In the Kumkapı area of Istanbul better known to tourists for its many fish restaurants, the Holy Surp Vortvots Vorodman Church hosted an Istanbul Music Festival concert by three French chamber musicians each well-known in their own right—Tedi Papavrami (violin), Xavier Phillips (cello) and François-Frédéric Guy (piano).
Somewhat off the beaten path, apparently to concert goers and festival staff as well, this Armenian Church venue is amazingly little known to many residents and merchants in the nearby blocks. It was well worth navigating the maze of streets and insufficiently detailed Google map to find this Istanbul Music Festival concert however. The Istanbul Music Festival is obviously bundling the best of the world’s musical talents who are familiar to Turkey stages into one month of superlative performances.
This was a chance to hear two of Beethoven’s Piano Trios (Piano Trio in E-flat Major Op.1, No.1 and Piano Trio in C minor, Op1, No.3) performed side by side with Brahms Piano Trio No.1, Op.8.
The three works have in common that they are early works by the two composers, and as violinist Tedi Papavrami points out, “The influence of Beethoven on Brahms is very evident in many of his works..and through these three works, we can see the progress of classicism to romanticism in music.”
Sitting in the concert hall it was clear that the Trio had a great deal of comfort and trust in their fellow performers, although the distinctness of their personal styles was clearly on display.
One-time child prodigy Tedi Papavrami who started his violin studies at the age of four and who emigrated to France from Albania to continue his musical studies at the age of eleven, sat in his chair with the erect bearing that conveys his devotion to running and other athletics.
Meanwhile cellist Xavier Phillips was the one on the stage whose head bounced to the rhythms of the movements in each piece when he was not himself playing. Pianist Guy had a radiant smile that he would beam at the audience at each bow, telegraphing what seems to be a jovial spirit clearly enjoying the concert as much as we were.
And there was much to enjoy. The pizzicato was more distinct and clear than what we usually hear. In the final presto movement of the E-flat Major Trio, one could close their eyes and imagine the piano calling out the strings akin to bird calls. The melodic line in the Brahms piece carried by the cello was transporting. The scherzo movement of that Brahms piece caught us up in what felt like a great chase. This was a crisp performance all the way around, including the encore performance of a movement from Beethoven’s 2nd Piano Trio.
This performance is part of their Beethoven Project, which the Trio began three years ago. The musicians--each with a stellar list of individual credits-- have known and worked with each other on and off for quite some time.
Here are some clips of each as a soloist. First, François-Frédéric Guy playing the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 with Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France –
Here is Papavrami playng Paganini Caprice N° 24
And to amaze you, here is a recording of his performance of Paganini at the tender age of 9!—
And last but not least, a performance of Boccherini Cello Concerto by cellist Xavier Phillips.
At this concert not only their musical intimacy and high comfort level with each other was on display but also seemingly with the Istanbul audience as well. Tedi Papavrami says, “As an Albanian, I find lots of details which connect me with Turkey along with our common history. This is actually something that always makes me happy.”
The Trio will be doing many more performances of Beethoven’s works in the coming years, for which worldwide lovers of chamber music should keep watch.
The 42nd Annual Istanbul Music Festival is about to end, but you can expect similar month-long programming from the best of the world’s classical musicians next year, making it a good time to plan your visit to Istanbul. Stay in touch at the Festival’s website.