hand (Now, with my left hand) seems to evoke associations with the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. But the Turkey that she reflects in her work is not intended to evoke marginalization and isolation: "On the contrary, I try to open the doors as wide as possible!"

And there's one more thing that is important to her: that female artists be promoted more globally and without speaking too much about it, simply because it should be self-evident. "Because music itself does not have a gender," she emphasizes, "You don't really say: 'Oh that was composed by a man or a woman, when you listen to my music."

The story of a struggle

Zeynep Gedizlioglu had already captivated the international Beethovenfest Campus-Project audience in 2013 with her work Durak, also commissioned by DW. "Durak," which means "censor" or "compliance" in Turkish, referred to the protests in Istanbul.

Entlang der Lieder, the new work, was created during another crisis — the COVID pandemic. Because of the circumstances, the piece had to be reworked many times and changed. "It is a kind of a diary," the composer says. "The diary of a difficult, but also of a exciting time, a story of struggle," she remarks — a fight against isolation, and the loss of words.


This article was translated from German