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Work of the Week – Fazil Say: Umut Senfonisi

On 25 August 2018, Fazil Say’s fourth symphony Umut Senfonisi will be premiered by the Dresden Philharmonic and conductor Michael Sanderling at the Kulturpalast Dresden. The orchestra commissioned the work from Say, who will be their Composer-in-Residence for the 2018-19 season.

Say characteristically choses programmatic titles for his symphonies, and as “Umut” is the Turkish word for “hope”, Umut Senfonisi or ‘Hope Symphony’ is no exception. In his previous symphonies – Istanbul, Mesopotamia and Universe – Say musically evokes the moods and images suggested by the title of each work, often employing musical idioms from his homeland of Turkey. While Umut Senfonisi is a more abstract title, the work similarly employs traditionally Turkish elements such as passages with time signatures of 7/8 and 9/8 in the second and third movements.

Fazil Say – Umut Senfonisi: destruction and hope

Following traditional symphonic structure, Umut Senfonisi is composed of four movements: Largo espressivo, Allegro energico, Andante tranquillo – Swinging and Adagio, drammatico – Moderato. Throughout the first three movements Say employs dramatic volleyed interjections from the drums, which break through the music’s texture with a machine-gun effect. Say labels these interjections ‘terrorism’ as they musically portray destruction. This becomes particularly poignant in the third movement, when the ‘machine guns’ abruptly terminate a ‘party’ swing passage. In the final movement the music is no longer disrupted with violent drums, and Say ends the Symphony with a glimmer of hope.

“My music is often based on Turkish rhythms, gestures, or dance. When I’m listening to a Japanese composer, he brings something from Japan to the music, and this idea is important to me. The Russian composers, Rimsky-Korsakov or Rachmaninov, employed folk songs and dances from their homeland, and it has been said that Sibelius used nearly 30 folk songs in his Violin Concerto alone. My only concern is that I don’t want Turkish music to be simply something exotic.” – Fazil Say

Alongside Umut Senfonisi, the Dresden Philharmonic will also perform Beethoven’s Symphony No.2 and Say himself will play Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.17 “The Tempest”, with a repeat performance on 26 August. In February 2019 Umut Senfonisi will receive its French premiere in Bordeaux, performed by the Orchestre National Bordeaux-Aquitaine who co-commissioned the work.

Update: Due to the funeral of his mother, Ayşe Gürgün Say, Fazil Say was unable to attend the concerts in Dresden.


© photo: Marco Borggreve