Compact Disc: Koch World 333362
Fahir Atakoglu’s achievements are impressive. Receiving private piano tutoring under Cemal Resit Rey while also studying orchestration and composition, he continued the latter studies at the Istanbul State Conservatory and London School of Music. In parallel with those London studies, he also attended the Croydon College of the local University to pursue a Higher National Diploma in Marketing and Advertising.
He released two eponymous CDs, Volumes I and II; a live cutting of a 1998 Symphonic Concert at the Istanbul Open Air Theater; 75.Yil Konserleri, a concert for the 75th anniversary of the Turkish Republic; the soundtrack to Dar Alanda Kisa Paslasmalar; and today’s review subject, First of All.
His scorings for TV documentaries are legion – from Kibris Belgesli on the Cyprus war to Sar Zeybej on Turkish Republic founder Atatürk; from the geographical series Ex Oriente Lux to Exile in Buyukada on the life of Trotsky Dir Turan Yavuz; from the main theme for CNN’s Turkish station to Orada Kimse Var Mi on the 1999 earthquake and Desperate Hours on the saving of Jewish people by Turkish diplomats.
And then there are the commercials: for Coca Cola, Toyota, Bridgestone, Philips, Renault, Fuji Films and countless others. He has also provided compositions for Pop stars Sezen Aksu, Sertab Erener, Nilufer, Levent Yüksel, Mazhar Fuat Ozkan and Pasaporte Latino. He arranged three of Ozkan’s albums and others for Askin Nur Yengi. His public concerts in the last twenty years exceed one per year
It appears that in Turkey today, Fahir’s music has penetrated public consciousness from the concert hall to the stadium, from the movie screen to the evening news. Combine this popularity with his strong patriotic fervor chronicled above. He deeply identifies with his country, its people and their history. Consider next that today’s live recording took place in Aspendos, an ancient theatre filled with over 12,000 music lovers for this occasion and hosted by 135 performers to celebrate 75 years of independence for Turkey. To call this a landmark event is surely no understatement.
To prepare for the sheer scale and scope of the undertaking, let’s take a look at the orchestra and supportive ensembles you’ll follow down this national memory palace: nine 1st violins; eight 2nd violins; five violas; eight cellos; four double basses; three flutes and oboes, two clarinets and bassoons each; three French horns, two trumpets and two trombones; three orchestral percussionists; a choir of seven sopranos, six altos, five tenors and five basses; soloists of Fahir’s personal orchestra consisting of Ney, viola, acoustic guitar, two keyboardists, duduk, bass guitar, percussion and drums; the four-headed Yarkin Turkish rhythm ensemble; a Dervish Mevlud chanter; a traditional Laz women vocal ensemble of four; soloists on kemençe and baglama; three more ethnic singers; a poetry reciter; and the composer himself on piano.
Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony For The New World could be considered a faint precedent inasmuch as the composer endeavored to musically depict his impressions of an entire country. But consider too that the United States of Dvorak’s visit was a very young county. The composer wasn’t historically or culturally aligned. His infatuation was the sunny fever of spring romance, being after all a mere tourist. Contrast that with Atakoglu who is the witness of a much older country. As a native deeply absorbed in its past, his symphonic tone poem embraces the totality of the four seasons, of the bright and hopeful as well as the war-torn and lost. It chronicles the influences of intruders and bordering neighbors, of Greeks, Armenian and Russians, of the Ottoman Empire, the Sufi dervishes, of pounding war drums and brutal executions, of heart wrenching lament and freedom fighters.
You’ll hear the ancient duduk next to the oboe, the Kemençe next to violas, exuberant percussion interludes after the haunting cries of the Ney, swelling string sections with powerful chorus backup, a full symphony orchestra in the frenzied grip of ethnic odd-metered rhythms, the Laz ensemble that recalls the famous Bulgarian Women’s Choir. You’ll enter an emotional rollercoaster that careens from stately grandeur to melancholia, from nationalist excitement to eerie gloom, segmented by thunderous applause from an ecstatic, utterly sympathetic and enthralled audience. Atakoglu’s music is visual and suggestive of action, the kind that film scores composers aspire to – direct and to the point, capable of traversing a broad emotional palette with the flick of the wrist.
It’s truly not too farfetched to call this massive symphony a noble and successful attempt to embody “The Voice of Turkey” as certain commentators have insisted upon. This seems particularly apt if a Westerner such as this writer finds himself flooded with potent images without ever having set foot in Anatolia, simply by allowing this music to activate its embedded aural triggers. And just as is true for Classical Western symphonies, one can’t simply sample and nibble by arbitrarily hopping tracks and expecting to “get it”. This is a profound work. Just as a novel, enjoy it from the first page to the last without skipping. Since its length is obviously restricted by CD limitations, absorb it in a single uninterrupted sitting. You’ll emerge drenched in sound and touched by the very soul of an ancient people that has inherited one of the world’s oldest, most complex musical traditions.