GeriGündem Virtuoso turns over a new beat
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Virtuoso turns over a new beat

ISTANBUL - By turns classical and popular-folk, harpist Şirin Pancaroğlu’s new album with Israeli percussionist Yinon Muallem feels like a tide rising and falling between continents and musical styles. On the Anatolian song "Kervan," her lyric harp rises like Sandro Botticelli’s "The Birth of Venus," accompanied by foreboding sea drums.

Turkey’s most renowned harpist, Şirin Pancaroğlu, plays music as an extension of herself: with a disciplined reverence for local origins and an uninhibited and organic ability to take classical and folk sounds to new shores. Her fourth album, "Telveten", released last month by Kaf Müsik, is a joint effort with renowned Israeli percussionist Yinon Muallem. The musicians take their instruments to heights independent of each other while allowing the sounds to meet and tell stories and, as if by chance, occasionally soar together.

Recognized in international musical circles for her interpretative skills, Pancaroğlu blends her instincts and training to delight the listener with the unexpected. "The sound is only for them," she told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. "When you listen to the harp playing music you discover not only the harp but I try to include something people haven’t experienced before." Last Saturday she played for a crowd at the distinguished Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall accompanied by flute and viola soloists.

At home with folk music
Folk music holds a special appeal for Pancaroğlu, who said hearing its various forms during her life abroad formed a sort of narrative of her own time spent among other cultures. "With traditional music you feel like there’s a story being told," said Pancaroğlu, who is a fan of reggae music. "Over the years my life has been in Southeast Asia, Europe, the U.S., and Turkey and I really found a taste for local music along the way."

While classic music is in her training and her repertoire, it does not define her sound. A lot of good classical music openly borrows from folk music, she said. "Classical music takes a lot of its form from folk music and many composers moved away from that intentionally. Among many classic musicians, there is a sense of ’purest’." By contrast, she adds, there is no attitude in traditional music.

On Telveten, her harp, a string instrument with the tonal intervals of the piano, blends with Muallem’s Eastern-Mediterranean percussions. The unlikely pairing is unexceptional for Pancaroğlu who has formed other instrumental combinations considered unusual for the harp: a jazz quintet, viola and voice.

On collaborations with composers, she said dialogue with local composers is necessary to take music forward. She is active in raising awareness about funding such collaborations that include compositions for all instruments in Turkey, where such funding is next to none. It is important for musicians to connect with composers living in their own countries, she said, "because you can be in your time with what’s in the air and with the culture around you. It’s not enough to play with dead composers." After being directed toward the harp in conservatory as a preteen in Turkey, she then attended school in Indonesia and at the Geneva Conservatory before heading to Indiana University School of Music, one of the top music schools in the world, where she was drawn to the instrument in a different way. "My teacher really thought I had a unique voice and I started to feel wonderful about it, you know?" But she said it took a while for her to become a professional with sufficient nerve and balance.

Around the world
Since then Pancaroğlu’s concerts have taken her around the world, including on stage in such prestigious venues as the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Konserthuset in Stockholm, Sejong Cultural Arts Center in Seoul and Takemitsu Memorial Hall in Tokyo. Her previous CDs include Barokarp (solo harp) in 2005; Kuyruklu Yıldız Altında "Under the Shooting Star" with violinist Ignace Jang in 2000 (Doublemoon Records); and Hasret Bağı "A String of Longing" (solo harp) in 1998.

Having a baby can put nerve and balance to the test for any woman. After her son Mengu was born two years ago next month, Pancaroğlu said during pregnancy and after delivery she was more productive and efficient. "I could remove the useless parts of my life and was more in touch with what was essential to me. Then I found I was doing things that made me much happier."

When she plays, Mengu says "arp" and "anne" for mom. His mom said he seems to be a fan of the new album. "Children like drums because it makes music easier to understand and puts a frame to it," she said.

Pancaroğlu says she wants to share her love of music by trying to be as natural with people as possible. "I try to be myself on stage without trying to mask any weaknesses. I have a really big love for music and I want to share that with people. It’s not the place to act. I try to make concerts a journey for people, and for us."

Telveten: between skIn and strIng
Playing in eight concerts together since 2005, Pancaroğlu and Muallem say they intended to create sounds on Telveten that flow naturally from the ethnic-classic dialogue between the instruments, including some never heard before. They take listeners, and indeed each other, on a journey to explore where their instruments take them when played together. With a broad spectrum of styles as their vehicle, they tap the earth, float and traverse the sky between Eastern and Western influences while filling the tree line on the horizon with Middle Eastern species. The songs come from Spanish classics (Albeniz), Argentine tango (Carlos Gardel), Anatolian folk music and Azerian music, Baroque (Francois Coupern), and original music from Muallem (Minor variations), a 10-year resident of Istanbul. As with the calm of the sea at dawn, the short Lejana Tierra Mia by famed Gardel draws out a transcendent harmony between the harp and percussion.

Telveten’s Middle Eastern element is enhanced on three songs by Iranian Kemanche (an oriental string and bow instrument) player Arslan Hazreti. When Hazreti, who invented his own version of the kemenche instrument, leads on Malaguena (track 3) the Kemanche dives toward earth with expressive might illuminated by the hovering of the harp and texture of percussion. Pancaroğlu says folklore dance piece "Basgali" conjures an image of real people in a place and time. "It suggests a specific people, an area," she told the Daily News.




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