I recently had a lengthy interview with Huseyin Sermet, one of Turkey's foremost concert pianists and composers. He is playing tonight at the Queen Elizabeth Hall - his debut, quite incredibly, in the South Bank's International Piano Series - so if you too love his unusually rich and musical interpretation of Mussorgsky's Baba Yaga and Great Gate of Kiev, below, do come along and hear him. His programme consists of music by three towering pianist-composers: Chopin, Liszt and Alkan, the latter having been a special interest of Huseyin's for many years.
My article is in the current issue of International Piano Magazine, and it's not online, but here is a taster:
"When I was a child I hated Chopin! Because I thought just by instinct, without any knowledge, that it was effeminate; seeing the images with his music in movies, old ladies crying over a handsome pianist playing in a hall...I thought it was awful. For a long time I studied his music only when I was obliged to do so. Finally when I was around 26, I was at the music academy in Monte Carlo and I started to become slowly but surely a little more intelligent: I began to wonder if maybe the problem is not Chopin, but me. Therefore I decided to go to the Chopin Competition in Palma de Mallorca, for which I'd have to learn a required number of pieces."
At the competition, after learning that he was through to the final, Sermet went out for a drink with some friends, but decided to leave early to rest before the next day's performance. Walking back alone to his hotel, he was mugged, losing his passport and all his papers and money. The hotel staff advised him to try to sleep and deal with the problem in the morning. "I didn't sleep too well! The next day the police told me they'd give me official papers to get back to Monte Carlo, but probably wouldn't find my things. I needed to go to the French consulate, but it was Sunday and it was closed. I knocked anyway, a guy opened the door and I told him what had happened. He just moved his finger to say ‘follow me'. And there on the table was my bag with all my papers! A woman had found it in the park, looked at the papers and handed it in. In the afternoon from 4 to 6pm I practised; then I performed in the final stage and won third prize. That was the beginning of my psychoanalytic cure for my disease concerning Chopin!"
Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.
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