TRANSFORMING HIS SOLO IMPROVISATIONS INTO A SUBLIME ART, CLASSICAL TURKISH LUTIST NECDET YAŞAR BRINGS LISTENERS A WHOLE NEW EXPERIENCE IN HIS PERFORMANCES. HIS MUSIC COMBINES THE PURITY OF ANATOLIA WITH THE NOBILITY OF ISTANBUL.
Artistic performance is the aesthetic equivalent of individuation on musical instruments. The originator of this style of playing was none other than Tanburi Cemil Bey, a lutist who shone like a star in the history of classical Turkish music during his brief life. Tanburi Cemil Bey (1873-1916) achieved a level of performance very difficult to emulate on a number of musical instruments, especially the tanbour, or Turkish long-necked lute. Recordings of his performances made with the technology of the time have survived to our day.
The restructuring of Turkish music in the Republican period put an end to period ushered in by Cemil Bey. Artistic performance died out, displaced by dry “academic” ways of presenting Turkish music, often under the control of the government bureaucracy. So much so that by the 1950’s two young virtuosos, Niyazi Sayın and Necdet Yaşar, decided to revive it.
FROM THE BAĞLAMA TO THE TANBOUR
Necdet Yaşar was born in 1930 in the town of Nizip in Turkey’s southeastern Gaziantep province, a center of urban folk music in Anatolia. The melodies and wisdom of the region, which he picked up over the years from the traditional “aşık” or minstrel poets, were distilled in the soul of this talented boy, who soon learned to play the bağlama, a stringed instrument common in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.
Coming to Istanbul for university, he registered in the Istanbul University School of Economics but soon heard, and developed a deep love for, the tanbour, the quintessential Turkish instrument. With a predisposition that came from playing the bağlama, he made rapid progress on the tanbour and, self-taught, quickly mastered the instrument. He was accepted into the university chorus and, in a stroke of serendipity, a solo he played in a chorus concert broadcast on Istanbul Radio was noticed in the control room by Mesud Cemil Bey, who immediately recognized the young man’s ability and invited him over. Mesud Cemil Bey met and encouraged the young man, whose career then took off like lightning. Over the years, Necdet Bey played with the choruses of Münir Nureddin Bey and Mesud Cemil Bey, who not only passed along his father, Tanburi Cemil Bey’s, legacy, but later introduced Necdet Bey to Neyzen Niyazi Sayın, a reed flute virtuoso with whom he would form a superb duo.
UNIQUE PLUCKING TECHNIQUE
Necdet Bey’s special facility as an accompanist needs no explanation. His principal achievement is the way he makes the tanbour, which had become faint to the point of inaudible in so-called academic performance especially, stand out thanks to the special plucking technique he learned from Mesud Cemil Bey and further developed himself. You feel as if you are hearing cannon fire when you listen to his tanbour. His skill in using the strings of the instrument gives his playing an orchestral quality. He also knew how to combine this sonority with an agility manifested in fiendishly difficult-to-execute glissandos. Had his artistry been limited to this, it would still have lacked for nothing. But Necdet Bey succeeded in transforming this technical virtuosity into a deep and nuanced melodic richness. This is demonstrated in his incredible mastery of the improvisatory form, which is the sole criterion of virtuosity in musical performance.
Transforming his improvisatory solos into a sublime art, Necdet Yaşar brings listeners a whole new experience in his performances. He has revived some of the least used maqams (modes) in Turkish music, which boasts some 500 of them. No two of his improvisations in the same mode are alike. You never know when one of his original musical phrases is going to sweep you away or bring a lump to your throat. His solos can transport you to a fountain in Anatolia, a solitary tree on the steppe, or a quarter in old Istanbul with fountains, cobbled lanes, and old wooden houses with balconies.
The music Necdet Yaşar has made over the years with the soul of an amateur and a pure love of making music - the music he has represented with honor and pride both at home and abroad - is a music that combines Anatolian purity with Istanbul nobility. Have a listen to Necdet Yaşar, luminary of the lute…