Sascha Goetzel: 'I always wanted to be the man in the middle'

Published 27.12.2018 01:02
Updated 27.12.2018 08:13
Sascha Goetzel has been conducting the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra since 2009.
Sascha Goetzel has been conducting the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra since 2009.

Australian conductor Sascha Goetzel has been leading the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra for the last 10 years and has created a ‘legend' with his work, making his dreams come true in a ‘fascinating' city

From Dec. 5 to Dec. 13, the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra (BIPO) went on a European tour. Representing Turkey in the international music arena, their performance received standing ovations for minutes. BIPO performed in three concerts in Stuttgart, Friedrichshafen and Aachen in Germany, and one each in Amsterdam and Paris.

Artistic and chief conductor Sascha Goetzel has greatly contributed to BIPO's rising success and fame at some of the world's most prestigious concert halls over the last decade.

Violinist Nemanja Radulovic and BIFO's chief conductor Sascha Goetzel at the Paris concert on Dec. 13.

Born and raised in a musical family in Vienna, Goetzel's father is also a professional classical musician. In an interview with Daily Sabah, Sascha Goetzel said: "My father used to play every week in concerts or operas and my mother was also there. I was at concerts even when I was in my mother's belly. So, I was raised totally in a musical environment."

The man in the middle

Raised in such an artistic environment, Goetzel's dream was to become a conductor at the age of three, when he did not even know what conducting was. "I told my family that I wanted to be the man in the middle. It was always this energy thing. I felt the guy in the middle had the energy in his hands, and I was very fascinated by this. Young boys are always fascinated by heroes. In my environment, the conductor was my hero. My father told me, 'Yes, you can do that but you have to play an instrument professionally. And I loved the violin. I became a professional violinist," Goetzel remembers the first years of his musical life.

Ambassador of Turkish music

After becoming a violinist, Goetzel played for the Vienna Philharmonic for quite a while. "I started my conducting career when I was in my mid-20s, at a fairly young age. Step by step, I built up my reputation internationally, and I was very happy one day to come to Istanbul. BIPO is much more than just a symphonic orchestra. It is really like the ambassador of Turkey in musical terms, going everywhere internationally. I always sought to create something unique throughout my musical journey. BIPO gave me the opportunity to create something that has not been done before," he said.

Having worked with legendary conductors like Zubin Mehta, Goetzel does not deny the importance and influence of such lucky cooperation. "As a young conductor, it's the biggest treasure to be coached by one of the greatest maestros. I worked with Mehta and Riccardo Muti. All of them have a jewel that they give to you. This jewel is the conductor's experience. They see you, they reflect on you. They don't try to change you. They just try to make you understand what is the most important thing about making music: The first thing is to listen, the second is to strive for quality," Goetzel stressed, adding: "When you work with great conductors like them, you have pure energy; pure charisma, of course. But I think all of them have one thing in common: A 100 percent commitment and passion for music. You give your life to music. This not really a choice, I have to say. It is almost like the universe choosing you. You are lucky in one way, but on the other hand, it is a curse because at night you cannot sleep because of the music continuous. There is not a moment when the music is not in your ear. You get crazy, and sometimes it is a schizophrenic life. You are really torn apart between ordinary life and musical life. On the other hand, you are really lucky to have this gift."

Training is everything

Introduced to BIPO through his manager, Goetzel was chosen by a committee of music critics and professional musicians to be the chief conductor. The committee wanted BIPO to reach an international level. Selected from among six or seven strong nominees, who performed complete concerts for the jury, Goetzel proved to be so successful that everybody who listens to the orchestra now can understand how far it has come in the last 10 years.

He gave the secret behind his fabulous success as a conductor: "This is not just turning a switch. This is turning hundreds of little switches. All projects are step by step. We have reached the level of top European orchestras. Now we have to stay there. It is at least the same kind of work in sport. When you win the Tour de France then you just come again to win it next year. You train for a year. It is the same for a symphonic orchestra. You have to train all the time."

Talent, hard work hand in hand

He stressed the importance of talent and hard work as the two main elements for musical success. "Talent is a must. Without talent how can you reach this? But it is like sports. It is hard work. The question is what will succeed in the end, talent or hard work? It is definitely hard work. You can start your career with talent and succeed for a few years, but your career can go on for decades, and I can say easily that if you do not continue to work as hard, you will not remain at the same level," said Goetzel.

Music a thing for heart

As a conductor, Goetzel listens to all kinds of music, especially Turkish classical music, and highlights the importance of cultural acquaintance and feeling it inside. "I listen to Turkish classical music just to understand the concept of it. But it is not in my culture. Like when you listen to pure Venice music, you do not understand the words, but you get the concept of it. I do not understand the lyrics or culture behind it, but I do understand the music. For other kinds of music also, for me, there is no difference between any kinds of music. It is a difference in the listening experience but not in judging it. If music touches you, it is good. We have to accept that music is for the soul of people to enjoy. Nothing else. If anybody puts something intellectual behind the music, it qualifies them. But music is about the language of the heart. I am a professional musician doing contemporary music. It is mathematics. But in the end, we have 12 notes repeating in the octave. All music is the same, but the feeling," Goetzel said, providing insights about other music styles.

Years ago, he was part of a youth band that covered songs of bands like Queen and Sting. He remembers those times as his "rock times." "It was amazing. Many people in my environment did not believe that I was a classical musician playing the violin. Really there is no difference," he smiled.

Changing repertoire

As the artistic director of BIPO, Goetzel says repertoire programming has changed over the years. "The world is different than 10 years ago. In historical terms, it is not unusual. When you go back to World War II, the repertoires were all about beauty, giving medicine to wounds, to the soul as many people had lost their relatives. In the 1980s for example, it was a very avant-garde scene in classical music. As for BIPO, when I got the orchestra, I had the responsibility to make a repertoire so the orchestra can play it at the top of the international level. This was the number one priority. There were pieces we had to play. Now, after 10 years, we have to refurbish regularly to not lose our style; but what is important for the audience is a program with diversity. Programming in the old days was like opening with the overture to open the listening door to have a smooth direction. Then the second piece would be similar. You would already be there due to your listening experience. Then you would choose a piece with the same style of music but more effectively. Now, people love to have more diversity. For example, you start with a super effective crazy piece and then you play something very slow and smooth. In the second part, you can play from a completely different era that has nothing to do with the first part and people get really happy.

A true lover of Istanbul

Sascha Goetzel expressed his happiness about living and working as a musician in Istanbul: "I love the atmosphere. I love the connection it has with Constantinople and the Byzantine. From the historical perspective, the city is amazing. It was founded thousands of years ago and became what it is today. It is a very dynamic and lively city. You have all kinds of art prospects. You have a lot of cultures. You eat very well, and you have the magical Bosporus in the middle of the city. There are youth and diversity. I have my beloved orchestra here. When I first came, I was enchanted, and it has not changed. I still feel at home. Istanbul is fascinating."

A legend to remember forever

Goetzel is especially satisfied with what he has created as a musician and also the Turkish people's interest in classical music. "It is a real pleasure to give what we feel to the audience and share it. Our audience has a very strong reaction. They share their emotions with us, too. We always call it the BIPO family; one family over the years. We made so many musical journeys together. We built a legend. After 10 years, even if we stop tomorrow, it would be something like the NBC orchestra of Toscanini. When he came to New York, he was fleeing World War II and built an orchestra at NBC in the city with a group of freelance musicians consisting partly of locals and partly those fleeing the Holocaust. The orchestra became a symphony. It only existed for 10 or 15 years when Toscanini was there. After that, it disbanded. And it is a legend even until this day. So I think we created for Turkey exactly the same thing: We created a legend with the recordings of live concerts like the BBC Proms or the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on the recent European tour. This is an ambassador of Turkish culture, society and life in the best possible sense with a 90 percent Turkish orchestra that also plays pieces from Turkish composers, too."

On the recent European tour, the orchestra received huge praise and long standing ovations. "We started with Turkish composer Ferit Tüzün's piece, and people wanted me to come back for a piece they have never heard in their life. After the concerts they got crazy. It is so strong. You could see it in Amsterdam. Everybody was jumping up, and it is a real pleasure. Everybody in Turkey should be proud of this orchestra," he said.

Ahmet Erenli: Music breaks prejudices

Borusan Sanat General Director Ahmet Erenli also gave some insights and information about the foundation of BIPO.

"We were actually founded in 1993, but we had a chamber orchestra within the body of the company before BIPO. It was within the body of Borusan Culture and Art then. We continued that way for a while until conductor Gürer Aykal came joined in 1999. Aykal took over the chamber orchestra 20 years ago and created a new philharmonic and symphonic orchestra from it. He conducted the orchestra for 10 years and prepared the repertoire. Then, he passed on the torch to Sascha Goetzel. Aykal has continued as the honorary conductor since. He will be together with the orchestra until the end of his life with his own words," he said about the foundation of BIPO.

The attention of audiences has seen a stable increase over the years, and the numbers show it clearly: "The subscription number was around 880 when I came and has reached 1,200 today," Erenli noted. "The number of loyal audiences is 1,200 at the moment. In line with the capacity of a concert hall, we sell the rest of the tickets. From the season's beginning, all concerts have been sold out."

BIPO Academy

In the three years following our great diva Leyla Gencer's death, BIPO performed an opera each year to honor her. "There are lead and small roles in these performances. We realized that we were bringing soloists from abroad for these small roles. We established the Academy Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra for young Turkish artists, to enable them to perform in these shows. Students were trained by singing masters from abroad, including Mirella Freni and Mariella Devia, throughout the year. Those students performed on the nights organized in honor of Leyla Gencer. We will not perform opera from now on. However, we will have works for instrumentalists in the forthcoming period. We will start the auditions in January," he said.

Ahmet Erenli also talked about the recent European tours, which proved to be a success. "When you go to the West, you will always be two steps behind no matter how good you are as an artist. Frankly, there is a political prejudice in the West. But, I was surprised when the audience in Amsterdam gave us a standing ovation. It was a very successful performance. At the end of the concert, when we all went out for dinner together, the audience congratulated us in person. Such events certainly play an important role in breaking barriers and reducing prejudice. Apart from five people, everyone in the orchestra is Turkish. This is an orchestra which is nearly 95 percent Turkish."

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