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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 16 APRIL 2018 — "Fazil Say is one of the 21st century’s greatest artists," said Douglas Boyd, director of the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris since 2015. "He gives such a fresh and totally sincere interpretation of the classical repertoire and I love his version of Beethoven’s Concerto for piano and orchestra No.3 which he played with us this evening. It’s not what people expect; it’s not what people are used to hearing on their CDs at home, but it brings a new life, a new vibrancy and meaning to the music. It’s what the classical music scene needs today. Say is a free spirit and a total joy to work with and I want him here as frequently as is possible".

The programme at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées introducing the season 2018/19, opened with Say’s fascinating version, "cadenza Fazil Say", of Beethoven’s well-known work, a score which Say imbued with originality, poetry and passion. Many years ago, the Turkish pianist and composer once
told me that he wouldn’t attempt to play Beethoven until he considered him a friend, and with this exciting version, it became clear that Beethoven has become more of a soul mate.

During the four-minute introduction, he frequently swiveled round in his seat to communicate with the orchestra and once the piano began, Say caressed the sounds from his instrument, his changing facial expressions echoing each nuance of the music, his left arm sometimes raised in an arched curve in a continuation of the score while his right hand picked out the melody.

Hunched over his piano, his chin almost touching the keyboard, he brought out the delicate beauty of each note. It was as if one had not truly heard this magnificent work before.

The second part of the programme came as an electric shock with the world premiere of Say’s Never give up, an ambitious concerto for cello and orchestra. Intense, poignant and highly dramatic, it was not without bringing to mind Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, partly because the work was created in the same theatre in May, 1913, but also because it was one of Say’s earliest recordings which I played in my car on top of a Swiss mountain, Say next to me, thumping out the notes on the dashboard, the car rocking dangerously with the force and intensity of the score. Never give up, totally innovative and original as it is, yet contains a similar exuberance and passion. Stravinsky, the Turkish pianist and composer said at the time, was one of his most important influences.

The title, suggested by the Cultural Institute Bernard Magrez who commissioned the work, reflects Say’s message, his plea to the world’s leaders to bring a halt to terrorism and war together with his belief in a world of peace, beauty and harmony. What his extraordinary concerto gives is hope in a better future, and one leaves the theatre feeling uplifted.

The score itself, centered round the gifted French cellist, Camille Thomas, contains a wealth of ideas, many traceable to themes and instruments from Turkish folk music while the cello itself becomes the voice of the people expressing a desire for liberty.

Inventive and unconventional, Never give up is nevertheless classically constructed in three  movements, the first being dominated by the cello in a poignant plea for freedom. The second movement propels the work forward,holding one spellbound by its evocation of the consequences of terrorism, while the last movement, elegiac, begins with the sounds of rushing water and birdsong after twenty seconds of silence. It is a poem to peace.

After the dramatic and expressive intensity of Say, the evening lost its aura of splendour. It was difficult to adjust to the light, easy-on- the-ear of Haydn’s Symphony No. 86 in D Major composed in 1786. However, since it was also the occasion of the presentation of 2018/19 programme, the chamber orchestra inevitably played a work from its own classical repertoire which included Haydn, nicknamed "papa Haydn", the Father of Symphony who was instrumental in the development of chamber music. Nevertheless, one could not fail to be impressed by the excellence of the orchestra and of the "sound" given to it by the charismatic Scottish conductor, Douglas Boyd.

Talking to Boyd at the end of the evening, who again reiterated his admiration for Say with whom he already has another project in view, he commented that the orchestra had only rehearsed Say’s work three times.

There was a first rehearsal without Camille Thomas, followed by one with her before the final dress rehearsal. "We work fast", he laughed, "and Fazil Say is a force of nature, with an immediate contact with us and with his audience. He gets his message across, and what is just as important is that his concerts are always different."

Based in Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is a culture critic and senior editor at Culturekiosque. 

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Interview: Douglas Boyd

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