ISTANBUL - Two weeks ago, renowned violinist Ellen Jewett’s budding festival project featured her group, the Audubon String Quartet, playing in a candlelit cave in Cappadocia, followed by concerts in a Greek church in Şirince and a castle in Bodrum. July 20-25 she and another all-star group return to Cappadocia and its special medieval setting
A member of the Audubon Quartet since 2000, Jewett’s 25-year career includes performance collaborations with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma and composer Phillip Glass. The Audubon Quartet, noted for their "strikingly beautiful, luminescent quality" by The New York Times, was the first American string quartet to win first prize in international string quartet competition. Performing in premier venues around the world including Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, she says her favorite settings are community festivals where the public establishes a rapport with the music and the musicians.
"Moving here I couldn’t find that so we started working on developing the space, the audience, the environment," said Jewett, a fixture in some of the most celebrated music festivals in the U.S. and around the world.
Together she and her husband have taken on the Klasik Keyifler project, putting to use their combined expertise. On the heels of a trial tour last summer and despite little sponsorship in tough economic times, the audiences nearly doubled this year to include hundreds of listeners in three venues.
A couple from Hawaii who traveled to Cappadocia said meeting Jewett and her crew was the highlight of their trip. Jackie Erickson wrote in an email that encountering Jewett’s performance "was like a gift from the gods."
Seeing such reactions last week was encouraging, Jewett said. "There aren’t so many occasions where people come together like this: local families, expats and tourists." With Turkish sausage sandwiches on sale, some of the 200 people in the torch-lit cave theater set up their own grills and made a picnic where a shallow canyon carves out two wings for seating. "It was a lot of fun," Jewett said. Jewett’s husband Hüsam Süleymangil said the project is still in the investment stage and that the turnout showed they have made some friends to spread the word. Ziggy’s Caf in Cappadocia has become the couple’s official headquarters for their venture, where food and advice have flowed freely. He said the family of the owner of the teahouse-cum-concert venue, Saklı Vadi, pleaded with them to return and said how much they enjoyed this "Western music".
These are local folks with headscarves and baggy pants, Süleymangil said. "Their enthusiasm is the biggest satisfaction I’ve gotten from the project, that people who had never heard classical music preferred it to disco and techno."
The folks who run Cappadocia’s internationally acclaimed Esbelli Evi Hotel have taken their enthusiasm further, providing audience members and promotion. Hotel manager Nil Tuncer said Jewett’s group offered something that seems tailor-made for the area and the type of guests drawn to the special hotels there. "This is really fresh for us," she said. "People were so happy to be here for the concert."
Jewett identifies the festival series, including the next one in July in the same place, as one-to-two week sessions with small groups of top-level classical chamber musicians including open rehearsals, masterclasses for conservatory students, "jam sessions" and concerts.
The summer tour, she said, provides a platform to showcase international collaboration by combining Turkish musicians with players outside Turkey. By being as inclusive as possible and keeping ticket prices low, integrating local populations with visitors in non-commercial ways is a desired outcome. She added that younger musicians she has come to know gain musical maturity by touring the same repertoire in a group of concerts.
Bringing history to its feet
The act of sharing music in such compelling historical settings cannot be underestimated, Jewett said. "Presenting concerts in the context of these historical settings can stimulate the listener to use É imagination to comprehend this abstract music and transport the listener beyond everyday experiences." The venues in Turkey are endless, she said. "It’s just a matter of getting permission." Jewett hopes to be part of a process to de-formalize Turkey’s classic music scene. "Every community has the potential to connect with classic music," she said. In chamber music, no conductor and no soloist are set apart from the others by receiving a higher fee. These days especially, Jewett says, it is unusual and important for audiences to be exposed to this sophisticated, egalitarian, non-verbal and universal form of art and performance.
Centuries ago, musicians would go to play in summer homes outside Vienna, she added. "We’re playing for fun, which is the nature of chamber music."
The next Klasik Keyifler concert "Hepsi Mendelssohn" in Urgup, Cappadocia on
July 25 will follow a practice retreat and chamber music workshop with 12-15 Turkish conservatory students. Mentors include violist Burcu
Tunca and cellist Ozan Tunca.