About this Recording
8.572554 - INCE, K.: Symphony No. 2, "Fall of Constantinople" / Concerto for Orchestra, Turkish Instruments and Voices / Piano Concerto (Bilkent Symphony, Ince)

Kamran Ince (b. 1960)
Concerto for Orchestra, Turkish Instruments and Voices Symphony No. 2 ‘Fall of Constantinople’ • Piano Concerto • Infrared Only


In 1980, when Kamran Ince landed in America after growing up mostly in Turkey, the twenty-year-old composer quickly developed a reputation for music of brash energy, endless invention and startling juxtapositions.

The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1984) and Infrared Only (1985, commissioned by the New York Youth Symphony and premiered by them at Carnegie Hall in 1986) made that reputation. They are outrageous in the way that music by good young composers is outrageous. The young Kamran Ince generated material to burn, and he burned plenty in these two works.

The Piano Concerto opens with startling marketplace chatter and clatter of woodwinds and strings. Rimshots interrupt. A high orchestral whine, like the singing of high-voltage wires, creates a static charge. The piano emerges from the whine with random glitters of sound that do not quite add up to arpeggios, and the brasses power up a blast reminiscent of Richard Strauss. In the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra and Infrared Only, recurring musical ideas are usually transformed in some way, but are presented in the stream-of-consciousness manner of dreams. Listening to the Piano Concerto and Infrared is very much like stepping into a thrilling, disorienting sonic dream. We might be disoriented, but the composer knew exactly where he was in these pieces. “In the Concerto,” Ince writes, “I was thinking of the music in three types of blocks: static, semi-static and moving. The piece slowly moves from stasis toward more motion. These contrasting blocks want each other and complete each other. Each block is at home, like tonic, but when you move on to the next, it’s as if the previous block had been seeking it, as dominant seeks tonic as a matter of physics.”

A more patient and mature voice asserts itself in the Symphony No. 2 (‘Fall of Constantinople’, 1994, commissioned by the Albany Symphony Orchestra) and Concerto for Orchestra, Turkish Instruments and Voices (2002, revised 2009, commissioned by the Turkish Ministry of Culture).

“These are extremely important works for me,” Ince writes. “In the symphony, for the first time, I referred specifically to Turkish musical elements. In this work I evoke the spirit of the Turkish village drum (struck on both sides with a different mallet for each, creating two sounds). I simulate the zurna—an extremely loud and nasal, bagpipe-like instrument—by giving a single line to as many as five woodwinds, and having a sixth double a half-tone lower. This adds quarter-tone dirt and spice to the sound, to create a clash you can feel, if not hear. I am thinking of the Ottoman Janissary Band, which naturally plays with quarter-tone inflections and out of tune unisons. Which I love.”

Ince takes it further in the Concerto for Orchestra, Turkish Instruments and Voices. “This is my next statement,” he writes. “For the first time, I use actual zurnas to get to the in-your-face, folk- and dance-like ceremonial feeling of true Turkish folk music. In Turkey, zurnas announce weddings and other important events. Zurnas are so loud that sometimes you cannot hear the bass drums pounding next to them. I contrast the bold, raw folk-like music with the seriousness, courtliness and depth of Ottoman classical music, with its elegant and subtle ney [a flute-like instrument, very difficult to play] and kemence [a sort of bowed fiddle, shaped rather like a mountain dulcimer]. The singers live in both of these sound-worlds. They make sounds with pebbles on the folk side and sing on the Ottoman classical side. The brass, percussion, string and woodwind sections of the orchestra contribute only the bold and unique sounds only they can produce. The orchestral writing is very lean, with no filler.”

Ince opens with a sonic riot featuring a mob of nasal wind instruments in microtonal dissonance. A frightening, massive swarm of strings follows. Those ideas recur throughout the work; they go off like alarms and typically alert us to the start of a new episode—but they often contrast sharply with what they announce, which includes achingly intimate music for kemence and singers. In an instant, the music can turn from military intimidation to amorous yearning.

In the developmentally important Second Symphony, Ince set his music on the narrative grid of Mehmet the Conqueror’s taking of the Byzantine capital in 1453. The timpani/bass drum thud of Ottoman artillery recurs throughout. All sorts of violent ideas accrete to this central sound. The organizing contrast lies in a beautiful falling melody and attendant rocking harmonies that become hypnotic with repetition. The theme makes an immediate and lasting impression. It plays the lead character and represents the prayers of fearful Christians in the slow movement, Hagia Sophia. But it also stands for the calm nights on the ramparts, when the bombardments cease, in the two day-night cycles in the opening movement, The City and the Walls.

Those two ideas permeate the symphony and help us to locate ourselves within its sprawling story. A great deal more vividly illustrative material bubbles up within it. A remarkable evocation of Mehmet and Constantine’s pep talks to their troops squawks out speech rhythms in high woodwinds on one hand and rolls out with lugubrious solemnity on the other. The enormous weight and relentless drive of Ships on Rails is the very image of the Ottoman fleet being dragged overland to bypass the Byzantines’ impregnable harbor chain. In this symphony, we hear Ince on his way to his mature compositional method of laying out easily absorbed essential material early and bringing it back in one form or another over the course of the piece.

Tom Strini

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