Composing is always a form of improvisation: with ideas, with musical particles, with imaginary shapes. And it is in this spirit that the artistic itinerary and world-view of the Turkish composer and pianist Fazıl Say should be understood. For it was from the free forms with which he became familiar in the course of his piano lessons with the Cortot pupil Mithat Fenmen that he developed an aesthetic outlook that constitutes the core of his self-conception as a composer. Fazıl Say has been touching audiences and critics alike for more than twenty-five years, in a way that has become rare in the increasingly materialistic and elaborately organised classical music world. Concerts given by this artist are something different. They are more direct, more open, more exciting; in short, they go straight to the heart and the same may be said of his compositions.
Fazıl Say wrote his first piece – a piano sonata – in 1984, at the early age of fourteen, when he was a student at the conservatoire in his hometown of Ankara. It was followed, in this early phase of his development, by several chamber works without an opus number, including Black Hymns for violin and piano, as well as a guitar concerto. He subsequently designated as his opus 1 a work that he had played during the concert that won him the Young Concert Artists Auditions in New York: the Four Dances of Nasreddin Hodja. This work already displayed the essence of his personal style: a rhapsodic, fantasia-like basic structure; a variable rhythm, often dance-like, though formed through syncopation; a continuous, vital driving pulse; and a wealth of melodic ideas that may often be traced back to themes from the folk music of Turkey and its neighbours. In these respects, Fazıl Say is somewhat following in the tradition of composers such as Béla Bartók, George Enescu, and György Ligeti, who also drew on the rich musical folklore of their countries. He attracted international attention with the piano piece Black Earth (1997), in which he employs techniques familiar to us from John Cage and his Works for prepared piano.
After this, Say increasingly turned to the large orchestral forms. Taking his inspiration from the poetry and biographies of the writers Nâzim Hikmet and Metin Altiok, he composed works for soloists, chorus and orchestra, which, especially in the case of the oratorio Nâzim, were clearly in the tradition of composers such as Carl Orff. In addition to modern European instrumentation, Say also makes frequent and deliberate use of instruments from his native Turkey, including kudüm and darbuka drums and the ney reed flute. This gives the music a colouring that sets it apart from many comparable creations in this genre.
In the year 2008 he aroused international interest with his violin concerto 1001 Nights in the Harem (premiered by Patricia Kopatchinskaja), which is based on the celebrated tales of the same name, but that deals specifically with the fate of seven women from a harem.
Fazıl Say scored a further great success with his first symphony, the Istanbul Symphony, which premiered in 2010 at the conclusion of his five-year residency at the Konzerthaus Dortmund. Jointly commissioned by the WDR and the Konzerthaus Dortmund in the framework of RUHR.2010, the work constitutes a vibrant and poetic tribute to the metropolis on the Bosporus and its millions of inhabitants. The same year saw the composition, among other pieces, of his Divorce String Quartet (based on atonal principles), and commissioned works, such as the Piano Concerto Nirvana Burning for the Salzburg Festival and a Trumpet Concerto for the Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, premiered by Gábor Boldoczki. In response to a commission from the 2011 Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, Say has also written a Clarinet Concerto for Sabine Meyer that refers to the life and work of the Persian poet Omar Khayyam. In 2013 and 2014 he composed a trilogy named “Gezi Park” (Gezi Park 1 for two pianos and orchestra, Gezi Park 2 for piano solo and Gezi Park 3 – Ballad for mezzo-soprano, piano and string orchestra). In 2014 Sait Faik (commissioned by IKSV Istanbul Music Festival) and Hermiyas (commissioned by D-Marin International Turgutreis Festival of Classical Music) were premiered in Turkey, and Overture 1914 (commissioned by the National Orchestra of Belgium / Andrey Boreyko to commemorate the centenary of the First World War) in Brussels. In 2015, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra commissioned and premiered Fazıl Say’s Chamber Symphony in the Carnegie Hall, New York, and the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet with the Bruckner Orchester Linz / Dennis Russell Davies performed the world premiere of his Preludes.
In 2012 the French label naïve released the albums Istanbul Symphony and Hezarfen, and in 2013 his symphonies Mesopotamia and Universe. In autumn 2014, Fazıl Say’s piano works were published on the album “Say plays Say”.
Fazıl Say’s works are issued worldwide by the renowned music publishers Schott Music, based in Mainz, Germany.