Fazıl Say

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Fazıl Say
Fazıl Say during rehearsals in 2011.jpg
Fazıl Say in 2011
Background information
Born (1970-01-14) January 14, 1970 (age 47)
Ankara, Turkey
Genres Classical, contemporary classical
Occupation(s) Composer and pianist
Instruments Piano
Years active 1984 – present
Website http://fazilsay.com

Fazıl Say (Turkish: [faːˈzɯl saj]; born January 14, 1970) is a Turkish pianist and composer who was born in Ankara, described recently as "not merely a pianist of genius; but undoubtedly he will be one of the great artists of the twenty-first century".[1]

Life and career[edit]

Fazıl Say was born in 1970. He was a child prodigy, who was able to do basic arithmetic with 4-digit numbers at the age of two. His father, having found out that he was playing the melody of "Daha Dün Annemizin" (Turkish version of Ah! vous dirai-je, maman) on a makeshift flute with no prior training, enlisted the help of Ali Kemal Kaya, an oboe artist and a family friend. At the age of three, Say started his piano lessons under the tutelage of pianist Mithat Fenmen.[2]

Say wrote his first piece – a piano sonata – as early as 1984, at the age of fourteen, when he was a student at the Conservatory of his home town Ankara. It was followed, in this early phase of his development, by several chamber works without an opus number, including Schwarze Hymnen for violin and piano and a guitar concerto. He subsequently designated as his opus 1 one of the works that he had played in the concert that won him the Young Concert Artists Auditions in New York: the Four Dances of Nasreddin Hodja. This work already displays in essence the significant features of his personal style: a rhapsodic, fantasia-like basic structure; a variable rhythm, often dance-like, though formed through syncopation; a continuous, vital driving pulse; and a wealth of melodic ideas that may often be traced back to themes from the folk music of Turkey and its neighbours. In these respects, Fazıl Say stands to some extent in the tradition of composers like Béla Bartók, George Enescu, and György Ligeti, who also drew on the rich musical folklore of their countries. He attracted international attention with the piano piece Black Earth (1997), in which he employs techniques familiar to us from John Cage and his works for prepared piano.[3]

After this, Say increasingly turned to the large orchestral forms. Taking his inspiration from the poetry (and the biographies) of the writers Nâzım Hikmet and Metin Altıok, he composed works for soloists, chorus and orchestra which, especially in the case of the oratorio Nâzim, clearly take up the tradition of composers such as Carl Orff. In addition to the modern European instrumentarium, Say also makes frequent and deliberate use in these compositions of instruments from his native Turkey, including kudüm and darbuka drums and the ney reed flute. This gives the music a colouring that sets it apart from many comparable creations in this genre. In the year 2007 he aroused international interest with his Violin Concerto 1001 Nights in the Harem, which is based on the celebrated tales of the same name, but deals specifically with the fate of seven women from a harem. Since its world premiere by Patricia Kopatchinskaja, the piece has already received further performances in many international concert halls.[3]

Fazıl Say scored a further great success with his first symphony, the Istanbul Symphony, premiered in 2010 at the conclusion of his five-year residency at the Konzerthaus Dortmund. Jointly commissioned by the WDR and the Konzerthaus Dortmund in the framework of Ruhr. 2010, the work constitutes a vibrant and poetic tribute to the metropolis on the Bosporus and its millions of inhabitants. The same year saw the composition, among other pieces, of his Divorce String Quartet (based on atonal principles), and commissioned works like the Piano Concerto Nirvana Burning for the Salzburg Festival and a Trumpet Concerto for the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival, premiered by Gábor Boldoczki.

For Sabine Meyer Say has also written a Clarinet Concerto that refers to the life and work of the Persian poet Omar Khayyam in response to a commission from the 2011 Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, and a Sonata for clarinet and piano (op. 42) for the Festival Kissinger Sommer in 2012. Fazıl Say’s works are issued worldwide by the renowned music publishers Schott Music of Mainz.[3]

In his works Gezi Park 1,2 and 3 (op. 48, op. 52, op. 54) from 2013/14 he musically processed the violent suppression of the protests at the Istanbul Gezi Park.[4]

Blasphemy charge[edit]

According to the NY Times, on Monday, April 15, 2013 a court in Istanbul handed down a suspended 10-month jail term for Fazıl Say, after he was convicted of insulting Islam and offending Muslims in postings on Twitter. Mr. Say, 42, who has performed with major orchestras around the world in places including New York, Berlin and Tokyo, said during earlier hearings that the accusations against him went “against universal human rights and laws.” The sentence was suspended for five years, meaning that the pianist will not be sent to prison unless he is convicted of re-offending within that period. In recent years, many intellectuals, writers and artists have been prosecuted for statements about Islam and Turkish identity, both of which the pro-Islamic government seeks to shield from criticism. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, however, have rarely figured in previous trials, although Turks are active users of the sites.

The messages cited in the indictment were Mr. Say’s personal remarks referring to a poem by a famous 11th-century Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, which poked fun at an Islamic vision of the afterlife. The poem was sent to Mr. Say from another user before he forwarded it. In another personal Twitter post, he joked about the rapid call to prayer at a nearby mosque, questioning whether the muezzin who makes the call was running late for a drink.

Mr. Say, who denied the charges, is known for his critical stance against the AKP government’s social and cultural policies. He has said publicly that he is an atheist. “Would it be for the government to decide whether a person believes in God or not?” Mr. Say said on CNN Turk, a private television news channel, in a recent[when?] interview. “It is hard for them to put me in jail.”

Hundreds of Mr. Say’s fans and supporters have attended the three hearings in six months to protest against his prosecution. He has continued to perform nationally and internationally, and, when the sentence was handed down, he was in Germany for a concert in the southern town of Reutlingen. In a written statement, Mr. Say said he was concerned about the implications of the court’s judgment for freedom of expression in his country, since he had been sentenced “although I’ve committed no crime.”

In April 2013, Say came under investigation by the Istanbul Prosecutor's Office over statements made on Twitter, declaring himself an atheist and retweeting a message poking fun at the Islamic conception of paradise.[5][6] Say then announced that he was considering leaving Turkey to live in Japan because of the rise of conservative Islam and growing intolerance in his home country.[7][8]

On 1 June 2012, an Istanbul court indicted Say with the crime of "publicly insulting religious values that are adopted by a part of the nation", a crime that carries a penalty of up to 18 months in prison.[6] According to Anatolia news agency, Say told the Istanbul court he did not seek to insult anybody, but was merely expressing his uneasiness. The court adjourned the case to February 18 after rejecting his lawyers’ request for an immediate acquittal. “When I read them (Say’s tweets), I was heart-broken, I felt disgraced,” Turan Gumus, one of the three plaintiffs, told the court. On 15 April 2013, Say was sentenced to 10 months in jail, reduced from 12 months for good behavior in court. The sentence was suspended, meaning he was allowed to move freely provided he did not repeat the offense in the next five years.[9]

On appeal, Turkey's Supreme Court of Appeals reversed the conviction on 26 October 2015, ruling that Say's Twitter posts fell within the bounds of freedom of thought and freedom of expression.[10]

Honors and awards[edit]

  • Winner of the Young Concert Artists International Auditions (1994)
  • Paul A. Fish Foundation Awards (1995)
  • Le Monde Awards (2000)
  • Echo Klassik (2001)
  • German Music Critics’ Best Recording of the Year Award (2001)
  • Ambassador of Intercultural Dialogue (2008)
  • "Echo" German Record Award (2009)
  • "ECHO Klassik 2013 Special Jury Award with Istanbul Symphony Album
  • Prix International de la Laïcité 2015 (Comité Laïcité République, France)
  • Beethoven Prize 2016 (Beethoven Academy)

Artist / Composer in residence[edit]

  • Alte Oper Frankfurt, 2015/2016
  • Laeiszhalle Hamburg, 2014/2015
  • Bodenseefestival, 2014
  • Wiener Konzerthaus, 2013/2014
  • Hessischer Rundfunk Frankfurt, 2012/2013
  • Konzerthaus Berlin, 2010/ 2011
  • Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival 2011
  • Merano Festival, 2010
  • Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, 2010
  • Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris 2010
  • Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern 2010
  • Sumida Triphony Hall, Tokyo 2008
  • Konzerthaus Dortmund, 2005-2010
  • Musikfest Bremen 2005
  • Radio France 2003 & 2005


  1. 1993 CD / (SFB) (Scarlatti–Berg–Say)
  2. 1996 CD / Troppenote Records (Say)
  3. 1998 CD / Warner Music (Mozart Sonatas)
  4. 1999 CD / Teldec (Bach)
  5. 2000 CD / Teldec (Gershwin)
  6. 2000 CD / Teldec (Stravinski–Le sacre)
  7. 2001 CD / Teldec (Liszt–Tchaikovski)
  8. 2002 CD / İmaj (Nazım)
  9. 2003 CD / Naive (Say/Black Earth)
  10. 2003 CD / İmaj (Metin Altıok ağıtı)
  11. 2003 CD / Bilkent (Nazım)
  12. 2004 CD / Naive (Mozart Concertos)
  13. 2005 CD / Naive (Beethoven Sonatas)
  14. 2006 CD / Naive (Haydn Sonatas)
  15. 2006 CD / Avex (Live in Tokyo)
  16. 2007 CD / Naive (Kopatchinskaja–Say / Beethoven / Bartok / Ravel)
  17. 2008 CD / Naive (Kopatchinskaja–Say 1001 Nights in the Harem)
  18. 2011 Fazil Say: Pictures (CD / DVD)
  19. 2012 Istanbul Symphony & Hezarfen Ney Concerto (CD / DVD)

Chronological list of compositions[edit]

Chronological list of Fazıl Say's compositions
Opus Composition Form Year City
Phrigian for Piano Early Works 001984 Ankara
Sonata for Piano Early Works 011984 Ankara
Ballade for Cello and Piano Early Works 021985 Ankara
Preludes for Piano Early Works 031985 Ankara
Preludes for Flute and Piano Early Works 041985 Ankara
Guitar Concerto Early Works 051986 Ankara
Suite for Piano Early Works 061986 Ankara
Schwarze Hymnen for Violin and Piano Early Works 071987 Ankara
4 Stücke for Piano Early Works 081987 Düsseldorf
Paganini Jazz 1. Version for Piano Piano 091988 Düsseldorf
Seidenstrasse for Piano solo Early Works 101989 Düsseldorf
Debussy Preludes Orchestration Early Works 111990 Düsseldorf
1 Nasreddin Hoca’nın dansları for Piano Early Works 121990 Düsseldorf
Reflections for Piano Violin and Orchestra Early Works 131990 Düsseldorf
Paganini Jazz 2. Version for Piano Piano 141990 Düsseldorf
3 Maerchen for Piano and Chamber Orchestra Orchestral 151991 Düsseldorf
Alt Anatolisches Tagebuch for Piano Early Works 161991 Düsseldorf
Melodien for Piano Early Works 171992 Berlin
Liszt Sonata Orchestration Orchestration 181992 Berlin
CD / (SFB) ( Scarlatti / Berg / Say ) Recording 191993 Berlin
3 Symphonia Concertante for Piano and Orchestra Orchestral 201993 Berlin
5a AllaTurca Jazz ( Mozart ) Piano 211993 Berlin
2 Fantasiestücke for Piano Piano 221993 Berlin
4 Silk Road for Piano and Chamber Orchestra Chamber 231994 Berlin
5b Paganini Jazz 3. Version Piano 241995 Berlin
5c Cadenza Mozart K 467 Orchestral 251995 Berlin
5d 25 Songs Song 261995 Berlin
CD / Troppenote Records ( Say ) Recording 271996 New York City
5e Concerto for Guitar in d Concerto 281996 New York
6 Chamber Symphony Chamber 291997 New York
8 Black Earth for Piano Piano 301997 New York
7 Sonata for Violin and Piano Chamber 311997 New York
5f Yeni bir Gülnihal Jazz Variations for Piano Piano 321997 New York
CD / Warner Music ( Mozart Sonatas ) Recording 331998 New York
Sonata for Piano Silence of Southeast Piano 341998 New York
Gershwin arrangements for sixtett Piano 351999 New York
CD / Teldec ( Bach) Recording 361999 New York
UÇAK NOTLARI Book 371999 New York
CD / Teldec ( Gershwin ) Recording 382000 New York
CD / Teldec ( Stravinski- Le sacre ) Recording 392000 New York
Pieces for world jazz quartett Chamber 402000 New York
CD / Teldec ( Liszt- Tchaikovski ) Recording 412001 New York
11 Silence of Anatolia Piano Concerto Concerto 422001 New York
10 Cadenza Beethoven No 3 Piano 432001 New York
9 Nazım Oratorio Oratorio 442001 New York
CD / İmaj ( Nazım ) Recording 452002 Istanbul
12 3 Ballades for Piano Piano 462002 Istanbul
13 Metin Altıok Ağıtı Oratorio 472003 Istanbul
CD / Naive ( Say/ Black Earth ) Recording 482003 Istanbul
CD / İmaj ( Metin Altıok ağıtı ) Recording 492003 Istanbul
CD /Bilkent ( Nazım ) Recording 502003 Istanbul
14 Rhapsodia Uzun ince Yoldayım Chamber 512004 Istanbul
15 Cadenza Mozart KV 537 Piano 522004 Istanbul
CD / Naive ( Mozart Concertos ) Recording 532004 Istanbul
16 Thinking Einstein for Piano and Orchestra Concerto 542005 Istanbul
17 Patara Ballet for Ney–Flute, Soprano, Percussions and Piano Dance 552005 Istanbul
18 Ultimathule Film Music Cinema 562005 Istanbul
CD / Naive ( Beethoven Sonatas ) Recording 572005 Istanbul
DVD / İmaj ( Nazım Oratorio ) Recording 582002 Istanbul
19 Bach-Say Passacaglia ( Transcription) Piano 592005 Istanbul
20 Summertime Phantasy Gershwin Piano 602005 Istanbul
21 Pianist the Wolfy Cinema 612006 Istanbul
CD / Naive ( Haydn Sonatas ) Recording 622006 Istanbul
DVD / Arthaus ( Alla Turca ) Recording 632006 Istanbul
22 İnsan insan Cinema 642006 Istanbul
CD / Avex ( Live in Tokyo ) Recording 652006 Istanbul
23 Fenerbahçe Project Orchestral 662007 Istanbul
24 Bach-Say Fantasia in g ( Transcription ) Piano 672007 Istanbul
CD / Naive ( Kopatchinskaja – Say / Beethoven / Bartók ) Recording 682007 Istanbul
25 1001 Nights in the Harem Violin Concerto Concerto 692007 Istanbul
CD / Naive ( Kopatchinskaja – Say 1001 Nights in Harem ) Recording 702008 Istanbul
DVD / Avex ( Live in Tokyo ) Recording 712008 Istanbul
Yalnızlık kederi Book 722009 Istanbul
26 Princess of Lykia for 2 Guitars Chamber 732009 Istanbul
27 Watercolor Cinema 742009 Istanbul
28 Istanbul Symphony Orchestral 752009 Istanbul
İmaj ( Fenerbahçe Project ) DVD 762010 Istanbul
29 String Quartett Chamber 772010 Istanbul
30 Nirvana Burning Concerto 782010 Istanbul
31 Concerto for Trompet Concerto 792010 Istanbul
32 Variations for 2 Pianos and Percussion Chamber 802010 Istanbul
33 7000 yıllık uçan halı ( 7,000 Year Old Flying Carpet ) Theatre 812010 Istanbul
34 Cleopatra for solo Violin Chamber 822010 Istanbul
35 Woodwinds Quintett “Alevi dedeler rakı masasında” (Alevi Fathers at the Raki Table) Chamber 832010 Istanbul
Nazım Oratorio 2010 Version Reduction 842010 Istanbul
Yeni bir Gülnihal – Jazz Variations Reduction 852010 Istanbul
Nirvana Burning Piano Excerpt 862010 Istanbul
Trompeten Konzert Piano Excerpt 872010 Istanbul
36 Concerto for Clarinet “Khayyam” Concerto 882011 Istanbul
Fazıl Say: Pianist – Komponist – Weltbürger by Jürgen Otten Book 892011 Istanbul
Fazil Say: Pictures ( CD / DVD ) Recording 902011 Istanbul
37 “4 Lieder” – “4 Songs” Songs 912011 Istanbul
38 Symphony No. 2 “Mesopotamia” for extra large orchestra Orchestral 922011 Istanbul
39 Hezarfen Concerto for Ney and Orchestra Concerto 932011 Istanbul
40 SES Song 942012 Istanbul
41 Sonata for Cello and Piano – “4 Cities” ( Dört Şehir ) Chamber 952012 Istanbul
42 Sonata for Clarinet and Piano Chamber 962012 Istanbul
43 Symphony No. 3 “Universe” Orchestral 972012 Istanbul
44 6 Songs Song 982012 Istanbul
45 “Water” for Piano and Orchestra Concerto 992012 Istanbul
46 Space Jump for Trio (Piano, Violin, Cello) Chamber 1002013 Istanbul

Other works[edit]


  • Uçak Notları (Airplane Notes) Ankara (1999)
  • Metin Altıok Ağıtı (Requiem for Metin Altıok) (2003)
  • Yalnızlık Kederi (Sorrow of Solitude) (2009)
  • "Fazıl Say: Pianist – Komponist – Weltbürger" by Jürgen Otten (2011)


  • Fazıl Say – Alla Turca (DVD, 2008)
  • Fazıl Say - Live in Japan (DVD)
  • Fazıl Say - Nazım (DVD, 2001)
  • Fazıl Say - Fenerbahçe Senfonisi (DVD)
  • Fazıl Say - Istanbul Symphony Concert (DVD, 2012)
  • Fazıl Say - Istanbul Symphony Short Documentary (DVD, 2012)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kioi Hall (17 November 2016). "ARTISTS Fazil Say". Retrieved 29 September 2016. 
  2. ^ Say, Ahmet (2016-10-15). "Fazıl Say Nasıl Yetişti?". Sol Haber (in Turkish). Retrieved 2016-10-17. 
  3. ^ a b c Say, Fazil (25 Aug 2012). "Biography - Fazil Say Fan (licensed under CC-by-sa-2.0)". fazilsayfan.com. Retrieved 26 Sep 2012. 
  4. ^ https://de.schott-music.com/shop/gezi-park-1.html; https://de.schott-music.com/shop/gezi-park-2-1.html; https://de.schott-music.com/shop/gezi-park-3.html
  5. ^ "Probe launched against pianist Say over controversial tweets". Today's Zaman. 12 April 2012. Retrieved 26 May 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Sebnem Arsu and Daniel J. Wakin (1 June 2012). "Turkish Pianist is Accused of Insulting Islam". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  7. ^ "Turkish composer hopes to move to Japan". Hürriyet Daily News. 23 April 2012. Retrieved 26 May 2012. 
  8. ^ Norman Lebrecht (23 April 2012). "Atheist pianist quits Turkey over rise of Islam". artsJournalblogs.
  9. ^ "Pianist Fazil Say gets jail term for blasphemy". Gulf News. Gulf News. AFP. 2013-04-15. Retrieved 2013-04-15. 
  10. ^ Mesut Hasan Benli (26 October 2015). "Top appeals court reverses blasphemy decision against Turkish pianist Say". Hürriyet Daily News. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 

External links[edit]