Midsummer İstanbul

Thursday 21 June 2012

Avrupa … Vardar Palace Hotel, Sıraselviler Caddesi, Beyoğlu, around the corner from Taksim Square. 1911, late Ottoman, Italian designed. Atmospheric, whatever the hour. Rooftop Turkish breakfast, the panorama of the city spread before us. A day of two halves in prospect. In the morning think-time with my harpist friend Şirin Pancaroğlu in her quaint Beşiktaş studio beneath the First Bridge crossing the Bosphorus. Curious place. A rust-scarred Russian concert-harp belonging to her student and collaborator, Meriç Dönük … cheng reconstructions … a couple of laptops ... her five-year old son Mengü, headphoned into a computer game … she oscillating seamlessly between musician and mother. The First Bridge linking Ortaköy to Beylerbeyi, the white span of old Kuleli to the left as you cross into Asia – a symbol, memorialising my father, I homage whenever I visit this metropolis - is an imposing spectacle. Liners, tankers and warships sail beneath its shadow. Way above in the blue sky İstanbul's traffic roars its mantra.

 Şirin Pancaroğlu

Asya ... The 'other side'. With another friend, the pianist Jerfi Aji, we take the 12.45 Kabataş to Kadıköy ferry. A twenty-five minute trip of bright sunlight, dancing water diamonds, white/grey gulls, noonday heat, the oily fumes of the boat's engines hanging in the breeze. We're here to meet Ayşegül Sarıca, an enduring MIAM colleague at İstanbul Technical University a decade or so before. (Together in London one chilly morning in November 2001, Marylebone Lane, Rachmaninov's mid-30s New York Steinway in the corner of the gallery, shallow in action and sound, we'd selected the faculty's new Steinway D, favouring initially a characterful, musically toned instrument before opting for one more pragmatically useful.) From an aristocratic dynasty – the Sarıcazade family from Euboea who settled in İstanbul following the Conquest - Ayşegül, born in May 1935, defines kindness, breeding and good taste. As a girl she studied at the Paris Conservatoire (1951-53), with Lucette Descaves (Saint-Saëns's goddaughter) and Pierre Pasquier, subsequently working with Marguerite Long. She won the Prix de la Ville de Paris at the 1959 Marguerite Long–Jacques Thibaud Competition. Backhaus was one of the heroes of her youth. She cherished having heard Gilels play Tchaikovsky One1. A Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms specialist. Wonderful sense of class and pedigree, an old-world lady of infinite charm and courtesy, second-generation Republican prizing Ottoman values. An almost vanished species – the quintessential “hanım” as they say, in bowed, reverential respect. Fabulous musicianship, sharp as a sabre, defying age. The most modest of Turkey's surviving State Artists.

Ayşegül Sarıca

Jerfi Aji

Lunch is at the Moda Yacht Club. This is special. Founded by Atatürk in 1935, formerly İstanbul's English Club. Edward VIII came here. As a young officer my father was a member in his Air Force days before the War, though no one is about to check the records for us. Moda is on the shores of the Marmara, and defines exclusivity without being ostentatious. Midsummer Day. Blazingly hot. A calm sea so intensely blue it hurts the eyes. Lunch is by an open window, brave sparrows, perky-eyed, waiting in the manner of their kind for any loose crumbs. Intimate, hardly anyone about, a good wine, sweet melon. Water as far as one could see, the Princess Islands in the distance. The pampered wives of the rich taking each other out, seeking husbands for eligible daughters in ritual fashion. Cosseted children at play in the sea-water pools. Retired grandees beneath sun umbrellas. Unforgettable, sensuous, aromatic. I came here once before, years ago, spending an afternoon with İdil Biret, but don't recall the place having had the same impact. Difficult to tear oneself away and break the dream. Jason and his Argonauts once passed this way.

Moda Yacht Club c 1936

Moda Caddesi No 147

Walking slowly back to the ferry pier, sun beating down, Ayşegül invites us into her old family house where she'd grown up, and which she and her sister, Mehveş Subaşı, still own. In the middle of modern Moda (so no longer overlooking the sea of its Levantine past), it's a rare time capsule. A neoclassical İstanbul köşk (kiosk) designed by Constantin P Pappa [Pape Kalfa], it was built for Sarıcazade Arif Paşa, Ayşegül's grandfather (court physician to Abdülhamid II), between 1898 and 1903. Few examples of its kind survive. Requisitioned by the British during the Allied Occupation, 1918-23, it served for a while as an Armenian primary school, with many of its contents either destroyed or misappropriated. Four storeys plus basement and attic, grey stone, wooden shutters (many of them in disrepair, bleached by the sun), massive white-grey marble stairs, rambling, neglected walled garden ... Epic carved doors (maybe three to four metres feet tall), vast rooms, high painted ceilings still with their original mouldings, artwork and scenes of old İstanbul (crumbling now, in need of restoration),  dominatingly colossal pieces of furniture crowding every space, fine chairs, long un-polished parquet flooring, floor to ceiling mirrors, wood-burning ceramic stoves, old family portraits and photographs. On the third storey a black Steinway boudoir grand, salvaged from an alien İstanbul embassy some time before the Second World War – yellowed ivories, grazed casework, oxidized brass, the blur of dulled parallel strings receding into lidded darkness. Faded curtains. Velvet, damask? Books, scores, LPs, tarnished medals, awards, a life before one. Afternoon heat outside, calm and cool within - which aspect reminds me of hot summer days in the fragmenting old house we once lived in near Paris. Ayşegül uses the room for practice and teaching. Everywhere a sense of history, undisturbed yet resonant, huge rooms opening into each other like chambers in a pyramid, each filled with jewels and memories of myriad kinds and shadows. Most of the time this is a silent, almost forgotten place, the only perceptible life in the guise of two slim stray cats (of the millions in this city) that have been nursed back to health and clearly adore (and reward) the attention they get. Ayşegül. Short, frail, in black. A stick. Heavy necklace. She walks to the stairs but we see ourselves out. Today, for a few moments, we stirred the cobwebs and brought back a little laughter. Gentle smile. She was pleased we'd come.

30 January 2023

Ayşegül Hanım

28 May 1935  - 10 March 2023

Allah rahmet eylesin mekanı cennet olsun inşallah

1  During the fifties, Gilels programmed this three times in Paris: 14 February 1954 (Salle Pleyel, Orchester de la Societe des Concerts/André Cluytens, coupled with Beethoven Three and Prokofiev Three); 16 March 1954 (Palais de Chaillot, Dresden Staatskapelle/Franz Konwitschny, with Brandenburg Five); 19 June 1959 (Théâtre des Champs Elysées, ORTF/Cluytens [filmed]). For myself, I caught up with his 'live' Tchaikovsky much later at what was to be his last performance of the work, with the Philharmonia under Paavo Berglund (14 October 1984, London, Royal Festival Hall). He died a year later, to the day.

147 Moda Street