The Raleigh Chamber Music Guild ended its 2001-2002 Sights and Sounds on Sunday season with a most unusual concert. Entitled “The Sultan’s Court and the Exotic Music of Turkey,” it complemented the spectacular exhibit of art from the Ottoman Empire currently showing at the Museum. The performers were the Seraphim Chamber Players: violinist Belinda Swanson, formerly from the Washington D.C. area and currently living and freelancing in the Triangle; violinist Teri Lazar, currently teaching violin at American University; cellist Bonnie Thron of the NCS; and violist Osman Kivrak, who also composed much of the afternoon’s music. Kivrak, a native of Turkey, was formerly a professor at Izmir State Conservatory and now teaches viola and chamber music at American University.

While the displayed art is old, the music was mostly contemporary. The majority of post-Ottoman Turkish composers have embraced Western style music, but a few have attempted to wed the melodies, modes and rhythms of the music of the Ottoman Empire with Western musical structures. Among the best known of these is Adnan Saygun (1907-1991), best known for his operas and a cantata about the 13th century poet Yunus Emre. In 1936 Saygun accompanied Bela Bartók on his folk-music collecting trip through Anatolia. The Seraphim Chamber Players performed the Adagio from his String Quartet No.2, a somewhat soporific work although well performed. It contained a long cello solo passage beautifully performed by Thron.

The bulk of the afternoon’s music was by neophyte composer violist Kivrak-only in the past few years has he taken up composition. In the spirit of Bartók, Kivrak incorporates into his music Turkish folk melodies and driving dance rhythms. Uzun Hava, an improvisatory folk dance with long, sinuous descending lines, bears a strong resemblance to Gypsy fiddling, and Lazar and Kivrak fiddled with gusto. Like so many national styles, the music is in several parts beginning slowly and gradually speeding up to a intensely rhythmic climax.

The program included Kivrak’s Three Anatolian Dances (a world premiere) and Koroglu for String Quartet . Koroglu is a Turkish folk hero and Kivrak includes some brief passages in the quartet from a popular folk song about him. Bartók’s influence is readily apparent in the Three Anatolian Dances, especially because both composers were working with and adapting related folk traditions. Particularly effective was the first dance with its animated pizzicato writing. The Quartet, which ended the program, combined the traditional Western sonorities of the string quartet with a distinctly non-Western structure. Most noticeable is the virtual absence of modulation. Instead Kivrak uses the Turkish system of melodic modes (borrowed from the Arabs) so that the emphasis is linear and rhythmic rather than harmonic. A short motive of an ascending minor sixth resolving to the perfect fifth ties all of the movements together. There are extensive solo passages well crafted and well performed by all the musicians.

At its height, the Ottoman Empire encompassed the entire Eastern Mediterranean, as well as the Balkans, Bulgaria, Romania and parts of Hungary. Swanson and Lazer gave, appropriately, an exciting performance of six of Bartók 44 Duets for Two Violins. These show strong resemblance to the modal characteristics of Eastern European folk music, but it is difficult to conclude in which direction the influence went.

Turkish composer Necdet Levent (b.1923) composed Two Pieces for String Quartet in 1980. He tried to adapt Ottoman Court music style by creating a Western version of the opening and closing sections of a musical presentation at court, something like the Prelude and finale of a Classical divertimento or serenade.

With their eye on geographical expansion, the Turks continually threatened their Western neighbor, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, all the way to the gates of Vienna. Despite the menace, Europeans were ever fascinated by things oriental, and several 18th century composers produced imitations of the exotic military music of the Janissaries, the Sultan’s crack troops (the best known being Haydn’s “Military” Symphony no. 100 and Mozart’s Singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail ). A performance of the Rondo alla Turca movement from Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A, K.331 was perfectly in keeping with the theme of the concert, but the transcription for two violins rather missed the point of the jangling percussive quality of the original piano version, much less the deliberately deafening Turkish military instruments.

As this was the final concert in the 2001/02 Sights and Sounds on Sunday series, we feel it appropriate to reiterate the tremendous value of this endeavor of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild’s mission. The series’ innovative programs provide a unique multi-disciplinary perspective on the arts that are becoming one of the area’s treasures.