Universal appeal

Famed Turkish conductor Cem Mansur leads the New Haifa Symphony.

January 20, 2012 17:26
3 minute read.
Cem Mansur, Turkish conductor

Cem Mansur 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Cem Mansur, a world-renowned Turkish conductor, is coming to Israel to conduct three concerts with the New Haifa Symphony. The concert program features Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini; Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 (“the sunniest among his symphonies,” says the conductor); and Benjamin Yusupov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (“an excellent and cleverly written piece of music”) with piano soloist Roman Rabinovich.

Mansur has close family ties in Israel. He is a greatgreat- nephew of Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff.

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“My father was born in Jaffa, while my mother comes from the Turkish Jewish community. My father told me a lot about his childhood, which he partly spent in Haifa. So coming to Israel, I experience a very special feeling of belonging to this place, no matter how long I have not been here,” says the 54-yearold conductor.

Born in Istanbul, Mansur studied music in London, graduating from City University and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He was awarded the Ricordi Prize and later studied with Leonard Bernstein at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute.

As conductor of the Istanbul State Opera, Mansur conducted a large operatic repertoire in addition to his concert work. In 1985 he made a highly successful London debut with the English Chamber Orchestra. He has since worked with orchestras and opera companies around the globe and is a regular guest conductor with the Kirov Opera at the invitation of Valery Gergiev.

These days, Mansur says, his major project and passion is the Turkish National Youth Orchestra, which he founded and is conducting. “We just finished our fifth season, and I find this project absolutely exciting,” he says, adding that the orchestra consists of the finest young musicians in the country. “The purpose of the orchestra is to educate young musicians by playing a high-level repertoire, but not only.

We work a lot with the audience, discussing what music can teach us, about how the environment of an orchestra can help us to listen and hear other people, of nonviolent conflict solving, about polyphonic music and the orchestra being a metaphor for conflict situations in our everyday life. Symphonic music can teach us about things that go far beyond pure music. And it’s amazing how responsive the audience at our workshops is,” he says. “When you look at society at large, you can rarely find someone who doesn’t have a need for some kind of music or some relationship with it.

That leads us to the conclusion that music can serve as a great unifying force for society and can also be used to promote understanding of basic human values. When you tell people about this during rehearsals of, say, a Brahms symphony, it really brings to life why these pieces are so great, why they survive over time and still mean so much to us in times that are so different,” he says.

As for his own musical taste, Mansur says it is Mozart’s music that he loves the most but is quick to add, “As a conductor, I am interested in everything from late Baroque to what was written this morning. But again, if you think of music as a passion, you see that the greatest music came into existence at the breaking points of human civilization, when the values of civilization became what they are, and it is reflected in music. That’s why it has this universal appeal. I love contemporary music as well because I believe that music is not a museum – it has to be alive.”

Mansur appeared in Israel as a conductor 10 years ago leading the Sinfonietta Beer Sheva. He hopes that now, after the current concert series with the Haifa Orchestra, he will have more opportunities to work in this country.

January 22 and 23 in Haifa; and January 25 in Kiryat Haim. For reservations: (04) 859-9499

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