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MARTIN BERKOFSKY INTERVIEWS PIANIST ATAKAN SARI

Above: Conductor Konstantin Krimets congratulates Atakan Sari onstage at Moscow's Tchaikovsky Hall.

Guestbook

AN INTERVIEW WITH PIANIST ATAKAN SARI

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Martin Berkofsky: "Mr. Sari, you are a young artist just in your mid-twenties. Many, though, including myself have observed that your playing reflects the vision and profound thought of one who has experienced infinitely more world and universe years. Your life and career path seem to be marked by the unusual, the non-typical, and by some rather brave chance-taking. I'd like to return to these topics later, but I wonder now if I might be able to ask you about your early life and musical training; in short, which influences and inspirations have brought you to this point?"

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Atakan Sari: "I am lucky to be born in a musical family. My first music and piano teacher was my father whose bible was Bach's Well Tempered Clavier. Since my childhood, I've been familiar with beautiful and stunning repertoire of the piano. My first toy was our long player on which l heard a variety of classical works, and immediately wanted play the most challenging Beethoven sonatas. That was not quite possible at that moment. When I entered the conservatory in Ankara, my dad, considering my future, insisted on a string instrument for me to play. That was in fact something l didn't really wish to do, so l spent those years learning new pieces on the piano, and kept failing in my viola classes. This situation ended up with my going to a smaller city and finding the best possible teacher for me at that point. For many years Martin Berkofsky's (sic) Liszt recording had affected me like many people in Turkey, and I heard that one of his students named Can Coker was teaching in Adana conservatory, so without thinking I packed my suitcase and went to audition. Until my US years he was a real mentor with his extreme insight. Before that point l thought of Sviatoslav Richter as a pianist who could play anything in a fast tempo; since then l've thought of him as a man who can create miracles beyond imagination. I stopped imitating other pianists and tried to be myself within my boundries.

Eventually, I happened to meet my most legendary pianist Berkofsky in person. His way of teaching, as well as his character, has nothing to do with others. He would take his time and climb a mountain to explain what crescendo means in music. One day, while he was practicing before a concert, students were unable to stop themselves from listening to him, one of them whispered to the other "his playing is so inciting". It's so, whenever I lose my courage to practice or for whatever, I listen to him and find what I need. One night, in my house, after my Carnegie Hall debut, we asked him to play something and he kept playing until four in the morning. It was so other-worldly that nobody could even speak as he played. The day after, my neighbors thanked me, they were also aware that they could not hear something like that again. Importantly, his main idea was "do what you can for others, and expect nothing in return", and he has done so. Without him nothing would be the same for me as it is today. He is certainly an ecole that reaches all of the way back to Liszt, both artistically and in its mentality."

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Martin Berkofsky: "You play a variety of musical instruments in addition to the piano. You have been playing some of these instruments in a fascinating Middle Eastern ensemble. I would love to learn more about this Ensemble, its purpose, repertoire, etc. Has the knowledge and experience playing additional instruments broadened your musical outlook, added to your piano perceptions? Would you advise other young pianists to do as you have been doing?"

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Atakan Sari: "Indeed, it was a surprise for me to be offered to lead that ensemble right after l showed up there with my kemenche. One of the co-directors of that ensemble is an outstanding person, Gail Holst-Warhaft. She, herself an author, poet and a musician, dedicated her life for peace and humanism. She translated some books of Theodorakis and is an expert of rebetiko music that flourished in lzmir before WW 1. Our goal in that ensemble was to learn and to perform diverse repertoire of Middle-East, say, from Turkish to Greek, from Arabic to Armenian, from Ladino to Kurdish. Before my joining the group, they sang mostly Arabic. Because I was better at Turkish and Greek music, I headed towards that region of the music. So, our members and audiences began to be those people who spoke the languages we perform at the concerts. Since the Middle East has been a gray geographic due to numerous greedy settlings of account, poor people of those nations don't get to know each other in depth but only trough fake and infelicitous stories. It's a unique opportunity to uncover some bilingual songs and to let everybody enjoy and realize the fact that not just those who speak the same language, but those who share the same feelings can make good friends. It's my favorite feeling to sit down and talk to somebody who is from where my statesmen forbid me to go. Just like in Cyprus, where I live now, l believe that l've managed to tear down other Berlin Walls around me, so to speak, so far in my life. I would recommend anybody to explore at least one other musical instrument. For my case, I think it's nice to sustain a note on a kemenche whereas on the piano we can't do that. Plus, eastern music, because it's not polyphonic, has huge amount of ornamentation techniques of which l've recently taken advantage for my Bach interpretation."

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Martin Berkofsky: "You have made important history as the first Turkish soloist ever to appear with the Armenian Philharmonic. I know that your appearance in Yerevan as a musical ambassador was a vital and important step for peoples whose heartfelt wishes are to work together in this world. I wonder if you could tell us about this experience, your thoughts and perhaps concerns beforehand, your impressions during your stay in Armenia, and your feelings about the outcome?"

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Atakan Sari: "First of all, it was most surprising for me to be invited by the Armenian Philharmonic. I don't remember for a moment any sense of hesitation on my side. Turkish and Armenian relations have been tense for decades for several governmental mistakes. As one said, war is a fight between two groups that don't know each other, and aroused by two statesmen who know each other well. I personally didn't have any Armenian friends beforehand, but there l met plenty and became really good friends especially of those from Istanbul; we got to know each other's families. Similarities among these two countries and people are striking. I think it is only a matter of being aware of it. Going to Armenia is not traveling towards east geographically, but also going back in time; I felt myself as in a time machine. The whole family in a large house-grandparents and grandchildren living together, it used to be like that in Turkey, too. However, now people are more in favor of dividing rather than uniting. Lately, through music, a number of artists came to Turkey from Armenia. On the other hand, lt's very sad to witness some coteries in every country making fame and a living from the discourse of deadlock. My goal is to confront with these people in as many places as possible. From this point of view, I am very proud and grateful for being given this chance. I think it's such a great contribution to humanism and especially to give back Hovhaness' music back to his origin, 'All Men are Brothers' in mind."

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Martin Berkofsky: "You seem, thus far, to have avoided the traditional young pianists' "via crucis" of piano competitions. What are your thoughts about competing for a career? Does it deepen one's perspectives, make one a better artist?"

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Atakan Sari: "Competitions are for horses not for artists. If the main criteria is to get all the notes correct in a fast tempo, my favorite pianists will not make it to the final round. Unfortunately, competitions became an industry in this century, for professors and music marketing. However, it can cause a fatal and a physiological breakup for many musicians, on the other hand, most of us believe that it's the only way to survive. I strongly believe that especially after becoming a piano teacher in Cyprus and sitting in the juries, if you're listening to number of musicians it's almost impossible not to go by comparison. It's an artist's nature and ability to see different aspects of one thing. If there is no way to perceive intrinsic values of a playing, that means music has lost its incorporeal means and thus its sovereign independence. Monotonous interpretations will always be similar to each other, there will be no way to distinguish one particular performer in today's competitions. One phenomenal and distinctive playing, which is barely welcome by competition juries, is always my preference. One of my old piano teachers, who is best known for touring the world as a jury member, always tried to have his students play in the same and 'acceptable' way. It's like making one sculpture and filling the whole city with its reproductions. Some people may approve that kind of course, and some may object. I am in the second category."

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Martin Berkofsky: "With the grateful thanks of many listeners, you have taken up the music of Alan Hovhaness. Could you share your feelings about this music?"

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Atakan Sari: "Alan Hovhaness is one of the first composers who combined eastern musical components with western classical style. It's truly hard to achieve such a thing because organization of eastern scales in terms of whole and half tone intervals restrict the composer from using traditional triadic patterns when it comes to create something polyphonic. Hovhaness is the Mozart of his own style, considering abundance of his creativity in his harmonic language. I felt extremely close to his music at first hearing. Not only because his use of Anatolian and Caucasian folk themes but also extensive use of diverse boundaries. I am very selective on contemporary music. It's hard to find a glimpse of a genius in a work in the 21st century, Hovhaness has many of them. I believe his importance will increase in the near future."

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Martin Berkofsky: "You also play the music of contemporary Turkish composers. Could you tell us a little about the new composers in Turkey?"

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Atakan Sari: "Unfortunately, the conservative government, which has been in charge since 2002, has been quite reluctant to universal art, and has given more emphasis on Ottoman culture. This attitude has pushed many talented musicians to head towards performing pop music in bars and such. l think art draws the borders of a country, that's how your intellectual accumulation as a country reflects in the rest of the world. Otherwise, you just keep selling the tourists some Turkish delight and the evil eye bead which is not quite as powerful as Russian Tchaikovksy or French Monet. Perhaps some kind of 'investment' should be done in the field of art for a century then you can have something to say. A.Saygun was Shostakovich's contemporary, he and the Turkish Five gave a start to it after the modern republic was founded. However, it did not continue due to unstable politics."

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Martin Berkofsky: "Years ago I had the pleasure to visit Cyprus, giving concerts to appreciative and enthusiastic audiences. Now you are living, performing, and teaching in Cyprus. Could you tell us about your life there?"

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Atakan Sari: "Its a shame that the island witnessed a horrible war in 1974. Peace has not been settled in the island yet. Nevertheless, a couple of decisive teachers at the university in Famagusta, try to build a new generation. My friends and l try to give as many concerts as possible for the students, l think it's the only source of motivation for them to see live performances during their education. I also collaborate with poets and painters both from Greek and Turkish side of the island. Art is again the only uniting element for people on both sides of the border here."

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Martin Berkofsky: "We have regularly experienced that music can bring about understanding, cooperation, and peace where even the best of statesmen cannot succeed. Could you share your thoughts on how you view the place of music in this world, why music exists, what music does for the human being?"

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Atakan Sari: "Statesmen are not trained to solve the problems, scientists can do it and artists can strengthen it. ln the monetary world people today are hopeless, aggressive, offensive and greedy. On the other hand, humanity and nature have enough resources to step up to a better life; politicians and their patrons are the major obstacles. The majority of the wealth of our beautiful earth is kept by a minority. There is a wonderful anecdote by a great Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, who was put in jail for many years in Turkey. Later he escaped and spent the rest of his life in the USSR. He kept writing books during his prison years and managed to publish them on the outside. The Minister of Justice himself comes to visit and to warn him not to continue to do so. Nazim asks him if he knew the well-known Persian poet Omar Khayyam, the minister gets excited and replies 'of course, who doesn't?'. Nazim goes on and asks again 'do you recall the Minister of Justice of the era'? The Minister was probably a little ashamed not remembering his colleague. That's how it is. Who knows what the future will write about these centuries, but true art and artists are never forgotten."


CRISTOFORI FOUNDATION LINKS

RETURN TO THE CRISTOFORI FOUNDATION
Martin Berkofsky's non-profit foundation raising funds through music for worthy causes.
WATCH YOUTUBE , ALAN HOVHANESS PREMIERE WITH ATAKAN SARI AND MARTIN BERKOFSKY
The Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra performs Alan Hovhaness Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra.
THE ALAN HOVHANESS INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH CENTRE
The world's most extensive Alan Hovhaness research collection located in Yerevan, Armenia.
ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS, THE ALAN HOVHANESS CENTENNIAL COMMEMORATION
Pianist Martin Berkofsky's marathon and dedication of the Alan Hovhaness Memorial in Arlington, Massachusetts.
TULSA TO CHICAGO: MARTIN BERKOFSKY RUNS 880 MILES TO RAISE FUNDS FOR CANCER RESEARCH
Berkofsky marathon raises over $80,000 for cancer research.
THE VOICE OF AMERICA HONOURS MARTIN BERKOFSKY
VOA Video's "American Profile" of pianist Martin Berkofsky.
Below: Atakan Sari and Martin Berkofsky


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