The global pandemic has brought most live musical performances to a halt or encouraged performing groups to reconceptualize how to provide something akin to a live performance to audiences mostly located in their homes. One positive outcome is that it is possible to hear ensembles in faraway places; ensembles, for example, that a patron might never experience otherwise. Yet, here I was sitting in Atlanta, Georgia, enjoying a concert from the 48th Istanbul Music Festival.

Aziz Shokhakimov at the festival opening concert
© Poyraz Tutuncu

Online performances are full of opportunities for things to go wrong: a close-up of a musician not attending to what is going on; poor microphone/camera placement; over-zealous producers who do not really understand the music, and so on. Fortunately, this Tekfen Philharmonic Orchestra concert, pre-recorded in the Lütfi Kırdar International Convention and Exhibition Centre, avoided most of these problems. The orchestra is supported by Tekfen Holding, a large multi-product Istanbul-based conglomerate and its musicians are largely from the Black Sea area. Uzbek conductor and Music Director Aziz Shokhakimov is gaining an international profile, especially with his recent appointment as the next music director of the Strasbourg Philharmonic. 

The program began with Chausson’s Poème, a rhapsody-like piece for violin solo and orchestra. The soloist was Italian-born Anna Tifu, a graduate of the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, whose performing career has flourished mostly in Europe. Tifu plays a 1716 Stradivarius, the timbre of which was perfect for the late-Romanticism of Chausson.  Usually, each violin string has its own uniquenesses but Tifu’s violin sounds as if she is playing one exceptionally long string; the sound across the strings was surprisingly and delightfully uniform. Sometimes, this slightly compresses the expressiveness of her playing, but overall, it is a most satisfying sound. Tifu met the technical challenges with great skill, from the Ysaye-inspired double stops in the opening Lento e misterioso to the lush and melancholy lines of the finale Tranquillo. The Tekfen Philharmonic was a wonderful partner, its smaller size adding clarity of sound that complemented the late-19th century French style. On occasion, the orchestra lacked cohesion, for example, the final few quiet bars of the work were a bit ragged. Tifu does not add much physicality to her performance and her eyes are often on her instrument, as if in deep concentration. Maybe because there was no audience, and maybe because of the camera’s unerring close-ups, she seemed to lack a bit of stage presence, which detracted ever so slightly from her skilled performance. 

The second work on the program was Brahms’ First Symphony. This cornerstone of the Romantic era is full of lush melodies, colorful orchestral flashes and bold statements. The relatively smaller size of the Tekfen Philharmonic impeded the full realization of the music’s power so that Brahms’ thick, rich melodies were sometimes tepid. The first and fourth movements were the most successful performances here, but the inner two, more melodic and reflective movements, were hampered by a lack of drama-enhancing dynamics and rubato. While Shokhakimov implored the musicians to give more, it sometimes just did not happen. But there was some wonderful playing, especially from the horns, and woodwinds; and the concertmaster was magnificent in his beautifully shaped and realized solo. 

Technically, the stereo sound stage had both depth and breadth and the violin solo was nicely placed just left of center. Unfortunately, when the conductor was energized, his foot-stomping came through loud and clear. At times, the white balance in the video was not optimal, which caused some blooming of the image. In addition, the camera used to video the French horns was placed low, had a noticeable fish-eye effect and was not level; not a flattering angle. However, the overhead shots of the orchestra were first-class, with a very natural saturation. 

Overall, it was wonderful to see and hear the Tekfen Philharmonic under Shokhakimov, as well as to hear the magical playing of Anna Tifu. My appetite is whetted to experience the Istanbul Music Festival fully, live and in-person.

This performance was reviewed from the Istanbul Music Festival video stream.