Countdown to CD 349

Titanic Restaurant, Grand Hotel Evropa, c 1903-05

2003 Monday 18 August. Room 105, the Grand Hotel Evropa, Wenceslas Square. A sultry evening following dinner and champagne in the time-warped Titanic Restaurant – art nouveau, mirrored, wood-panelled. Emre Aracı, waist-coated gentleman scholar, 21st century neo-Romantic. Strode Wagner, photographer, interior designer, dreamer. Myself. Friends. We re-live the Euro-Ottomania fever of the past few nights at the Rudolfinum recording Emre’s album, Bosphorus by Moonlight. We ponder what the future may hold. We wonder how such repertory might have sounded in the garb of its period. But with only piano blueprints for sources, where to find the material? Emre, murmuring distantly, says he’s seen things. He’ll surprise us yet... He and Strode to spend a week feasting impromptu on the splendours of old Prague, me to get the morning train to Vienna, we say our farewells.

  Emre Aracı  ©

Friday 17 October. A busy month in İstanbul recording at the MİAM studios – but time for a quick visit to London. English afternoon tea with Emre at his club. He’s making headway: it seems there are some enticing prospects gathering dust in the Topkapı Palace Museum Archives and İstanbul University Rare Books Library - old presentation copies to the sultans apparently.

Thursday 13 November. Frost-and-sunshine London. A crowded week - from a literary extravaganza in the 1737 Kensington house where Clementi once lived to a meeting finalising Emre’s Invitation to the Seraglio compilation for Warner Classics, via a Wigmore Hall bomb scare half way through the slow movement of Beethoven’s Ghost Trio. Taking a break, journeying through the old Kentish haunts of growing-up, I head down to Folkestone. Sunset, a shivering wind off the Channel, the smell of wood smoke and fallen leaves. Lyminge: the Georgian Rectory. Strode is giving a dinner for Emre. Worthy of a Jane Austen setting, the residence is discretely regal - a log fire glowing in the reception-hall, an old grand of fine grain and faded memories caressed by who knows whose hands, a wall of the dining room decorated with panels recovered from Handel’s London house in Brook Street, the lighting hallowed and comforting, the decor blended. Discreetly cosseted by Ron and Dennis – connoisseurdom in dapper retirement - the wine flows, the stories flower. Ron and I agree that as young men we must almost certainly have met. In Royal Tunbridge Wells. Thirty years ago or more. At George Farrer’s, jewellers, goldsmiths and watch-makers to the Edwardian gentry, where he’d learnt the finer skills of dealing in antiques and objets d’art. A place I used to patronise. Yet, hard though we try to find a glimmer of recognition, all we can remember are the Padley brothers who spiced up the High Street – and the Goulden family business a few doors along which kept me nourished in LPs. Come the small hours the Steinway yields to an improvisation. Sunset over the Golden Horn. Storm over the Zigana Pass. Beethoven. A Prelude for someone yearned - C minor. Chopin. Mendelssohn's Spring Song. The house slumbers, the embers smoulder. A painting of a girl you might spend a lifetime seeking, unchains my nostalgia. Through a haze of smoke and drink, we talk of Prague, İstanbul, times vanished. Symphonic music for a sultan. Fabergé. One of those nights you never forget.

Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun (1755-1842) Self-portrait in a Straw Hat

after 1782, copy by the artist

2004 Wednesday 7 April. The Grand, Folkestone. Emre produces a score by August d’Adelburg, published in Vienna in the late 1850s. A five-movement symphonie-fantaisie for large orchestra (including quadruple brass), incorporating a Chanson Turque and Grande Marche du Medjidie, bound by a unifying ideé fixe. Aux bords du Bosphore reads the ornate cover. It catches my attention, the same title, more or less, that my father had wanted originally for his memoirsBy the Shores of the Bosphorus. Here finally is tangible evidence of a large-scale Euro-Ottoman orchestral work precisely as the composer wanted. August d’Adelburg - chevalier, violinist, composer, painter, Hungarian sympathiser. 1830-73. Born of Balkan-Latin parents in Pera, İstanbul. Died in Vienna. I then get shown ceremonial choral hymns by two Italians linked with the Ottoman court, Angelo Mariani and Luigi Arditi - grand public examples of what Emre calls the ‘unprecedented marriage between Ottoman tongue and Italian operatics’.

 The Grand, Folkestone, built 1903

Friday 9 April. ‘Euro-Ottoman Renaissance CD 5’. Sent out to tender. London, Warsaw, Prague.

Tuesday 15 June. Châlo Saint Mars, Île de France. The first of several recording budgets takes shape. Musically, emotionally, economically, we’ve decided to go back to the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum. Drawing together the Prague Symphony Orchestra and Prague Philharmonic Choir, the project will involve nearly 130 musicians plus technical crew. The logistics are complicated. In the light of the proposed choral repertory, Emre is insistent on wanting the Philharmonic voices. ‘Since the choral texts were written out originally in phonetics using the Latin alphabet – facilitating foreign singers to tackle the Arabic-scripted language and pronunciation of Ottoman times – [it is] particularly important, in the interests of "authentic" experience, to work with a non-Turkish choir.’

Monday, 11 October, 13.00. London, Bloomsbury Auctions, Sale 501, Coins, Medals and Bank Notes. Lot 218. ‘Corporation of City of London medal, [July] 1867, for visit of Abdul Aziz to the City of London, 1867, bronze medal by JS & AB Wyon, bust right, R[everso] Londinia greets the figure of Turkey. In case of issue. Mint state.’ Emre wants this badly: only 350 were struck, and the new album includes Arditi’s Inno Turco sung at Crystal Palace before the Sultan and Prince of Wales on the occasion of the visit. But, missing out, he has to content himself with a photograph. Strange coincidences, however, happen to Emre. A while later, walking past an antique shop in the Piccadilly Arcade, what should he stumble upon but this self-same medallion in its velvet presentation box. Filled with ‘exhilaration and joy,’ he buys it. ‘On the spot, our CD cover was decided [...] here is a medallion carrying resonances far beyond its time, showing how alien cultures, despite their differences, can still meet at crossroads of mutual understanding and friendship’.

Corporation of City of London bronze medal, 1867  ©

Wednesday 20 October. Emre’s patrons, the Çarmıklı family, approve budget. Eyüp Sabri, friend, believer in an artist’s right to freedom, green-flags the go-ahead. Orchestra and chorus booked.

Wednesday 27 October. The panoramic rooftop restaurant of the St George’s Hotel by Broadcasting House, site of the Queen’s Hall bombed a moonlit night in 1941, the ghost of Arditi’s assistant, Henry Wood, perchance wandering the ether. Tea with Emre and Jens Franke, who’s joining the project as associate conductor.

Jens Franke © Luis Ortiz

2005 Weekend 12/13 February. The Grand. Three weeks, six days to go. Saturday. Checking over the Sibelius files of the vocal scores to send to Prague. Emre has been busy since before Christmas transcribing and editing from both printed and manuscript sources. The task is enormous, the pitfalls endless. Looking through the music, a thought strikes me. Why not add an organ to the proceedings – otherwise absent from the scores? How better to gild the Victorian pomp and circumstance of the Arditi? What more arresting way to create Mariani’s 1849 Ottoman ‘national anthem’ as it might have been heard at a European salutation of the time? A fantastical montage of Turkish lyrics, Western orchestra, SATB chorus, Islamic jannisary band, Christian grand orgue. Emre likes the idea. Sunday. Dinner with Strode, civilised and ruminative. He wants to come to Prague, he’ll try, but ... Glancing beyond the drapes and rain-spattered windows of the The Grand’s Palm Court, how alike every waterway must be, I think, a Channel ferry by darkness no different from a Bosphorus long ship - port and starboard lamps, flickering lights, throbbing subterranean engines, the only sign of a presence.

Tuesday-Thursday 1-3 March. A raw wind, flurries of snow sheeting across the street, defiled of their virginity in gutters of water and reflection. Three days of intensive proof reading at The Grand before the parts can be prepared. We start as we mean to go on: the opening note of flute III, d’Adelburg, is a ledger-line short. 171 pages to check...

Weekend 5/6 March. Emre, needing a break, Eurostars over to Paris for a private viewing, staying at the Travellers Club on the Champs Elysées. Sunday morning, ‘bitterly cold,’ is spent writing up his diary. ‘An old city map of Paris catches my attention [refreshing] my memory of the two long streets stretching behind Gare Saint Lazaire: Rue de Constantinople, Rue de Londres, the two cities, symbols of Islam and Christendom, East and West, arriving in the centre of the French capital to meet at the Place de L’Europe.’

Nivollet, département de l'Ain  © Ateş Orga

Wednesday 9 March. Nivollet. Breakfast in the Rhône-Alpes. 09.45 morning flight from Lyon to Stansted. Late afternoon, taking the 6 o’clock from Gatwick, Emre flies into a snow storm landing in Prague. But comfort is on hand. We’re booked into our favourite first-floor rooms in the elegant Habsburg apartment we always go to, Parizska 20, a stone’s throw from the Rudolfinum.

Thursday 10 March. I meet Jens at Victoria, and we take the 07.00 train to Gatwick. Notwithstanding delays we arrive in Prague in time for a Czech/Continental lunch with Emre and a glass of best local beer in the watery sunshine. It’s good to be back. Good to meet our sound engineers, the Kotzmanns father and son. Good again to feel the magic that’s the Dvořák Hall.

  Cenda  Kotzmann

Parizska, night before recording © Emre Aracı

Friday 11 March, 09.00-Noon. ‘Good morning ladies, gentlemen.’ First recording period - but not before a strong coffee and as much time as needed to approve the right sound balance, mixed straight to two-track stereo. No room for mistakes. Ahead we have six rehearse-and-record sessions, two each day, giving sixteen hours (after union breaks) to finish the project. There’s neither time nor budget for over-runs. Receiving their first modern ‘performances’, these pieces have never previously been recorded. Their sound-world is fresh. The PSO are sight-reading their way through parts that don’t always do what’s expected. There’re few safe ports of call. A high-risk activity, the exercise calls for split-second responses and the keenest of co-ordination between eyes and ears. With an open ‘line’ between control room and hall, Emre and I rehearse the players. Loose talk is a luxury. As soon as a take is completed, the next must be prepared. An orchestra doesn’t like idling, any more than having to play something again without knowing what needs to be put right. Before leaving a passage I must be sure everything's in the ‘can’, musically and emotionally. Notes-without-chemistry aren’t good enough. D’Adelburg: first movement; start of second. 13-16.00. Completion of second movement; finale run-through – awkward corners and tempo choices to get right.

Saturday 12 March. The sort of day when being in shape helps. 08-11.00. D’Adelburg, Grande Marche du Médjidié; start of third movement. Noon-15.00. Completion of third movement; finale. 

Arditi: orchestral introduction. 16-19.00. Choir rehearsal. Jens conducts most of this, with Emre ensuring pronunciation. The young Czech soloists respond well to the trickier ensembles of the Arditi. All that’s wanted, asked for, is some support and flexibility of phrasing. After dinner we find time for a late stroll with Jens by the Vltava and across Charles Bridge, deserted but for its statues and lovers, lifeless but for sprays of water-bird crazed among the floodlights. Castle and cathedral guard the night-watch. Through Kafka’s Old Town Square - the ‘little circle’ through which he said his ‘whole life’ was contained - we walk slowly back to Parizska and our dreams, somewhere in the heavens the crescent of a moon scarcely born.

Charles Bridge

 Sunday 13 March. 08-11.00. Quick balance check with our organist, Pavel Černý, before the opening chords of Mariani in C unleash their thunder. Camera man gets good hall and studio shots. 

Sunday recording session with Emre Aracı, Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum


Noon-15.00. Final session. Complete the Arditi, working the solos separately. Covering patches still need to be done. Adrenalin running high. 14:59.58pm. ‘Thank you gentlemen, ladies, thank you.’ Clipped British voice. Following patisseries at the Smetana Hall, home of the Prague Symphony, a sense of finality and anticlimax muting our mood, we stop off by the Town Square. There’s a fair in swing. On one of the stands children in traditional costume sing and dance in the cold afternoon light, their raw-edged, vibrato-less voices shot through with foreign cadence and tribal ritual. The older girls, pretty and budding, lead; the boys, blushingly, follow. I think of Janáček in Moravia, of Brahms and Dvořák wandering woodland paths. 

The strains and rhythms of Smetana’s Bartered Bride cross my consciousness, momentarily stemming Luigi A’s wine. Kempe ... ever idiomatic and incomparable. Dinner, beer and politics at a local inn with Petr Pycha, our Czech recording manager, all but sees the trip done. A final scene waits, though - ‘ice cream salvation at the Cremeria Milano,’ meeting place of actresses, intellectuals and hedonists, where not so much Smetana as Mozart, Prague’s other son, is the order of diversion. 

Cremeria Milano

A tall girl, dark-haired, ravishingly dressed, elusive and exquisite, catches my eye through the blue fire of a slow liquor. A fin-de-siécle heroine out of a Petr Weigl film. The allure, the smiling voice, the tossed fragrance... Bohemian, Latin? I cannot guess. But my soul is caught. I linger, her mystery in half profile. Then she’s gone, wraith-like and fur-wrapped, older companion on arm, breathlessly gliding into the snow and shadows down Parizska. The unknown and the beautiful. Méditations et Revêries. Chant nocturne. The voyage of our music-making.

Bride of the Wind ... Museums of the Moon ... Woman in Dress

Woman in Dress by kind permission of the artist, Kristy Gordon  ©  2007

Mid-April. Peacehaven near Brighton. Working with Ben Connellan on the second and third edits of the new album, the past three weeks having been spent in my studio plotting the session material. Jens joins us on the 14th. With hundreds of takes to re-audition and fine-tune, and the prospect per disc of up to a thousand or more edits, CD post-production can be as stressful, aurally testing, and critically demanding as the recording stage. Out of the raw ingredient you need to sculpt and tension a performance. Like a film director, you’ve worked with your artists, looking for the right shots, angles and atmospheres, searching every intimacy of detail and nuance to trigger the imagination. Like a film director, you wait for the rough cut. Will the grand plan convince? With Emre, Tuesday 12th, we decide to re-order the tracks, placing Arditi first and Mariani last, creating a series of pivotal key-relationships that gels well with the d’Adelburg – D major to A major to open; F major to C to close. An effect rather like a ‘sub-dominant’ sonata design, Schubert style. We agree further that the Arditi should be programmed to allow the listener to select between the 1856 İstanbul or 1867 London versions. Not all is well even so. In particular the first movement of the Symphonie-Fantaisie needs fire and energy, and there are some sour notes which have to be removed from within the texture. One of my tonmeisters in Germany, Reinhard Geller, has pioneered software to do this. Back in France, I e-mail him the sound files. He returns them within the hour, cleaned and polished.

Tuesday 17 May. Morning. Peacehaven. Fourth edit, ur-master.

Thursday 19 May. St Ann's Hill, Chertsey, south of the Thames. Following a champagne and nouvelle cuisine party, Osman Kent, the Turkish supremo of Phil Manzanera's former studios, hears a listening copy at 2 in the morning. And gets passionate. Commanding ranks of esoteric technology, he offers to hone the sound into something else. Several weeks and versions later - his refinements dealing largely in subliminal, spatial and imaging parameters - we arrive at a mutually happy compromise. What was formally brilliant is now diamond-cut.

Osman Kent

Thursday 30 June. Maçka, İstanbul Technical University, MİAM. A blazing day. Lunch with Emre by the swimming pool. Playback. Hand-over of the final production master.

Tuesday 5 July. Emre’s introduction and notes - monographing a largely unacknowledged chapter of 19th century Ottoman musical life – arrive for quieter digestion later.

  Châlo Saint Mars, département de l'Essonne

Sunday 17 July. Châlo Saint Mars, a rambling country-garden, the farmer bringing in the wheat from the fields above the valley, the trees heavy with summer heat, the vines luxuriant with ripening fruit. The CD cover - the bronze medal marking Abdülaziz’s London visit highlit in gloss relief against a matt black background – needs approval. Over the next few days pencil some thoughts on d’Adelburg. Emre, following a week sailing the Aegean, gets set to visit London.

Sunday 24 July. Sandgate near Folkestone. ‘A beautiful little place upon the beach itself’, coroneted by woodland slopes, a haven in times past to a fellowship of companions - HG Wells, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Bernard Shaw. Emre has dinner with Strode, Ron and Dennis before flying back to İstanbul. Friends. The story, the circle of our adventure winding to a soft-focus close. Reminiscences, rain. À la recherche du temps perdu...

Monday 25 July. Turkish/English proofs corrected and mailed to the designer. 13,000 words. 40 images.

2005 early Autumn. Countdown 0. Kalan Müzik launch. İstanbul to London. CD 349.

Audio Playlist

Arditi  Inno turco (1867) 

reconstructed and orchestrated by Emre Aracı & Ateş Orga 

Dagmar Williams, Pavel Černý, Prague Philharmonic Choir, Prague Symphony Orchestra, Emre Aracı 

d'Adelburg  Chanson turque (c 1858-59)

Prague Symphony Orchestra, Emre Aracı 

d'Adelburg  Grande Marche du Médjidié (c 1858-59)

Prague Symphony Orchestra, Emre Aracı 

Smetana  The Bartered Bride Act I Polka (1863-66)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Rudolf Kempe 

Dvořák  Rusalka's Song to the Moon (1900)

Leontyne Price, New Philharmonia, Nello Santi 

Mariani  Hymne national  (c 1848-49)

Pavel Černý, Prague Philharmonic Choir, Prague Symphony Orchestra, Emre Aracı 

Istanbul to London 

Kalan Müzik CD 349  2005 

Brilliant Classics Euro-Ottomania 93613  2007

Turkish version  Andante, İstanbul 2005

© Ateş Orga 2005, 2015, 2018, 2021, 2024

not to be reproduced without permission