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Turkish Youth Orchestra

Aygül Cizmecioglu / hwSeptember 19, 2012

They are the best young musicians in Turkey. The Turkish National Youth Orchestra is a springboard for emerging talent. Last year the young performers stepped into the spotlight at the Beethovenfest in Bonn.

The Turkish National Youth Orchestra

Relieved, Baris Korkmaz lays down his horn and smiles to a neighboring musician. For days they've been perfecting a difficult passage out of Bela Bartok's "Dance Suite."

At last, after long nights spent rehearsing, the orchestra is in harmony, the rhythm flows. The 18-year-old with a shaved head leans back and enjoys the music for a moment.

Absolute exception

The Turkish National Youth Orchestra is deeply engaged in rehearsals ahead of their performance at the Beethovenfest in Bonn, the city of Beethoven's birth. Around 100 musicians between the ages of 16 and 23 have traveled from Istanbul for the festival.

The Turkish National Youth Orchestra
The Turkish National Youth Orchestra deep in rehearsalsImage: Onur Sezer

They are taking part in the orchestra campus program and presenting a sophisticated repertoire. "I'm already quite excited," Korkmaz says. He's been a horn player in the Turkish Youth Orchestra for three years.

Hundreds of music students from all over Turkey apply to participate every year. Only the very best pass the auditions.

"There aren't many possibilities for young musicians in Turkey to compare notes on this level," Korkmaz said. "This orchestra is an absolutely exception and a great chance."

From folk to Mozart

It's a particularly great chance for talented musicians like Korkmaz. He comes from a small city in the South of Turkey. "I grew up with Turkish folk music and not with Mozart," he said.

It was a pure coincidence that brought him to classical music. During a school trip to Mersin, the next big town, the class was taken reluctantly to the opera. "Suddenly a sound came from a rehearsal room that I'd never heard before," he explains.

Korkmaz mustered up the courage and talked to the musicians. They were impressed by his enthusiasm and handed him a French horn.

Hornist Baris Korkmaz
Baris Korkmaz discovered classical music by chance during a trip to the operaImage: DW

That was six years ago. Since then, Korkmaz has become one of Turkey's most promising young horn players, thanks to the dedicated teachers and musicians who recognized his talent and gave him free tutorials.

He's been studying at the Mersin Conservatory for two years. "My parents are both civil servants. In the beginning they weren't that impressed with my idea to become a horn player," explained Korkmaz. "Classical music, the 'music of the West,' is quite unfamiliar to them."

Overcoming differences

That's true of many people in Turkey. Polyphonic orchestral music existed in the Ottoman Empire. But it was only after 1930, after the founding of the republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, that the first conservatories were established in Turkey. The country was supposed to become more modern and sound more Western.

Conductor Cem Mansur
Cem Mansur founded the Turkish National Youth OrchestraImage: DW

"It took a long time," explained conductor Cem Mansur, who founded the Turkish National Youth Orchestra five years ago. He wanted to create a space for artistic exchange and, above all, for talented musicians.

"In this orchestra, Anatolians, Kurds and Circassians create the sound together. They learn how to listen to others, and how to engage with others," said the conductor. "Classical music can help bridge social and ethnic differences, especially in a fragmented country such as Turkey."

No jobs, no funding

But can classical musicians earn a living in Turkey?

Mehmet Erhan Tanman, a young Turkish composer
Componist Mehmen Erhan Tanman say jobs are hard to findImage: DW

"That's really difficult," Mehmet Erhan Tanman said. The 23-year-old from Istanbul comes from a musical family and was commissioned to compose a new work for the Turkish National Youth Orchestra. "Traffic" will celebrate its premiere at the Beethovenfest on September 19.

"The state symphony orchestras in Turkey are staffed for a lifetime. That means that a place becomes free every 10 years," he said. "And there are very few private orchestras."

Bleak career prospects concern many parents. That's something Emel Celik has experienced firsthand. The 22-year-old comes from the western Turkish city of Eskishir and plays the harp in the Turkish National Youth Orchestra. Her mother, who raised her alone, wanted her to learn something solid and was initially against her musical ambitions.

Passion for the music

A scholarship for highly talented musicians made it possible for Celik to study the harp. "This type of funding is really rare in my home country. I was extremely lucky," she said.

Her instrument towers above all the others in the Turkish National Youth Orchestra. But it is not her own. "A harp is very expensive. I've been playing for 12 years but I still can't afford my own instrument," Celik explained.

Emel Celik, a harpist at the Turkish National Youth Orchestra
Emel Celik plays the harp dreams of opening a music school back home in EskishirImage: Onur Sezer

In the meantime her mother is proud of her. "Because she noticed that I'm passionate about this music," she said.

Her ultimate dream is to found a music school in her home town after she has completed her studies. Many musicians in the orchestra snigger at her for that, since most of then would like to move abroad and pursue prestigious careers.

"But if everyone moves awa, then nothing will change in Turkey," Celik said self-confidently. "It will take time and a lot of patience to understand the music of Handel or Beethoven. And a good mediator."

DW presents excerpts from the Turkish National Youth Orchestra's performance at the 2012 Beethovenfest as free podcasts on iTunes.