The Gümüslük International Classical Music Festival
“When I think about Gümüşlük, I can’t stop smiling. The warmth and hospitality of its people, the sunshine, the sea and the spectacular concert venue make me want to come back again and again,” says renowned Russian-American pianist Ilya Itin. photo - Aljazeera
Itin is a prestigious guest artist and returning pedagogue at the Turkish music festival, and a personal friend of its propelling forces, the festival’s founders, Eren Levendoğlu and Gülsin Onay.
Onay, one of Turkey’s foremost pianists, has taken on the role of artistic advisor, working closely with the artistic director of the festival, Eren Levendoĝlu. The festival celebrated its 10th anniversary this summer. Levendoĝlu had the idea to start the festival in a small, idyllic fishing village, steeped in the history and ruins of the ancient Mediterranean city of Myndos. She says, “I had just graduated from London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama and was looking for an alternative lifestyle in music without the stress and rigorous schedule of the conservatory.” The locale was a romantic escape from the big cities for many artists, and Levendoĝlu found refuge – and her future husband –at the Eklisia Church-turned-arts center located In the center of town, yet just steps away from the ocean.
The first thing to do was to get a piano into the space for her to practice on. The instrument that got things going was a makeshift upright that had fallen from a truck and was in bad condition. Levendoĝlu’s search for a piano tuner led her to Onay, who was visiting her summer home the next town over. The renowned pianist’s enthusiastic reaction to the idea of creating a festival matched Levendoĝlu’s passion for the project. Over tea, plans were turned into action, as the two women motivated other musicians, including the head of the faculty of music at Bilkent University in Ankara, Isin Metin, to get involved. Levendoĝlu mobilized everyone around her according to their trades: Her cousin, a graphic designer, made posters, a friend wrote press releases, yet another friend sponsored the wine, and the response was overwhelming.
“The church seats only 60 people and there was an overflow into the garden, where we put up a screen and a sound system. Over 800 people attended the concerts and the press responded wholeheartedly,” remembers Levendoĝlu. Master classes followed in 2006, the festival’s third year, and expanded from the original piano festival into its broader framework of a classical music festival, even featuring its first symphonic orchestral concert, attracting sponsors and international artists to come on board. By 2011, the festival was in full swing with all its pedagogical and performing activities, supporting Turkish music students and promoting the work of Turkish composer Ahmet Adnan Saygun to the younger generation. As one of the premier proponents of Saygun’s work, Onay had set out building her distinguished career as an international performing pianist, never losing sight of her Turkish identity. It is thanks to her great initiative, as much as to her warm personality, that the festival attracts not only fans and local artists, but musicians from around the world, and acts as a true messenger of cultural diplomacy. In 2012, the festival moved from its original location to an ancient stone quarry situated on the southwestern seaside of Gümüşlük’s Koyunbaba area, gaining an idyllic panoramic view and further artistic participation, contributing to its significant cultural stance.
Today, a varied mix of nationalities present myriad genres at the festival’s annual six-week summer program, filling the Mediterranean landscape with music ranging from Jazz to classical, and including such artists as pianist Fazil Say from Turkey, Yury Martynov from Russia, Mauricio Vallina from Cuba, Pierre Reach from France, and Italian guitarist Carlo Domeniconi. A growing number of various instrumentalists, among them Portugese bassoon player Rul Lopez and French oboe player Celine Moinet, have made this a true classical music fest.
Supported by the Bodrum Classical Music Association and the Bodrum Chamber of Commerce, the festival carries an academic and educational outreach element, bringing the newest research and developments in the field of music education to the enthusiastic local student body of its academy. Edna Golandsky, for example, co-founder of the New York-based Golandsky Institute, has returned to a loyal group of students for the past several years, bringing her teachings on how to gain natural pianistic facility building on the principals of the ‘Dorothy Taubman approach,’ to a growing branch of the Institute’s following. Master classes are held in piano, flute, cello, harp, voice, conducting, clarinet, guitar, viola, and violin, and – thanks to the multi-talented Fazil Say –composition has lately been added to the programs offered.
Run with the help of its association of volunteers, in addition to its three-person staff, the festival holds its own, even next to the big festivals in the Istanbul area, boasting a uniquely intimate and welcoming character. Perhaps the most significant attribute of the festival remains its special atmosphere, the naturally ambient and enjoyable spirit of the event augmented by impromptu performances at the beach and local restaurants. One finds plenty of opportunities in Gümüşlük for open-minded cultural exchange, both on a musical and social level; an important outlet in today's politically challenged cultural climate in flux between Orient and Occident.