A Passionate, Epic Debut for the Turksoy Symphony Orchestra
The Turksoy Symphony Orchestra made their debut last night at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. Most ensembles typically take an easier road to the spotlight. But this trans-Caucasian orchestra (a combined project of cultural organizations in Turkey plus several neighboring nations) more than validated the herculean effort of staging Adnan Saygun’s Yunus Emre Oratorio. Conductor Rengin Gokmen led the orchestra with a majestic, epic sweep, augmented mightily by roughly 120-piece choir the Jonathan Griffith Singers plus soprano Esin Talinli, mezzo-soprano Ferda Yetiser, tenor Senol Talinli and bass Tuncay Kurtoglu. A 1947 work premiered in the United States eleven years later by Leopold Stokowski, it’s robust, often haunting and worthy of Shostakovich. To witness it staged at all, let alone outside its native Turkey, was a rare thrill: even what appeared to be a brief medical crisis involving one of the choir onstage couldn’t derail this juggernaut.
It’s meant to illustrate a rather grisly, death-fixated 13th century poem by Yunus Emre, who is to Turkey what Rumi is to Iran, or Chaucer is to the UK. The most resonant of its many themes is the low, ominous, introductory low-string movement which follows an apprehensive trajectory as it recurs in various guises including a waltz neart the end, the orchestra giving it a resonant bulk and heft. It was a reminder of how close Turkey is to Russia, and how much cross-pollination there’s been between throughout the Caucasus over the years. Saygun is remembered best for employing traditional Anatolian melodies within a post-Romantic architecture, and this is a prime example. As one might expect of Turkish music, several other themes are introduced by a clarinet – this ensemble’s first chair exhibited a crystalline clarity but also tremendous nuance, no surprise considering that Turkey is a hotbed of good reed players. As one might also expect in such a dark work, Kurtoglu got most of the meatiest lines and made the most of them, contrasting with considerable plaintive harmonizing between the Talinlis, and as the work resolutely reached critical mass (and an explosively ecstatic false ending), by the entire crowd of voices.
As the poem’s foresaken narrator eventually gives up hope of any kind of reconnection with lost friends or earthly redemption, the music becomes more rapt and, perhaps ironically, considerably more hopeful. Gokmen and the ensembles made this significant thematic shift seem like a natural progression, bringing an optimistic glimmer out of the darkness to end this harrowing work on an unexpectedly upbeat note that could have been anticlimactic to the extreme but wasn’t.
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