x0x HAVING HIS SAY: East meets West in pianist's hands
- x0x HAVING HIS SAY: East meets West in pianist's hands
By HIROKO OIKAWA,Special to The Asahi Shimbun
For Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say, performing music is a way of
telling the particular story that comes into his head that day.
``When I play Bach or Mozart, people say, `Did you change the piece?''' he
said in an interview in Tokyo during his Japan tour last month.
``I say, `No, it was so different because it was the story of today.' The
story going on in my mind makes a very different sound (each day),'' said
Say, whose energetic and charismatic performing style is reminiscent of
Glenn Gould. ``You have to trust your inside voice. I don't just play with
Say's nationwide concert tour, which included sellout recitals and
orchestral collaborations, featured a classical repertoire that included
Mozart as well as the pianist's own compositions.
Born in Ankara in 1970, Say began studying piano and musical composition
at 5. The importance of listening to his inner voice was stressed at an
``My teacher always supported my improvisation and even began lessons with
improvisation. (My teacher said) `Can you say what you did today with
music? Think musically with your inside voice,''' Say recalled.
Say's training involved a mixture of European influences, beginning with a
French element he acquired from former students of pianist Alfred Cortot
and composer Henri Dutilleux. At 17, Say enrolled at the Robert Schumann
Institute in Dusseldorf, where he was taught by David Levine, who had
studied with Bohemian-American pianist Rudolf Serkin.
Say's victory at the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New
York at 25 made him a much-sought-after pianist, and he performed
regularly with ensembles like the New York Philharmonic.
While Say's recordings, beginning with a 1997 Mozart album released by
Warner Music, have earned him rave reviews, the pianist admits the long
processes involved in making recordings are arduous.
However, noting that his 1998 recordings of Bach's fugues for Teldec and
certain other works were marked by particularly profound inspiration, Say
says: ``I wouldn't say live is better. Sometimes there are good moments in
``But you don't know when such a moment will come,'' he adds. ``In live
concerts, people's energy helps.''
For his Teldec album featuring Stravinsky's ``Le Sacre du Printemps'' (The
Rite of Spring), he recorded solo the piano version of the piece arranged
for four hands.
``It is a piece of personal importance, and I always wanted to play the
piece alone,'' he explains.
The pianist recorded the work by performing one part to another
pre-recorded part. Say has also performed the piece in recitals, using a
computerized piano. ``When performed to a pre-recorded part, it has to be
very together. You play with your past, so you need to practice a lot on
this one,'' he says.
Jazz has been a great source of inspiration for Say, who grew up listening
to Oscar Peterson, among others. The pianist says he respects the
individualism and aesthetics found in jazz. He's particularly impressed by
Art Tatum, who died in 1956.
``It is the incredible connection between his piano playing and telling
stories that impresses me,'' Say explains.
Say's fascination with jazz led to the creation of the Worldjazz Quartet,
which features a Turkish flute called the ney. The quartet has performed
at festivals in the French cities of St. Denis and Montpellier and
elsewhere. Moreover, Say often performs his jazz arrangements of classical
music at his own concerts.
Turkish culture has played a key role in Say's compositions, some of which
can be heard on his latest album, 1997's ``Black Earth,'' an Avex
Classical release dedicated to his own works.
``It is natural to have Turkish elements. It is also expected of me, just
as the Japanese elements in (Toru) Takemitsu interest me,'' he says.
``Black Earth,'' the first piece on the album, is a piano rhapsody based
on a popular ballad by 20th-century Turkish poet Asik Veysel. Say's
rendition of the tune, which features an exotic touch combined with jazz
elements, is fascinating to watch, as he plays the piano while holding its
strings with his left hand to create a special effect.
The piano concerto ``Silk Road'' on the album showcases Turkish folklore
based on simple melodies, Say says.
Say's quest for a Turkish theme continues with two compositions that are
in the pipeline: a violin concerto based on the image of a harem in the
14th-century Ottoman Empire and a ballet piece on the theme of an
Anatolian love story to be performed in Paris.
``Making connections between (Eastern and Western) cultures is very
important,'' says Say.