For part one of this story, please click: https://theamericanprize.blogspot.com/2018/08/guest-blogger-american-in-ankara-part-1.html
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PART TWO of "An American in Ankara"—more GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
by Lee Actor
Fethi taught me a few words of Turkish to introduce myself to the orchestra, and as we started rehearsing “Dance Rhapsody” a comfortable relationship quickly developed between me and the musicians. My fears about communication issues proved unfounded; most of the orchestra understood at least some English. I learned that the concertmaster had studied for several years at the New England Conservatory, and those few times I needed to express a more complex idea, she helpfully translated for the orchestra. But for the most part “musical Italian” and a little English worked just fine. I quickly learned to avoid using large numbers, as in “Please begin at m. 237”; much better was “6 before letter K”. Interestingly, the musicians in Izmir the following week specifically asked me to use absolute measure numbers when they realized I was intentionally avoiding using them.
There is a fine balance for a conductor – especially a guest conductor – between maintaining control and keeping the musicians engaged. For example, I had been told that the mid-rehearsal break was 15 minutes long; but that first day when I returned to the stage at the appointed time, it was still largely empty. The “real” break was closer to 25 minutes, which I didn’t make an issue of; an easy decision considering the 3-hour rehearsal length. On purely musical issues, we worked hard but efficiently, and I made no compromises. I was “tested” a couple of times – such as when a string principal suggested that a certain passage would be easier if not played as softly as notated – but the orchestra quickly realized that I knew what I wanted, and there was very little friction overall. As the week passed, more and more musicians overcame their shyness or insecurity about their English to tell me how much they were enjoying the music and working with me.
The orchestra management had asked me if I was willing to give a presentation to local conservatory students, which I agreed to. On Wednesday afternoon my talk covered the circuitous journey to my career as a full-time composer, with numerous audio examples of how my compositional style has changed over the past 40 years. No translator was needed, and the audience seemed very appreciative.
|Rehearsal in Ankara|
The “general” rehearsal on Friday morning – what we would call a dress rehearsal – included a large contingent of elementary-age school kids in the audience. At the break, they rushed up to the stage and seemed genuinely excited to speak to me, though honestly I’m not sure why. I’m not a big fan of tiring out the orchestra the day of the concert, so I made sure we did what we needed during the rehearsal and let them go 30 minutes early. You can’t overrate good will.
I arrived at the concert hall 2 hours before the performance, where the U.S. Embassy filmed a short promotional video; you can see here: http://www.leeactor.com/videos.htm#USEmbassy_videos.
The house was nearly full for the concert, which was received warmly. I was pretty sure that Dance Rhapsody and the saxophone concerto would go over well, as they always seem to; but I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised at the enthusiastic ovation given the 3rd Symphony, much of which has a fairly dark mood. The orchestra recorded video for the entire concert, which I’ve linked to on my website:
|Just outside ancient Ephesus|
The rehearsal schedule in Izmir was similar to that in Ankara: rehearsals in the mornings from Tuesday through Friday, with the concert Friday evening, leaving us two full days for sightseeing. One must-see destination, about an hour away by car, is the famous ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus, some of which is as much as 8000 years old. There is a large Greek amphitheater there which is still used as a performing venue.
|Concert in Izmir|
|Fethi and Me|