Heroes of the Stage

Organized around a theme for the second time, the İstanbul Music Festival has chosen hope and heroes as its theme this year

Themes that are perhaps at the heart of the arts in terms of their place in society. Artists experience their most difficult moments when they, like Prometheus, try to enlighten society with the they have been given. One of the leading lights of this year’s festival is Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin virtuoso, mother. and founder of the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation, which gives hope to young musicians.

Can you tell us how you met Herbert von Karajan, one of the greatest conductors of all time? How did he contribute to your career in the early days?

I was invited to audition for him in 1976, which was not unusual because he was very keen on finding and helping young artists. To my amazement, that audition led to a long collaboration, which lasted right up to von Karajan’s death. From the very beginning of my musical life I’ve been privileged to work with only the very best. His impact on my repertoire has also been tremendous.

Are there other moments you would describe as turning points in your career?

I’ve been on stage now for 36 years, so of course there have been many wonderful and meaningful collaborations. But perhaps the most important among them was meeting my teacher, Aida Stucki. Naturally she had an impact as the central figure in my musical development as well as in my private life. Almost every musician I have played with ever since has been an inspiration to me as well. Musicians like Lynn Harrell, James Levine and Yuri Bashmet.

In your Istanbul concert you are playing the violin concertos of Mozart and of a contemporary composer like Wolfgang Rihm. Why have you chosen such a program?

We are giving the Turkish premiere of Rihm’s Lichtes Spiel, which I’m really excited about because it’s such a wonderful piece set between the Mozart concertos and composed especially in homage to those concertos. And also because I want to show the audience how a 21st century composer can use the violin in exactly the same orchestral configuration in which it was used in the 18th century.

Besides a busy schedule of concerts you are also helping to develop the careers of many young artists through the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation. Do you believe that the social role of the artist in the last 20-30 years has gone beyond giving concerts?

Actually the life of a musician has never been limited to concertizing. Take the example of Mendelssohn. He founded the Leipzig Music School in 1843. It was one of the first music schools in Germany. He gave many benefit concerts in memory of Bach. He founded the music school because he believed that music is for everybody, not just for the children of wealthy families. I’m also a very passionate benefit concert player. This has given my life true meaning beyond fulfilling my destiny as a musician – meaning in terms of helping old people, and orphaned and special children.

How do you strike a balance between your professional career and motherhood?

That of course is a constant question. I’m not sure if I’ve achieved a balance, but I try. Life isn’t perfect, neither mine nor yours. All you can do is try.

A Young Hero
Just 21 years old, Emre Engin is the ‘Young Soloist’ of this year’s Istanbul Music festival. Engin, who was quite astonished to learn he’d been chosen as the festival’s young soloist in its 40th year, describes his own hero and the hope that inclusion in the festival has given him:
“My own musical hero is Turkey’s own world-renowned violin virtuoso, Cihan Aşkın, who has played a major role in my career up to now thanks to all the support and opportunities he has given me ever since we first met. When I found out I was going to be performing in the festival, I realized how priceless an opportunity it was, and I started to view my future goals and career with greater hope. I am finding more strength in myself than ever now to realize the plans and projects I have in mind.”
Lifetime Achievement: Hüseyin Sermet.

Pianist Hüseyin Sermet’s first reaction when he learned the festival was honoring him with a lifetime achievement award was, “Oh dear! Am I that old?” He quickly adds that he then felt very proud to be so remembered and honored. Accompanied by the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, Sermet will be playing Ravel’s piano concerto for the left hand, which the composer wrote for Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in the First World War. Sermet says that art and music give people the hope that they should never give up, no matter what the cost. Indeed, he stresses that that is far more important than heroes and heroism.

A True Hero: Mevlâna
Michael Ellison, who composed the music for the opera, “Say I Am You”, says there is a difference between artists and real heroes like Mevlâna and Gandhi, who changed the world, adding metaphorically that artists are just dust on the feet of those true heroes from whom artists derive moisture as inspiration. Ellison’s first memory of Mevlâna goes back to 1990 and a piece called In the Arc of Your Mallet by his own composition teacher, William Allaudin Mathieu. Enamored of the music, Ellison was curious about the lyrics and started reading all the English translations of Mevlâna he could find. The idea to compose a Mevlâna opera was sparked by the courage and sacrifice he observed among the victims of the 1999 Gölcük earthquake.