The Turkish National Youth Philharmonic Orchestra (photo:
The Turkish National Youth Philharmonic Orchestra

Fostering Talent and Bridging Social and Ethnic Divides

The Turkish National Youth Philharmonic Orchestra brings together the very best young musicians Turkey has to offer. These young performers stepped into the spotlight this week at the Beethovenfest in Bonn, performing "Traffic" by the Turkish composer Mehmet Erhan Tanman for the very first time. By Aygül Cizmecioglu

Relieved, Barış Korkmaz lays down his horn and smiles to a neighbouring musician. For days they have been perfecting a difficult passage out of Bela Bartok's "Dance Suite." At last, after long nights spent rehearsing, they are in harmony, the rhythm flows. The 18-year-old with the closely cropped haircut leans back, smiles and enjoys the music for a moment.

The Turkish National Youth Philharmonic Orchestra performed this week at the Beethovenfest in Bonn, the city of Beethoven's birth. Around 100 musicians between the ages of 16 and 23 travelled from Istanbul for the festival.

They took part in the festival's campus programme and presented a sophisticated repertoire. "I'm already quite excited," said Korkmaz in the days before the event, even though he has already been a horn player in the orchestra for three years now.

Hundreds of music students from all over Turkey apply to join the orchestra every year. Only the very best make it past the tough audition stage. "There aren't many possibilities for young musicians in Turkey to compare notes at this level," says Korkmaz. "This orchestra is an absolutely exception and a huge opportunity."

Members of the Turkish National Youth Philharmonic Orchestra (photo: Onur Sezer)
The Turkish National Youth Philharmonic Orchestra was founded by Cem Mansur in 2007. The musicians are aged between 16 and 22 and are all studying at renowned universities and conservatories across the country


Western music

It's a particularly huge opportunity for talented musicians like Korkmaz. He comes from a small town in southern Turkey. "I grew up with Turkish folk music, not with Mozart," he says.

It was pure chance that he discovered classical music. During a school trip to Mersin, the next big town, the reluctant students were taken to the opera. "Suddenly a sound that I'd never heard before came from a rehearsal room," he explains. Korkmaz mustered up the courage and talked to the musicians. They were impressed by his enthusiasm and promptly handed him a French horn.

That was six years ago. Since then, Korkmaz has become one of Turkey's most promising young horn players, thanks to the dedicated teachers and musicians who recognized his talent and gave him free lessons. He's been studying at the Mersin Conservatory for two years now. "My parents are both civil servants. In the beginning they weren't that impressed with my idea to become a horn player," he explains. "Classical music, the 'music of the West', is quite unfamiliar to them."

Overcoming differences

This is a sentiment shared by many people in Turkey, even though polyphonic orchestral music existed in the Ottoman Empire. But it was only after 1930, after the founding of the republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, that the first conservatories were established in Turkey.

The intention was that the country would become more modern and sound more Western. "It takes a long time," explains conductor Cem Mansur, who founded the Turkish National Youth Philharmonic Orchestra five years ago. He wanted to create a space for artistic exchange and, above all, for talented musicians.

"In this orchestra, Anatolians, Kurds and Circassians create music together. They learn how to listen to others, and how to engage with others," says the experienced conductor. "Classical music can help bridge social and ethnic differences, especially in a fragmented country such as Turkey."

No jobs, little funding

But can classical musicians earn a living in Turkey? "It's very difficult," says Mehmet Erhan Tanman, a 23-year-old from Istanbul. Tanman comes from a musical family and has composed a new work for the Turkish National Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. "Traffic" was performed for the first time at the Beethovenfest on 19 September.

"The state symphony orchestras in Turkey are staffed for a lifetime. That means that a place becomes free once every 10 years," he explains. "And there are very few private orchestras."

Emel Celik (photo: Onur Sezer)
Emel Celik won a scholarship to study the harp. Says Celik: "This type of funding is really rare in my home country, so I was extremely lucky"


Such bleak career prospects are a matter of concern for many parents. That's something Emel Celik has experienced first hand. The 22-year-old comes from the western Turkish city of Eskişehir and plays the harp in the Turkish National Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. Her mother, a single parent, wanted her to learn something useful and was initially against her musical ambitions.

Passion for the music

A scholarship for highly talented musicians made it possible for Celik to study the harp. "This type of funding is really rare in my home country, so I was extremely lucky," she says. Her instrument towers above all the others in the orchestra, but it is not her own. "A harp is very expensive. I've been playing for 12 years but I still can't afford my own instrument," Celik explains. She enjoys performing with the orchestra, earning her stripes at international level.

Her mother is proud of her now. "Because she noticed that I'm passionate about this music," she said. Her ultimate dream is to establish a music school in her home town after she has completed her studies. Many musicians in the orchestra snigger at her for that, since most of then would like to move abroad and pursue careers. "But if everyone moves away, then nothing will change in Turkey," she says with confidence. "It takes time and patience to understand the music of Handel or Beethoven. And a good mediator."

Aygül Cizmecioglu

© Deutsche Welle 2012

Editor: Kate Bowen/Deutsche Welle, Aingeal Flanagan/

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