Music between Orient and Occident: the Turkish pianist, composer and Beethoven Prize winner tells DW how his work crosses frontiers and about the responsibility of artists like himself.
Celebrated and honored worldwide, Fazil Say has been awarded a further distinction: this year's Beethoven Prize for Human Rights, Peace, Freedom, Fighting Poverty and Inclusion. At the awards ceremony on Saturday evening (17.12.2016) in Bonn's Church of the Holy Cross, Say recalled the victims of worldwide terrorism and civil war in Syria. Before that, he spoke with DW.
DW: This award not only recognizes artistic achievement but also has a socio-cultural dimension. What does the prize signify to you?
Fazil Say: I'm very honored. I play Western music in Turkey, and in the West I present pieces I've written with elements of Turkish music. So I'm considered one of those musicians who builds bridges - and I think that's why I've won this prize in the service of cross-cultural understanding.
How do audiences react when you incorporate Turkish motifs or rhythms into your own compositions?
Sometimes when I write music, I'm influenced by cities, such as in the "Istanbul Symphony" or the "Sonata of Four Cities" based on Sivas, Bodrum, Hopa and Ankara. Another example is my "Mesopotamian Symphony." Poets have inspired me to write an oratorio, and "First Songs" revolves around poets like Metin Altıok, Cemal Süreyya and others. Works like these meet with appreciation everywhere. It would be wrong for me to try to make music like a central European - a Duchman or Austrian. I'm a Turk and make music like a Turk.
Will Turkish musical culture, which is already multifaceted, be additionally enriched by the many migrants and refugees arriving in the country now - enriched perhaps in the future?
It's nearly impossible to predict what will become of the refugees in Germany and of the over three million refugees in Turkey. Among these millions of individuals, there will certainly be some who are musically gifted and work hard for music. It would be impossible for them not to exist, in fact. A human being can be complete only with music.
Is it possible to separate art and politics?
That's a very difficult question to answer at present.
Can music contribute to cross-cultural understanding?
Of course. My life is based on that. I've played Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin in many cities in Turkey. I was the first one ever to perform classical music in some places, including villages. And I was one of the first Turks to be known as a classical musician outside the country. So I see this as a personal responsibility. It's a matter of showing the way to young people, drilling a tunnel for them.
One of the pieces performed at the concert in Bonn's Church of the Holy Cross is "Istanbul'da Bir Kış Sabahı" (Winter Morning in Istanbul). The title evokes an image. Does the music do that too?
Up to a few decades ago, the Istanbul of centuries past was a romantic and nostalgic place, but it no longer exits. With its current population of 16 million and many housing districts and high-rise apartment buildings, it's now an ugly city of concrete. We artists are envious when we see old pictures, boat houses, coastal mansions and small palaces - so we try to flee into the past, far away from stressful, concrete, bad Istanbul. The only place we can actually flee is into our fantasy. "Winter Morning in Istanbul" is composed completely in the musical mode of "hicaz." It's difficult to play that mode on the piano, but this piece is my attempt to come to terms with it on the piano.
What are you working on currently?
I'm at work on an opera which is to be finished in 2019. Parallel to that, I'm also busy composing symphonic works.
Fazil Say spoke with DW's Hülya Schenk.