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Santa Cruz Symphony kicks off 2023 season with guest pianist Hakan Ali Toker

Presented by Santa Cruz Symphony
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Kick off the new year with Translations by the Santa Cruz Symphony, featuring the work of Hakan Ali Toker, Gabriella Smith, and Maurice Ravel.
(Santa Cruz Symphony)

With the start of a new year comes the start of new opportunities to celebrate our local community. This is exactly what the Santa Cruz Symphony hopes to bring as they kick off their 2023 Concert Season with Translations, a special show featuring guest pianist, Hakan Ali Toker.

Translations will feature an expansive variety of exciting works, including Tumblebird Contrails, the sonic translation of our California coastal wildlife by local musician Gabriella Smith. The show will also include a lively rendition of Le Tombeau de Couperin by Maurice Ravel.

The highlight of Translations revolves around the world premiere of Civilization, a piece created by Turkish composer and pianist, Hakan Ali Toker. This stirring concerto was commissioned by the Santa Cruz Symphony and fuses elements of Western classical music with Turkish and other traditional themes, along with jazz. It requires the soloist to use two separate pianos, each tuned slightly differently, while he and the orchestra improvise particular passages. This means that each performance has its own distinctive variations.

Gabriella Smith, composer of Tumblebird Contrails
Gabriella Smith, composer of Tumblebird Contrails

The concerto has four movements. Each one expresses the evolution of human civilization, starting with the birth of order out of chaos. The first movement then transitions into stately themes, recalling victorious empires such as Turkish and Spanish. But a melancholy refrain repeats, symbolizing the candid essence of the human soul amid all that organized grandeur.

This refrain, as well as the opening theme, are in the common Middle Eastern and Eastern European mode known in Turkish music as Zirgüleli Hicaz makamı. The form is that of the traditional Turkish Saz Semaisi, which is a type of rondo in a 10/8 metric pattern. Roma themes represent the people who have held their spirits high despite discrimination, humiliation, and even massacre. The movement ends with collective mourning.

The second movement is a lament for the world’s great suffering and loss, especially from cruel and extreme forms of capitalism, in which the wealthy profit from the suffering of the poor. All this is avoidable if our civilization’s yields are used for humane purposes instead of for pure profit. Hints of Hungarian tzigane music underlie the theme, whereas the improvised piano solo is Middle Eastern.

Mr. Toker previously composed the basic theme for the third movement, which was featured in his jazz trio album “Taurus Mountains” (2020). It is a healing call to peace, love, and unity, bridging the previous movement’s sorrow and the joy of the next. This movement features a surprise – audience participation with calls and responses. It represents the global participation necessary for advancing to an ideal state of civilization.

The fourth movement celebrates world cultures, envisioning a time when human exploitation will cease to be desired or profitable. It culminates with a selection of disparate musical traditions, first separately and then joining into one harmonious melody. This has deep emotional significance, showing the ideal of diverse cultures with one loving heart supporting each other and embracing the world’s environment.

About Hakan Ali Toker

Hakan Ali Toker

Born in South Turkey in 1976, Hakan Ali Toker studied partly at Bilkent University School of Music and Performing Arts, Ankara. He completed his education in the United States at the Indian University School of Music, double-majoring in Piano and Composition. He also took courses in Jazz and Electronic Music there. Along with his formal education, he taught himself to improvise and play Turkish music, learning to play the kanun and accordion after the piano.

Throughout the nine years he lived in the United States, he gave many concerts. He broadened his spectrum by adding on ethnic world music genres while continuing his work in the classical field. He concertized, recorded albums, and took part in many presentations in schools and colleges with the bands Salaam (Middle Eastern), Silk Road (Central Asian) and Orquesta Son (Latin American music). During the same period, he began to play for silent films, and worked in creative projects with multimedia artists, dancers, poets, jugglers and acrobats.

The team is particularly proud that Maestro Daniel Stewart, on behalf of the Santa Cruz Symphony, commissioned this inspiring piano concerto. Their special thanks go to the commission sponsors, Richard Klevins and Gay Nichols, and Lee and Emily Duffus. Co-commission sponsors are Bob Edmund, Angela Chesnut, and Dr. Roger Knacke. The Symphony also thanks their concert co-sponsors, Ralph and DeAnne Boroff, and Melanie LeBlanc, along with their artist sponsors, Vance Landis-Carey and Robert Carey.