Music in Istanbul

We are just back from a week in Istanbul. It’s a remarkable city with an amazing buzz – we arrived late on a Saturday night and at 2pm the streets were still packed with people. The people we met were most friendly and welcoming. The setting, on the Bosphorous, is  special, and the mosques – like the Blue Mosque below – are astonishing.

We went to see our Turkish friend Leo who used to live in Cambridge, who in turn introduced us to his own Istanbul friends and musical parties ensued, firstly in our own flat on the Istiklal Cadesi, and later in the home of Aysem and Bora.

We also visited the workshop of Şeyda Hacızade, who makes the most wonderful classic kemençes (known in Greece as the Constantinople or politiki lyra). The kemençe is a three-stringed instrument, slightly like a violin, but held and bowed differently and, unusually, you change notes by holding a fingernail against the string, rather than by pressing the string down onto a fretboard.

The kemençe produces a very special, melancholic sound that I first encountered in Eleni Karaindrou’s music for the film The Weeping Meadow, by Greek director Theo Angolopoulos. This extract from the soundtrack features the remarkable Greek kemençe player, Socratis Sinopoulos:

Şeyda introduced me to the music of Derya Türkan, who she regards as the best exponent of the instrument, and who demonstrates the kemençe in this video: