Fazıl Say

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Fazıl Say
Fazıl Say recording at Mozarteum Salzburg in 2019
Fazıl Say recording at Mozarteum Salzburg in 2019
Background information
Born (1970-01-14) 14 January 1970 (age 52)
Ankara, Turkey
GenresClassical, contemporary classical
Occupation(s)Composer, pianist
Years active1984–present

Fazıl Say (Turkish: [faːˈzɯɫ saj]; born 14 January 1970 in Ankara) is a Turkish pianist and composer.

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 oboist and family friend. At the age of three, Say started his piano lessons under the tutelage of pianist Mithat Fenmen.[1]

Say wrote his first piece – a piano sonata – in 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 (1990). 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, Op. 8 (1997), in which he employs techniques made popular by John Cage's works for prepared piano.[2]

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, Op. 9 (2001), 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 2007 he aroused international interest with his Violin Concerto 1001 Nights in the Harem, Op. 25, 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.[2]

Fazıl Say scored a further great success with his first symphony, the Istanbul Symphony Op. 28 (2009), 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, Op. 29, (based on atonal principles), and commissioned works like the Piano Concerto Nirvana Burning, Op. 30, for the Salzburg Festival and a Trumpet Concerto for the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival, premiered by Gábor Boldoczki.[2]

For Sabine Meyer Say has also written a Clarinet Concerto, Op. 36 (2011), 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.[2]

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.[3][4][5]

The lyrics for his song Insan Insan were taken from a centuries-old poem written by Alevi poet Muhyiddin Abdal. The track was orchestrated by Say with vocals from Selva Erdener (soprano), Burcu Uyar (coloratura soprano), Güvenç Dağüstün (baritone) and Cem Adrian ("ethnic vocals").[6]

Blasphemy charge[edit]

In April 2012, Say came under investigation by the Istanbul Prosecutor's Office over statements made on Twitter, after declaring himself an atheist and retweeting a message poking fun at the Islamic conception of paradise.[7][8] 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.[9][10]

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.[8][11] 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 18 February after rejecting his lawyers’ request for an immediate acquittal. “When I read them (Say’s tweets), I was heart-broken, I felt disgraced,” Turan Gümüş, 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.[12]

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.[13]

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)[14]
  • Duisburger Musikpreis (2017)[15]

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 for Piano)
  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)
  20. 2019 CD / Warner Bros. (Fazil Say plays Say: Troy Sonata, Yürüyen Köşk, two pieces from Art of Piano)
  21. 2019 CD / Winter & Winter (Ferhan & Ferzan Önder play Fazil Say: Winter Morning in Istanbul, Gezi Park – Concerto for two pianos & orchestra, Sonata for two pianos)
  22. 2019 CD / Sony (1001 Nights in the Harem: Violin Concerto, Grand Bazaar, China Rhapsody)

Chronological list of compositions[edit]

Chronological list of Fazıl Say's compositions
Opus Composition Form Year City
Phrigian for Piano Early Works 1984 Ankara
Sonata for Piano Early Works 1984 Ankara
Ballade for Cello and Piano Early Works 1985 Ankara
Preludes for Piano Early Works 1985 Ankara
Preludes for Flute and Piano Early Works 1985 Ankara
Guitar Concerto Early Works 1986 Ankara
Suite for Piano Early Works 1986 Ankara
Schwarze Hymnen for Violin and Piano Early Works 1987 Ankara
4 Stücke for Piano Early Works 1987 Düsseldorf
Paganini Jazz 1. Version for Piano Piano 1988 Düsseldorf
Seidenstrasse for Piano solo Early Works 1989 Düsseldorf
Debussy Preludes Orchestration Early Works 1990 Düsseldorf
1 Nasreddin Hoca’nın dansları for Piano Early Works 1990 Düsseldorf
Reflections for Piano Violin and Orchestra Early Works 1990 Düsseldorf
Paganini Jazz 2. Version for Piano Piano 1990 Düsseldorf
3 Maerchen for Piano and Chamber Orchestra Orchestral 1991 Düsseldorf
Alt Anatolisches Tagebuch for Piano Early Works 1991 Düsseldorf
Melodien for Piano Early Works 1992 Berlin
Liszt Sonata Orchestration Orchestration 1992 Berlin
3 Symphonia Concertante for Piano and Orchestra Orchestral 1993 Berlin
5a AllaTurca Jazz ( Mozart ) Piano 1993 Berlin
2 Fantasiestücke for Piano Piano 1993 Berlin
4 Silk Road for Piano and Chamber Orchestra Chamber 1994 Berlin
5b Paganini Jazz 3. Version Piano 1995 Berlin
5c Cadenza Mozart K 467 Orchestral 1995 Berlin
5d 25 Songs Song 1995 Berlin
5e Concerto for Guitar in d Concerto 1996 New York
6 Chamber Symphony Chamber 1997 New York
8 Black Earth for Piano Piano 1997 New York
7 Sonata for Violin and Piano Chamber 1997 New York
5f Yeni bir Gülnihal Jazz Variations for Piano Piano 1997 New York
Sonata for Piano Silence of Southeast Piano 1998 New York
Gershwin arrangements for sixtett Piano 1999 New York
UÇAK NOTLARI Book 1999 New York
Pieces for world jazz quartett Chamber 2000 New York
11 Silence of Anatolia Piano Concerto Concerto 2001 New York
10 Cadenza Beethoven No 3 Piano 2001 New York
9 Nazım Oratorio Oratorio 2001 New York
12 3 Ballades for Piano Piano 2002 Istanbul
13 Metin Altıok Ağıtı Oratorio 2003 Istanbul
14 Rhapsodia Uzun ince Yoldayım Chamber 2004 Istanbul
15 Cadenza Mozart KV 537 Piano 2004 Istanbul
16 Thinking Einstein for Piano and Orchestra Concerto 2005 Istanbul
17 Patara Ballet for Ney–Flute, Soprano, Percussions and Piano Dance 2005 Istanbul
18 Ultimathule Film Music Cinema 2005 Istanbul
DVD / İmaj ( Nazım Oratorio ) Recording 2002 Istanbul
19 Bach-Say Passacaglia ( Transcription) Piano 2005 Istanbul
20 Summertime Phantasy Gershwin Piano 2005 Istanbul
21 Pianist the Wolfy Cinema 2006 Istanbul
22 İnsan insan Cinema 2006 Istanbul
23 Fenerbahçe Project Orchestral 2007 Istanbul
24 Bach-Say Fantasia in g ( Transcription ) Piano 2007 Istanbul
25 1001 Nights in the Harem Violin Concerto Concerto 2007 Istanbul
Yalnızlık kederi Book 2009 Istanbul
26 Princess of Lykia for 2 Guitars Chamber 2009 Istanbul
27 Watercolor Cinema 2009 Istanbul
28 Istanbul Symphony Orchestral 2009 Istanbul
İmaj ( Fenerbahçe Project ) DVD 2010 Istanbul
29 String Quartett Chamber 2010 Istanbul
30 Nirvana Burning Concerto 2010 Istanbul
31 Concerto for Trompet Concerto 2010 Istanbul
32 Variations for 2 Pianos and Percussion Chamber 2010 Istanbul
33 7000 yıllık uçan halı ( 7,000 Year Old Flying Carpet ) Theatre 2010 Istanbul
34 Cleopatra for solo Violin Chamber 2010 Istanbul
35 Woodwinds Quintett “Alevi dedeler rakı masasında” (Alevi Fathers at the Raki Table) Chamber 2010 Istanbul
Nazım Oratorio 2010 Version Reduction 2010 Istanbul
Yeni bir Gülnihal – Jazz Variations Reduction 2010 Istanbul
Nirvana Burning Piano Excerpt 2010 Istanbul
Trompeten Konzert Piano Excerpt 2010 Istanbul
36 Concerto for Clarinet “Khayyam” Concerto 2011 Istanbul
Fazıl Say: Pianist – Komponist – Weltbürger by Jürgen Otten Book 2011 Istanbul
37 “4 Lieder” – “4 Songs” Songs 2011 Istanbul
38 Symphony No. 2 “Mezopotamya” (Mesopotamia) for large orchestra Orchestral 2011 Istanbul
39 Hezarfen Concerto for Ney and Orchestra Concerto 2011 Istanbul
40 SES Song 2012 Istanbul
41 Sonata for Cello and Piano – “4 Cities” ( Dört Şehir ) Chamber 2012 Istanbul
42 Sonata for Clarinet and Piano Chamber 2012 Istanbul
43 Symphony No. 3 “Universe” Orchestral 2012 Istanbul
44 6 Songs Song 2012 Istanbul
45 “Water” for Piano and Orchestra Concerto 2012 Istanbul
46 Space Jump for Trio (Piano, Violin, Cello) Chamber 2013 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. ^ Say, Ahmet (15 October 2016). "Fazıl Say Nasıl Yetişti?". Sol Haber (in Turkish). Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d "Biography". Fazil Say Official Website. Archived from the original on 13 November 2012. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  3. ^ "Gezi Park 1". Deschott-music.com. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  4. ^ "Gezi Park 2". Deschott-music.com. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  5. ^ "Gezi Park 3". Deschott-music.com. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  6. ^ ADA MUSICundefined (Director). Fazıl Say – insan insan / Muhyİddİn Abdal (Lyric). Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  7. ^ "Probe launched against pianist Say over controversial tweets". Today's Zaman. 12 April 2012. Archived from the original on 15 June 2012. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Turkish composer hopes to move to Japan". Hürriyet Daily News. 23 April 2012. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  10. ^ Norman Lebrecht (23 April 2012). "Atheist pianist quits Turkey over rise of Islam" Archived 25 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine. artsJournalblogs.
  11. ^ Jean-Pierre Thiollet, 88 notes pour piano solo, Neva Editions, 2015, p.193. ISBN 978-2-3505-5192-0
  12. ^ "Pianist Fazil Say gets jail term for blasphemy". Gulf News. Gulf News. AFP. 15 April 2013. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  13. ^ Mesut Hasan Benli (26 October 2015). "Top appeals court reverses blasphemy decision against Turkish pianist Say". Hürriyet Daily News. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
  14. ^ "Beethovenpreis 2016". Beethoven Academy. 2016. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  15. ^ Horstmeier, Anne (31 August 2017). "Fazil Say wird mit dem Duisburger Musikpreis ausgezeichnet". Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (in German). Essen. Retrieved 29 June 2018.

Other sources[edit]

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