From Turkey With Love
Turkish-American composer Kamran Ince has a long association with Milwaukee. Present Music presents an all-Ince show Saturday.
The contemporary classical music of Kamran Ince can capture the conflicting personalities within Turkish culture. Some of the music channels the spiritual, ethereal sounds found in Ottoman courts, while at other times it may exude aggression and power. Equally important to Ince, both modes will be featured in his Present Music concert, “Ince By Ince,” at the Sharon Lynn Wilson Center for the Arts Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Present Music has worked with Ince for over 23 years, commissioning at least 12 works from him in that time. However, Saturday’s show will be a first: five original works, all conducted by Ince, three of which are American premieres. The show will also be recorded for Present Music’s 10th album.
“Milwaukee is one of those places where the stars for me come together,” Ince says.
Two pieces, both American premieres, follow the style of traditional Ottoman court music. “Asumani,” which is Turkish for “according to the skies,” is written primarily for ney, a wooden, flute-like instrument with an airy sound, and cello. “Dreamlines” has a similarly spiritual quality, written in honor of Sedefhar Mehmet Ağa, the famous 15th century architect who designed the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
“It opens with a stanza that is attributed to him, in which he’s pretty much saying he’s a tool of God,” Ince says, “and his hand is God’s hand when he’s drawing these great buildings.”
“Zamboturfidir,” another American premiere, was originally commissioned by the Irish Art Council for collaboration between musicians from Dublin and Istanbul. Its nine short movements have a subtle Irish influence, but Ince is careful to not sound too Irish, lest he lose the Turkish melodies that motivate his compositions.
For Ince, the composing process starts with nothing more than an abstract idea or emotion before delving into the energized dances he is known for. “I’ll usually start with a really gut feeling for a piece,” Ince says. “You know, not music, not sounds, not notes, nothing like that, just kind of a gut feeling that you can’t really describe in words. Then I will eventually somehow find the equivalent of that gut feeling in a musical idea and then go from there.”
In some cases, a single mental image is enough to spark an idea for a new piece. One of his currently untitled upcoming works, a cello concerto for a memorial service, draws its emotion from a particularly simple, but striking scenario.
“I have this image facing the (Western Wall in Jerusalem),” Ince says. “I’m imagining a cellist facing that wall and just playing — you know, what would come out.”
But Ince’s Turkish heritage and his exposure to that culture are the core of his work. Since the style is not often considered popular classical music, he aims to create works that can still be relatable to audiences who are less familiar with the genre.
“It’s part of my background, but yet at the same time, I’m writing my music so Milwaukee audiences are somewhat familiar with my language,” Ince reflects, “so they’re gonna get part of where I am, the latest of what I’m doing, and probably more obvious references to Turkish folk music and Ottoman court music.”
The musicians who will eventually perform his work also play a large role in his writing process. Ince takes into account his previous experiences with them, the other music they play and their musical tastes.
The pieces in Saturday’s performance, and the composer’s other works, may get their life from ancient cultures and historical events, but ultimately, they are Ince’s, arising from a passion and sentiment for his profession.
“(When you compose music,) you think about … (who) you are up to that point, everything you’ve experienced and heard and lived, and obviously all those things come into play,” Ince says.
“So it’s like a cut from where I am in my life at that point.”
7:30 p.m. Aug. 30 at the Sharon Lynn Wilson Center for the Arts. Tickets are $15 to $35 and available online or by calling 414-271-0711. Students receive a 50 percent discount