A violinist emerges from Turkey’s crackdownmain
From our string quartet diarist, Anthea Kreston:
I recently reconnected with an old friend, a Turkish violinist I studied with many years ago with the Emerson Quartet. Here we both were, years later in Munch, with partners, kids, a host of musical and life experiences behind us, and yet the comfort and security I have found is far from the upheaval and trauma my friend had been through, as a musician in Turkey.
As we sat opposite one another, in a Vietnamese restaurant with my other friend, the incredible Argentinian pianist José Gallardo, we were like the beginning of a bad joke – “so, a Turk, Argentinian and American walk into this Vietnamese joint in Munich….”. What always struck me about my friend – his easy, low laugh, his funny observations and irrepressible optimism, was still there, but as the events of the past 10 years unfolded before us, I wondered how he had managed to come out of it all so seemingly intact.
He had arrived in Munich three weeks before, having sent his American opera-singer wife and two small children ahead one year ago. Things had turned so intensely to the worse that their very safety was in question. He picked Munich because it had a daily flight from their city in Turkey. My friend stayed behind for a year, living like a hermit, sending everything he earned to his family. His wife in the meantime found some work tutoring English.
What he described to me resembled something out of an old black-and-white movie. Showing up one morning to have the entire management of the University replaced by government appointments, teachers summarily fired, children of well-connected officials given degrees, new sets of random, crazy rules enforced daily – entire departments removed in 24 hours.
In 2013, my friend participated in the Gezi Park Protests, a peaceful protest which spread across Turkey even as riot police trained water cannons and tear gas on thousands of people. What began as an outcry against the razing of a park to make way for urban development quickly turned into public rage against increasingly authoritarian rule.
From here on, my friend walked a tightrope of protecting his family, his income, continuing to inspire and create musical communities, until one day a dreaded brilliant yellow envelope was delivered to his door. These envelopes contain official government complaints against citizens, and have to be fought tooth and nail with every resource available. The allegations are without proof, and run the gamut from implausible to ridiculous. His days were filled with defending and disproving these accusations, pulled from thin air but with the deadly bite of an alligator. Day after day these envelopes arrived, until one day, one arrived for his wife.
It was at this moment that they decided that they were in real, tangible danger. Soon after this, one of his students, a young violinist of only 20 years, was killed by a stray bullet.
One of the most incredible things is that, during this whole time, my friend was creating musical sanctuaries for students and professionals – sitting concertmaster for Turkish orchestras, conducting, teaching, spreading his love of music, and was even named Musician of the Year in 2016. What I always knew about him in Connecticut – his creativity, work ethic, desire for learning and collaborating – this he carried back with him to his home country. That is what he gave back, sharing without thought for himself, until he could no longer ensure his safety.
My friend had a heart attack in Munich two weeks ago. A young man, he was rushed to the hospital. His family immediately sent an SOS out to the local Turkish community, which responded with care and support.
As I sat across from him, days out of the hospital, he was grateful to be there, happy to meet new friends, to come hear my Quartet play. He had his first gig – sitting in the pit for a local high-school production of Pirates of Penzance, and grateful for it.
Last night, I spontaneously bought a flight to Munich to go see the Emerson Quartet with Kissin. I missed them here in Berlin last year, and am determined not to miss them this tour. I texted my friend and asked if he wanted me to get a ticket for him, and guess what – he is busy playing Lohengrin! Things are hard for him now, but I have every expectation that he and his family will once again thrive. With a heart as big as his, there is no other option.