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At the age of 36, Fazil Say is already considered one of today's most respected pianists. Born in Ankara, Turkey, he studied piano and composition in his native city and later in Germany before going on to appear at almost every important concert hall around the world. A regular guest with the world's most esteemed orchestras, he is now here to perform with the Israel Philharmonic in three different programs under Spanish conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos.
Say has dazzled the IPO's audience several times in the past, thanks to his extraordinary talent and bursting musical personality. But this is the first time he'll be performing Rachmaninov's "Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini" in Israel.
"It's a tricky piece," he told The Jerusalem Post after his first rehearsal. "It comes out different with each conductor and each orchestra. In the first rehearsal the orchestra and I always have to find each other. But later everything falls into place."
Say will also perform Mozart's piano concerto no. 26, and Tchaikovsky's illustrious piano concerto no. 1. This last piece will be performed only once (on the 21st), much to Say's surprise. "I'd prefer to play more of it," he says. "But I understand it's so often played here that people might want to hear something more novel."
Now based out of Turkey, Say claims that origin has a lot to do with musical character. "I can easily tell musicians from different countries according to their way of playing," he says. "And the people of the Middle East have a lot of energy. For Western Europeans, we are even too energetic sometimes. But personally, I see this energy as a positive thing."
Even so, Say traces his roots back to the French school of pianism. "My teacher in Ankara studied in Paris, with Alferd Cortot," he explains. "So there are many French characteristics in my playing: a lighter touch on the keyboard, eliciting many colors from the piano, and a highly subjective interpretation. Namely, you have to involve your soul in your playing."
This last point is evident in his tendency to make singing gestures as he plays. "When I enjoy the music, I sing freely," says Say. "It simply comes from within." However he's always sure to keep his singing inaudible. "When Glenn Gould played, he used to hum along all the time," he says. "Many people find this humming disturbing. Personally, I don't mind it, but I can understand those who do. So when I play, I avoid making my singing audible."
Strange as Gould's playing may be, Say says he adores it. "Gould was the most individual pianist," he asserts eagerly. "There are thousands of pianists who play 'normally'. But there is only one Gould. At the end of the day, subjectivity is the most important thing for me."
Now divorced, Say openly talks about the downside of his amazing career. "Playing over 120 concerts a year all over the world is very hard for a relationship," he admits. "Traveling like that takes a huge toll. It's a very lonely life, where you could find yourself not talking to anyone for days. Being perceived as a first-rate soloist also has a price, as you always have to meet the high expectations." Say notes that his relationship with his ex-wife, who lives in Istanbul, is actually better today now that the pressure of maintaining a relationship and a demanding career are gone. "We remain good friends," he says.
Looking 10 years into the future, Say mentions his desire to spend more time with his daughter, Kumru ("dove"). "Surely I will keep performing," he promises, "but I want to focus more on composing." A prolific composer, he's already composed three piano concertos, as well as oratorios and other pieces. Recently he also composed music for movies. "The only thing I dislike is teaching," he laughs. "I tried to do that once in a University in Turkey, and realized I don't have the patience for it."
Say says he has a great appreciation for the Israeli audience. "The IPO is one of the orchestras with the greatest numbers of subscribers worldwide. I have great respect for the discerning Israeli audience."
Fazil Say will play three different programs this month:
Program A- March 12 in Tel-Aviv and Haifa. Program B- March 14, 15, 16 in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Program C- March 21 in Tel Aviv. Program details can be found on the IPO's Web site: http://www.ipo.co.il, or at 1-700-70-30-30.