Alexandra Ivanoff
Last updated: 26 March, 2012

High Culture in Istanbul: What’s Happening

In the early 1930s, the father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who believed that Western (“polyphonic”) music was a marker of civilized society, aggressively adopted policies to integrate musical training programs in the country. One such strategy was to invite eminent European symphony conductors and composers to set up music education programmes throughout Turkey. By 2012, it’s paying off.

Istanbul now has three full-time symphony orchestras, and every major city has a state-sponsored opera, ballet, and symphony. Within the last ten years, a plethora of performance venues in Istanbul house concerts, theatre, dance, and more virtually every day of the year. But in addition to the regular local schedule, yearly festivals, featuring an international array of established artists, have become highly successful vehicles for presenting hundreds of high-profile musical events.

The oldest festival organization is IKSV (Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Art), founded in 1972, with the mentorship of conductor Herbert von Karajan. For its 40th anniversary this year, this organization is mounting an astounding array of cultural events:

-International Film Festival, 31 March – 15 April
-International Theatre Festival, 10 May – 2 June
-International Music Festival, 31 May – 29 June
-International Jazz Festival, 3-19 July
-Leyla Gencer International Voice Competition, 15-20 September (finals)
-Film October, 6-14 October
-Design Biennial, 13 October – 12 December
(Biennial for visual arts – coming in 2013)

The four-week classical music festival in June will feature a world premiere of a commissioned work by Georgian composer Giya Kancheli, and present a “Lifetime Achievement Award” to a prestigious recipient. Add-on, one-time events include the Berlin Philharmonic with conductor Simon Rattle on 27 September, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra with conductor Lorin Maazel on 10 November, and the Nederlands Dans Theatre on 14-15 June.