A leisurely stroll along the glistening Bosphorus on a sunny Saturday morning is the perfect panacea to sooth both spirit and senses. With the added bonus of five mini-concerts in small select venues along the way, it became a veritable Turkish delight. The surprise hit of last year’s Istanbul Music Festival, the “Müzik Rotasi” (Music Route) was the inspired idea of dynamic Festival Director Yeşim Gürer Oymak, who realized that even if Istanbul doesn’t have an optimal concert hall, the cornucopia of potential performing venues scattered throughout the sprawling metropolis of nearly 15 million people is essentially limitless.

Ayşe Şenogul and Merve Kocabeyler © Ersin Durmus
Ayşe Şenogul and Merve Kocabeyler
© Ersin Durmus

Admittedly, the affluent seaside suburb of Yeniköy is a long way from the seedy side-streets of Tarlabaşi. Enormous private waterfront villas, chic cafés, recherché restaurants and even an Aston Martin dealership line the leafy Köybaşi Caddesi which is the Music Route’s principal pathway. The distance covered on foot was a comfortable 1.5 kilometres, but there was ample time for concert perambulants to meander between venues and enjoy a refreshing beverage or two along the way. There are two tours about 30 minutes apart with a capacity of 120 people in each. Both groups were instantly sold out when the event was announced.

The first concert featured Turkish soprano Ayşe Şenogul accompanied by another local lass, harpist Merve Kocabeyler. The venue was the cosy Armenian Church of St Mary, which may not be so venerable but provided a desirably intimate atmosphere with benign acoustics. Şenogul has the raw material to become a good singer but at present this is still a voice in progress. For such an intimate recital it was ill-advised to focus so intently on the score and have minimal interaction with the audience. There was irregularity of breath control and a disconcertingly fast vibrato in the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria and indistinct diction in French chansons by Fauré, Hahn and Ravel. Schubert’s reliable old warhorse Ständchen was rather langourous and revealed that Şenogul’s diction problems were not restricted to French. Kocabeyler’s harp playing was generally more impressive although at times a little over-resonant.

Camerata Strumentale Citta di Prato © Ersin Durmus
Camerata Strumentale Citta di Prato
© Ersin Durmus

The next location was the splendiferous waterfront villa known as the Sait Halim Pasha Mansion. This palatial property has the dubious distinction of being the site of the signing of the Wangenheim Treaty in 1914 which brought the Ottoman Empire into World War I on the side of Germany. The sumptuous interior, albeit with a tad too much Trumpian gilding, has a handsome pastel green stucco salon ideal for chamber concerts and the strings of the Italian Camerata Strumentale Città di Prato gave a spirited, if not always intonation-perfect performance of Purcell’s G minor Chaconne, Vivaldi’s G major concerto for strings and the Divertimento no. 1 by Mozart. 

Back along the now-bustling boulevard, next stop was the glittering Aya Yorgi Greek Orthodox Church which belied its rather drab exterior. Another Turkish ensemble, self-effacingly called the Semplice Quartet, gave an excellent performance of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet with And Karabacak as a sensitive and sonorous soloist. The musicians were all of a very high standard and displayed impeccable phrasing, crisp articulation and careful attention to the dynamic markings. Karabacak’s clarinet playing, especially in the luxuriant Larghetto, was especially mellifluous, then suitably pert and punchy in the concluding Allegretto.

And Karabacak and the Semplice Quartet © Ersun Durmus
And Karabacak and the Semplice Quartet
© Ersun Durmus

The surprising highlight in a delightful day of music was a recital by young Azerbaijani-Turkish-Albanian violinist Elvin Hoxha Ganiyev in another Greek Orthodox church, this time the far more opulent Yeniköy Panayia. Still only 19, Ganiyev played the demanding first and second unaccompanied sonatas by Bach to a mesmerized audience. The technical agility in both fugas and rapid scale passages in the Presto conclusion to BWV 1001 were virtuosic, but in both works Ganiyev also revealed remarkable maturity and innate musicality. Playing with closed eyes, the opening Grave movement in the Second Sonata was particularly moving. Having won First Prize in the Novosibirsk Competition for Young Violinists last year, Ganiyev is undoubtedly a young musician with a dazzling future.

Elvin Hoxha Ganiyev © Ersin Durmus
Elvin Hoxha Ganiyev
© Ersin Durmus

The final concert was held in the lavish interior of the Austrian Cultural Forum under an enormous Murano crystal chandelier. In association with the Festival, the performance was part of the Austrian Cultural Council’s programme of promoting young artists, most of whom are still students. The multikulti Trio Immersio, comprising Georgian pianist Mariam Vardzelashvili, Polish cellist Anna Maria Niemiec and Ukrainian violinist Vira Zhuk, played piano trios in E flat major by Schubert and in C minor by Brahms – a work much loved by Clara Schumann. Youthful enthusiasm was welome in the former but the Brahms needed more depth of understanding to bring out the inherent melancholia and underlying angst of the composition.

Trio Immersio © Ersin Durmus
Trio Immersio
© Ersin Durmus

The “Music Route” was a real triumph of creative artistic planning and will be repeated in a different location next year. Tickets are sure to be as sought after as oven-fresh baklava.