Istanbul Music Festival — Cultural Landscapes in Music

As if anyone actually needs another reason to visit the magnificent city of Istanbul, both veteran and rookie travelers alike now have just that this summer: yet another reason to visit Istanbul.

From May 31 to June 29, music lovers can enjoy the 43rd Annual Istanbul Music Festival. Whether you travel to Istanbul specifically for this festival or if you just find yourself in this grand city during the month of June, it seems a good bet to take advantage of this internationally acclaimed month-long event. The theme this year for the event is “Cultural Landscapes,” which, according to press materials,

is a reference to the nationalist movement which arose through the increasing consolidation of European borders in the 19th century and the increasing importance folkloric elements in music which followed this movement, centred on topics of identity, belonging, and geography. In a world where cultural differences are quickly fading due to the effects of globalisation, the importance of local rhythms, harmonies, and tones within the tradition of classical music will surface once again through the festival, and the works of composers through which they portray their personal historical identities and cultural riches will reach the audience through the festival’s theme.

What this portends for the traveler/music aficionado is a cultural and musical mix directly in sync with the special Western/Eastern crossroads vibe one gets when visiting Istanbul, surely one of the world’s great destinations. The mix of high quality music in picturesque and iconic Istanbul locations is bound to be a treat; there will be 27 concerts spread over a dozen venues this year at the Istanbul music festival.


World Premieres

Among the highlights of the 2015 Istanbul music festival are world premieres of two important compositions commissioned for the festival. The festival opens with debut of composer/violinist/conductor Hasan Niyazi Tura’s “Symphonic Poem on Battle of Gallipoli” performed by the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic under the baton of Sascha Goetzel at the Lütfi Kırdar Convention & Exhibition Centre.

Also debuting at the festival will be the renowned Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian‘s “New Opus,” featuring violist Kim Kashkasian and pianist Peter Nagy, as part of a June 10 program at the Holy Vortvots Vorodman Church. The restored church dates from Byzantine times and has been a cultural and religious touchstone for Armenians in and out of the region.

Other performers of note at the festival include Yuri Bashmet, Boris Berezovsky, Emmanuelle Haïm, Angela Hewitt, Paavo Jarvi, Kim Kashkashian, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Christian Tetzlaff, Gidon Kremer, and Yuja Wang.

Ensembles include the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, the Franz List Chamber Orchestra, Kremerata Baltica Chamber Orchestra, and the 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic.

The Art of the Venue

Those less familiar with these names can take interest in unique Istanbul venues like the Heybeliada Hagia Triada Monastery, opening its doors to the music festival for the first time. The Hagia Triada has its origins in the ninth century c.e., and has endured a chequered history, having been restored and rebuilt numerous times. Other venues of note over the month long festival include the Hagia Irene, a former church near the famous Topkapi Palace that predates the renowned Hagia Sophia and is now an established concert hall, and the Süreyya Opera House, a lovely Art Deco inspired building from the first half of the last century.

A unique program called “The Festival Presents Its Young Soloist” at the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, June 20, a feature begun several years ago, has become a tradition at the festival. This year will feature the flute; the soloist will be determined through nationwide auditions.

Weekend Classics

The “Weekend Classics” series at the music festival are free to the public and a welcome diversion for the frugal traveler.

June 6 at the Garden of Netherlands Consulate General features acclaimed conductor and violist Simon Murphy together with German star soprano Gudrun Sidonie Otto and members of The Hague’s Baroque orchestra, The New Dutch Academy, who will, according to the festival’s website, “perform a program that portrays the cosmopolitan Dutch musical life in the backdrop of the 18th-century European musical scene and the historical Dutch links with Bach, as well as celebrating some of the links between Bach and Turkey.”

Domo Emigrantes

For those perhaps less classically inclined, the June 14 “Weekend Classic” program at the Selamiçeşme Freedom Park features the Italian folk ensemble Domo Emigrantes, playing lively ethnic music on a variety of instruments. The Selamiçeşme Freedom Park has football fields, tennis and basketball courts and walking and biking trails worth visiting even if this cracking group wasn’t playing at the amphitheatre.

Other free “Weekend Classics” programs take place June 20 at the Consulate General of Austria, Austrian Cultural Office Garden (featuring the Minetti Quartet) and June 28 at the The Garden of Sakıp Sabancı Museum (featuring the Semplice Quartet).

During the Istanbul music festival, fans looking to plunge a little deeper intellectually can take advantage of pre-concert talks at many of the concerts. Although most of these are in Turkish — although, why not put those Rosetta Stone lessons to the test? — a few are also in English.

Beyond the Tourist Traps

Though Istanbul is a wonderful city to visit and explore any time of year, visiting during the Istanbul Music Festival, for the classical music lover, the casual fan, or the merely curious, is a way to see this special place in a fresh and rewarding way. Between the quality and beauty of both the music and the concert venues, the festival offers an entertaining and enlightening way beyond the usual tourist traps.

Using, you can live like a local in Istanbul while you’re there. Have a look at your options here.

For a complete schedule of performers and ticket information, consult the festival website at

On the ground in Istanbul, contact the offices of the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, or IKSV

Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts
Nejat Eczacıbaşı Binası
Sadi Konuralp Caddesi, No: 5
Şişhane 34433 İstanbul
T: (212) 334 07 00
F: (212) 334 07 16
E-mail: / / pazarlama@iksv.or


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