The Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Sascha Goetzel www.saschagoetzel.com in works by Balakirev, Holst, Gabriel Prokofiev, Mozart, Handel and Respighi. The Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra www.borusansanat.com/orkestra/bifo_bilgi.aspx grew out of the Borusan Chamber Orchestra, becoming one of Turkey’s leading philharmonic ensembles. It gave its concert premiere in May 1999 and has since become a prominent element of Istanbul’s cultural scene. The founding of the orchestra was one of the first ventures in the field of culture and the arts by Borusan Holding, a leading industrial conglomerate in Turkey. For the 2008/09 Season Austrian conductor, Sascha Goetzel, was appointed artistic director and principal conductor of the orchestra.
The orchestra opened the concert, a classical celebration of the Orient, with Balakirev’s Oriental fantasy: Islamey (1869) in its orchestration by Lyapunov in a performance where Sascha Goetzel achieved some very taut dynamics from the orchestra, though individual sections were, at times, a little ragged. There was a characterful slow, middle section full of sultry atmosphere and colour with these players really throwing themselves into the coda.
Gustav Holst’s Beni Mora: Oriental Suite dating from 1909/10 brought many fine moments with distinctive brass and woodwind textures and, again, a very atmospheric sound. This was a very enjoyable performance, very well shaped and what the players lacked in absolute polish they gained in character and orchestral colour.
Daniel Hope (violin) www.danielhope.com joined the orchestra for the world premiere of Gabriel Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto: 1914 http://gabrielprokofiev.com, a BBC commission that commemorates the centenary of the First World War. Gabriel Prokofiev, the grandson of the composer Sergei Prokofiev, says that he wanted to convey a broad picture of what was happening in 1914, a year he describes as ‘the end of the old world, the old ways, the old hierarchies.’
Hushed strings and percussion opened the work out of which the soloist rose with a passionate melody. The background orchestral sound slowly rose up until a sudden halt after which the solo violin introduced a marching theme, dissonant and ironical in nature, occasionally becoming rather manic and caustic before changing rhythm to a faster, more fragmented passage out of which the soloist attempted to keep the marching rhythm. Various instruments took the fragmented, syncopated theme but the violin led the music on, ever more frantic.
The second movement opened with a side drum followed by interventions from various instruments before a rhythmic pulse was taken up underscored by a drum beat. The soloist entered with a little theme taken by the clarinet then the orchestra as the theme grew. The soloist took over against a mechanical sounding accompaniment. There were sudden drum beats as the soloist scurried around with scurrying strings stopping and starting in sudden bursts reinforced by percussion before the soloist brought a wistful little melody to end.
The third movement grew slowly out of a gloomy silence with military sounding drum strokes before the soloist entered in a wavering motif that slowly developed over the orchestra with an affecting little melody full of emotion and sorrow that collapsed into drum beats punctuated by wind instruments. As the music subsided the soloist introduced the wavering theme before the orchestra rose determinedly with the soloist, drums driving the rhythm faster and more chaotically before the solo violin reached high fluttering notes.
Finally brass and percussion opened tentatively with drooping brass. The soloist entered in little short phrases that developed and slid around as though trying to develop into a march, pointed up by a drum rhythm. High string harmonics were heard with woodwind and percussion over which the solo violin played a passionate theme that ended on an ethereal high note and quiet drum taps.
Gabriel Prokofiev has a fine ear for textures and sonorities in this fitting tribute to centenary of the First World War finely played by Daniel Hope and ably supported by Sascha Goetzel and the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra.
After the interval the orchestra returned for Mozart’s Overture: Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) where they produced an almost period instrument clarity, demonstrating again how these players really put their all into their playing producing lithe, dynamic results. Yet in the slower sections there was plenty of poetic feeling and subtlety as well as a terrific percussion section adding colour and sparkle
Handel’s The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from his oratorio Solomon in the arrangement by Thomas Beecham brought rhythmic poise with a fine string texture and some particularly fine woodwind contributions in this finely turned reading.
Ottorino Respighi’s Suite from his ballet Belkis, Queen of Sheba (Belkis, Regina di Saba) (1931) is a wonderful showcase for an orchestra with the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic showing all the strengths mentioned above coming into their own in the scented, intoxicatingly atmospheric The Dance of Solomon. There was some exquisite woodwind playing and fine string passages. War Dance brought some incisive playing and a real feeling of spectacle whilst in The Dance of Belkis at Dawn the orchestra revealed a languid, sultry nature with lovely woodwind arabesques. The Orgiastic Dance brought a riot of colour and spectacle and, though the rhythm was initially a little rigid it developed into a freer flowing interpretation with a spectacularly colourful coda.
The orchestra gave us a substantial encore of music from the Bosphorus played with a directness and passion with some lovely quieter sections.
The Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra brought enthusiasm, sparkle and colour, giving performances that were extremely characterful and enjoyable.