Waltzing into the New Year with BIFO

Even though the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra bid goodbye to 2013 in solemn style with its performance of Beethoven’s magnificent yet weighty masterpiece Missa Solemnis, it welcomed the new year in a joyful, bouncy, cheery way with a feast of waltzes, polkas, the most imperial of marches, and arias from world-renown operettas.

“The New Year Concert” featured Satcha Goetzel, as conductor, the orchestra itself, and the delightful and impressive voice of Çiğdem Soyarslan as the soprano solo.

The entire Strauss family was there as well, from father Strauss, to the famous son Johann Strauss II, to brother Joseph. In addition to all the Strauss, the audience also enjoyed works by John Williams, Emmerich Kalman, Dostal, and the non-Strauss “Straus.”

We have all watched on TV the magnificent orchestral performances that take place at the end of each year in European capitals and are then broadcast the world over. The Vienna Philharmonic makes an appearance on the Turkish TV screen at the end of every year, festively performing an “An Evening of Strauss.” Also, the Turkish national TV station featured the Berlin Philharmoniker on the first morning of 2014, likewise in a concert of joyful splendour and festivity.

Well, those who were at the Lutfi Kirdar Congress Center on 16 January for the performance of the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra were treated to no less. The evening started off with the Overture of Strauss II’s operette Carnival in Rome. Carnival? Rome? Strauss? It was, of course, a splendid combination. Then, in stepped Çağdam Soyarslan, the soprano of the evening, with an amazing of voice and a bounce in her step. A glance at her biography in the concert booklet revealed studies and residence in Vienna – in line with the theme of the evening! – and an impressive record of performances and awards across all the European capitals of culture.

She then exited the stage, leaving the Orchestra to perform the most imperial of pieces: The Imperial March of John Williams, a piece familiar even to the non-classical savvy as the symphonic theme of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. “Spiel mir das Lied von Glück und Treu” (Play Me the Song of Luck and Loyalty) of Vienna’s Nico Dostal was next, again slowing down the rhythm and letting Soyarslan’s soprano voice resonant throughout the auditorium.

The first session was closed off with one of the night’s most intriguing pieces: Strauss II’s polka entitled Champagne. An allegro rhythm, with merry, swirling interjections from the winds and brass, the polka also featured a merry orchestra member, with a pump in his hand, plunging corkscrews into the air with an airy pop at the signal of the conductor, sounding just like the popping of a corkscrew of a bottle of champagne. There are many videos of this piece on the internet, and if you listen carefully, you can hear at least five or six of these “pops” throughout the three-minute piece. Who ever said that classical music wasn’t entertaining?

The second session featured more polkas, more arias, and more waltzes. As the evening went on, the enthusiasm and tempo in the auditorium began to grow. Contrary to the “auditorium etiquette” of holding off one’s applause until the very end of the session, conductor Goetzel paused in between each piece, and let the audience applaud to their heart’s content. He even turned around and talked to the audience, pausing in between each piece for a short anecdote about its history.

For example, it was during these moments that we learned that Joseph Strauss – son of Johann Strauss, and brother of Johann Strauss II- originally had no intention of a career in music. Although he was trained in the subject, he was happy working as an engineer and designer for the city of Vienna. In fact, he was so dismissive about his musical promise that he called his first composition “Die Ersten und Letzten,” which translates to “The First and the Last.” Of course, he was not the best judge of his own talents, and the first was followed by many many more, including the waltz Mein Lebenslauf ist Lieb’ und Lust that BIFO performed for us.

Another interesting tidbit of info acquired from Goetzel: that there is a reason behind the single “s” in the spelling of the name of composer Oscar Straus: the man was not a member of the Strauss family, and dropped off the second “s” in his surname “Strauss” to distinguish himself from the Strauss family and their distinct musical history. The program featured his aria “Komm Heid meiner Traume” (Come Hero of my Dreams) from the operetta Der tapfere Soldat (The Brave Soldier, also referred to as “The Chocolate Shoulder”), with Soyarslan’s voice again adding tone, love, and sonority to the joyous, waltzy evening.

The program ended with the entire auditorium, all 1700-seats filled to the brim, in long, long, loud applause. A perfect, beautiful evening, with waltzes, polkas, and even a popping champagne cork! Just one thing had gone amiss: somehow the orchestra had not played the most popular piece of Johann Strauss II, the trademark of every new year concert: The Blue Danube.

Well, it did not take long for this mystery to be resolved: Goetzel had saved it for the encore!  And, as expected, the Blue Danube only got the audience more excited. One encore was not enough. Soprano Soyarslan joined the orchestra, and sang the spicily titled aria “Meine Lippen sie küssen so heiss” (“My lips kiss so hot”) from Lehar’s opperetta Giuditta. More applause – or should I say cheers – and the orchestra shouted “Happy New Year” and started off on the third encore: the all-familiar Radetzky March of Strauss I, the father.

This time, Goetzel had also the audience engaged in the music through rhythmic “conducted” clapping. Goetzel actually conducted the clapping, turning around every moment or so from the orchestra, and signaling the audience when to accelerate or “crescendo,” or “quite down,” or “diminuendo,” or to take a break and let the orchestra do its thing. The evening ended in joyful, enthusiastic applause, and with the hope that the new year also be as joyful and energetic as this unforgettable New Year Concert.

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Melis Kanik
Melis is a fusion of cultures and nationalities. Born in Riyadh to Turkish parents, she grew up in the international, expat, and largely American community of Riyadh. She moved on to live also in the States, Italy, Belgium, and Malta, and has been a resident of Istanbul since 2004. She has a passion for music, fine arts, and the planet! She is a freelance journalist of classical music, and also runs the Faceboook page The Stage Cat where she shares news of classical concerts, events, festivals, and interviews.

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