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Fazil Say's Violin Concerto Debuts in Toledo

Jan. 31, 2013

Fazil Say's Violin Concerto Debuts in Toledo

Toledo Symphony guest conductor James Meena leads an exhilirating program whose history reaches back to antiquity on February 8 and 9, featuring the US premiere of Fazil Say’s Violin Concerto, 1001Nights in the Harem, Carl Orff’s master-work Carmina Burana and the Overture to Rossini’s The Siege of Corinth. The concerto, performed by TSO principal second violin Merwin Siu, consists of four movements breathlessly evoking scenes from the Persian epic One Thousand and One Nights. Turkish-born Say writes: 

The first movement is set inside the harem; a variety of women from the harem are introduced, each with her own different personality. The second movement is a frenzy of dance – in effect a party night with an abundance of different types of dance music. The third movement depicts the next morning and consists primarily of variations on a well-known Turkish song. The fourth movement begins dramatically, but develops during the course of the movement more and more into reminiscence of all the previous events as the work culminates dreamily in a happy mood with sensuous oriental sounds.

As appropriate for an oriental soundscape, the orchestra includes a series of Turkish percussion instruments such as a kudüm or bendir, but also glockenspiel, marimba and vibraphone, celesta and harp. It is, however, the solo violin which tells the story and accompanies the listener through the entire work. The violin part is highly virtuosic and unites the four movements into an intensely atmospheric whole in which the solo violin soars off into a solo cadenza between each movement, sometimes accompanied by one of the percussion instruments.

Violinist Siu writes on what attracted him to the work:

What struck me was the attempt to inject a 21st-century sensibility into a standard piece of exoticism… Fazil Say calls on ethnic Turkish percussion employed in unusual ways. The concerto is straightforward post-minimalism in some respects. It unfolds in four-measure periods, with a steady rhythmic ostinato. To develop the materials, Say adds layers of color.

James Meena leads the US premiere of the concerto on February 8 and 9 at the Peristyle Theater in Toledo, Ohio. The Bowling Green State University Chorus joins the TSO for Carmina Burana.

Learn more on the life and work of Fazil Say at

Details on the Toledo Symphony performances are located at

Fazil Say
Violin Concerto (2007)
1001 Nights in the Harem
for violin and orchestra