a lopsided pearl is baroque...
We spoke with Leyla P&Mac245;nar, Turkeys only harpsichord player who has been organizing Turkeys International Istanbul Baroque Festival Week for nine years.
Leyla P&Mac245;nar has come from Belgium to Turkey again this year to organize the International Istanbul Baroque Festival Week. Without being able to shake off the weariness of the concerts shes been carrying on with tremendous effort, she told us how she began music and the harpsichord. Leyla P&Mac245;nar graduated from the Istanbul Municipality Conservatory receiving a diploma in branches of the violin, the piano and the horn. Upon the advise of Cemal Re?it Rey (Turkish classical music composer), who became her teacher afterwards, she went to Europe. She specialized on chamber music, composition and the harpsichord in France, Italy, England and so on. She received the French awards J.M.F. Rencontres Musicales and François Henri Clicquot. If there are things that sound foreign to you here, youre welcome to listen to an unfamiliar success story.
TURKISHTiME: Where did you start your music work?
LEYLA PINAR: In Istanbul. We were three sisters, all three of us had a tutor or two. Levantines who were natives of Istanbul...I think they had come from Russia; they said conservatory education was necessary. I went on with music after the conservatory. I started traveling. I went to Spain for Spanish music, to England for English music, to Belgium for Flemish music, France for French music and Italy for Italian music. If you study a countrys music on the spot, you perceive it better. Of course, for Turkish music one has to be in Turkey.
Did you concentrate on Turkish music at the conservatory?
When we were at the conservatory, they used to tell us not to ever listen to Turkish classical music or play jazz. They did not allow us to touch jazz or Turkish classical music. But in childhood, we unavoidably used to hear sounds of tambur (type of lute) or ney (reed flute). Teachers at the conservatory and our greatest composers Ulvi Cemal Erkin, Adnan Saygun, Necil Faz&Mac245;l Akses used the modality of Turkish classical music. But they forbade it. After we came to our senses, I have always listened to it and now I feel very fortunate. Next to many Western friends, in the way I grasp music or with what I compose, Im not a composer but I can write things, there I can certainly bring in a different color to what I write. That is because I come from very diverse musical environments. Thats why I started this business in Istanbul.
Youve said that you and your two sisters studied music, did you carry on with music with the support of your family?
When my dad went to visit Germany after World War II, in the 50s, he saw that the Berlin Opera was flattened and the old splendor of Germany was gone for good. When he noticed that people who earned a living there were those who tried to collect money on the streets by making music with violins in their hands, he said, My daughters will become artists. He thought, If they become artists, they can live anywhere. Among us, only I became professional in music. They didnt want us to go to college or enter the world of business.
How did you start playing the harpsichord?
I started because I couldnt do a certain thing. We all shut ourselves in a room for eight or ten hours a day to become a concert pianist or a composer. In spite of that, when I was in class one day, in Paris, they put a 17th century piece before us. We were preparing concertos and so forth, we were at that level. Five or six of us couldnt play the piece. I asked our teacher, Why arent you pleased with us?. He said, You neither play this in tune with its style nor can you read it properly. When I said, Why cant we read these, he told me, You only know about those from Bach until now. These are present in music before Bach, in Baroque music. Then a question mark flashed in my head. I went to the teacher who was recommended. Antoine Geoffrey Dechaume was one of the worlds greatest pioneers of Baroque music. It was my biggest chance to work with him. He told me such things, I suddenly thought, So the music I learned was a hundred-year period, the rest wasnt there. Hence, I packed everything and joined the harpsichord class. I told the piano teacher that I was going to take the harpsichord class. He became furious. He said, You took three years out of me, how can you make such a decision. I didnt mind. Because it was more attractive for me. So I started the harpsichord in 1969. Of course, since everyone rebelled in 68 we had more of a courage. The word of students counted. And then I never turned back to the piano, anyway.
Because the harpsichord is an instrument that makes one think more about its details, the piano is not like that. The piano takes all your memory, you are dragged into that work with all your body. Chopin, Rachmaninov, Liszt, these all take you away. The harpsichord is such an instrument that conjures that feeling only with the touch of your finger tip. Thats why you have notes before you when you play Baroque composers, notes shouldnt interfere with you. I play the piano, but the harpsichord is something else. Besides, it comes from the zither instrument. The first model of zither was an instrument called psalterium but because they couldnt play it, Europe developed a different system. They added a keyboard, when that wasnt enough, they added a second keyboard. The harpsichord was born thus. When I play some pieces on the harpsichord, I can produce the impressions of a zither instrument. I liked the way it came from the zither instrument and the way I could get those tunes.
So it was a bit of a luck for you to meet with the harpsichord while you carried on with your education abroad
Yes, it was luck. It may not have been like this. I had started music with a couple of instruments. I was always wanted to do compositions, the piano was always a basic instrument. In addition to that, I took violin lessons for a while. Then I played the horn, I even had a diploma for it. Everything isnt easy. Going around abroad gives one diversities, then you can find your way. Its good for everyone to go to different places. If you stay in a certain environment, youll be barren. For example, now, Bach groups in Japan, believe me, play as good as those in Europe. Because they traveled and have seen a lot. I think that its very good to travel. Since Marco Polo. Trade, learning and art must be in unison. Surely, Marco Polo carried a lot from the Renaissance of that day to the business world; if you think before the Baroque Age, this man brought unanticipated things. He brought things that would benefit weapons of war, too, but eventually he has established a communication. Moreover, art production became differentiated. Composers and novelists dreaming of the Orient emerged. Fantasies sprang. It is necessary to multiply environments where people can flourish their fantasies. Therefore, when you say, businessman, I cant think of a person solely working at his office. A businessman, when he is tired, should have need for an opera or to listen to traditional music.
For nine years, youve been organizing an Istanbul Baroque Week with your own efforts. In Turkey, neither baroque music nor the harpsichord is widely known. Do you run into difficulties when you deliver your music to masses here?
Maybe we do, but since we somehow know our limits, we can walk on for today. From the start weve been going about by challenging our limits, but I see that each year, it develops more. We see the appreciation of this from abroad. We went to Brussels with a group of 30-35 people. Again with that many people, we went to Cyprus. Weve been to Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands with 5-6 people. Those who try to do that with state support cant succeed. My only complaint is that in Turkey nobody can see ahead. You go to them with a project, they listen to you very attentively, but cant work out how to do it. For instance, in 1997, we put on an opera in Europe. For a year, I tried to explain that in Turkey. From the ministry to businessmen, nothing came out. In Belgium, with members of the Baroque festival, we found a Leurope Galante with an Ottoman scene in it. We prepared this with very beautiful clothes as Turkeys outlook to the east. Without seeing anything, they immediately said, Youll do this here. What a speed. Then I realized that this matter of speed is crucial, meaning foresight. This year, before I came, the Brussels Instrument Museum, the worlds second largest museum, asked me to give a concert there. I sent a few programs. Heavily Bach and French music; I included one example from Ottoman Baroque music, they picked that right away. Im very comfortable on this matter abroad. I can more easily figure what to present. In Turkey, I cant do that. Because I cant count on the speed of perception. We have this difficulty. When you say Baroque music, they say, What is Baroque. But if you dont know the styles, you cant place anything. We also do panels on this. I put three notes before a student of mine or before a great pianist, a work by Bach, a piece by ?lhan Usmanba? on Bach and they may not know how to interpret it. Because they have no awareness of style. Now, Bach, Ligetti and ?lhan Usmanba?, they are all mingled. We dont see an awareness of style in Turkey. Likewise, things that are presented as Baroque, they may be opera or chamber music, but not Baroque. In all fairness, I see the same in Turkish classical music. They sing Itri in such a way, its all over the place. In Turkey, Itri is sung with the style of Orhan Gencebay. Even the call of prayer is recited that way. This cant be. The lack of style awareness reflects on everything.
So what is Baroque?
Baroque is actually very nice as a word. It is to be able to find yourself a way out from the environment you are in or from a tight corner. It isnt something that goes smooth. The lopsided pearl with irregularities is baroque for example. The pearl, as we know is round, but the lopsided one they call baroque. I think that in the 21st century, a baroqueness or a post-baroqueness, even if they arent back to back chronologically, is being experienced. We used to have a friend from Mimar Sinan University, he used to say, Season baklava with salt and pepper and youll have baroque.
Are there any among your students in Turkey who can carry on with your mission?
There hasnt been somebody eager to do it yet. I wish someone did. There are students who join the seminar in the Belgian conservatory, but not in Turkey. I teach this to others abroad. I am dismayed. You see, in Turkey, a department on the harpsichord and the organ has still not been opened. When I came to Turkey with my diplomas, I couldnt teach because it wasnt thought as necessary.