Discoveries: Berlin Counterpoint

May 4th, 2013 by d.b.  - 

With horn, bassoon, clarinet, oboe, flute and piano, the sextet Berlin Counterpoint assembles a rather unusual set of musi­cians. This diversity is matched by a diversity of personal back­grounds – and results in an exceptional ensemble to discover. We had the pleasure to talk with pianist Zeynep Özsuca.


Berlin Counterpoint


Berlin Counterpoint consists of six musicians from six different countries. How did you end up together? And why this strong relationship to Berlin?

The six countries that we individually come from are England, Germany, Romania, Turkey, Slovenia and the United States. However, we all met here in Berlin. Some of us came here initially to study, and others came for jobs here in the city. Since Berlin is such a melting pot of people, especially musicians, we thought it appropriate to have also an ensemble that involves many different countries. This brings a great diversity also to our music making, bringing impulses from each of our respective cultures.

As for our strong relationship to Berlin, this is where it all started for us as a group. This is where we met, where we first made music together, which is why we also felt compelled to add Berlin into our name.


The combination of instruments is rather exceptional. Is there any original musical literature for this lineup, or do you mainly rely on your own compositions and arrangements?

There is actually some wonderful repertoire for this instrumentation, although it is not all well known. We have the Poulenc sextet of course, which is basically our most famous work, but then we have fantastic gems, like the Ludwig Thuille sextet , Gordon Jacob sextet, and Albert Roussel Divertissiment. Along side those, we do play arrangements, as with our flutist Aaron’s transcription of Till Euelenspiegels lustige Streiche, originally by Richard Strauss, and our clarinetist is in the process of bringing Elgar’s Enigma Variations to the sextet repertoire.

We also like to foray into the world of commissioning new original works. This summer, for the Istanbul Music Festival, we have a piece being written for us by the esteemed Turkish composer Kamran Ince, who is writing the work based on stories about the Turkish version of Till Eulenspiegel, called Nasreddin.

One other thing in which we take great pride, is varying the sound world with different combinations of our instruments. This means in any given concert we could have a huge sextet piece paired up with an intimate trio, sometimes even going down to duo or solo, if the program begs for that kind of sound. This then opens up vast other worlds of repertoire for us to explore.


In June you will be taking part in the Istanbul Music Festival. This is particularly interesting, because in Western Europe we know little about the classical music scene in Turkey.

This is actually a really exciting concert for us! Not only have we never performed in Turkey before, but also we get to play in a wonderful festival at the beautiful Süreyya Opera House. The classical music scene in Turkey is of course not as big or glamourous as it is here in Europe or in America. But there’s certainly quite a lot happening through festivals such as the Istanbul Music Festival or individuals who are putting a lot of effort into creating a high quality on-going scene. There are some wonderfully talented, intelligent musicians out there who have devoted their whole careers to make the classical music scene in Turkey move forward. It’s not easy what they do! But it’s the only way one can keep it alive in a place where the western classical music is not a part of the culture.

That being said, classical music is not a completely foreign concept in Turkey. There are many conservatories along with opera houses and symphony orchestras all over the country. There’s a wonderful mixture of musical personalities where the understanding of western classical music and traditional Turkish music come together and create such interesting sounds. This spans from Turkish composers who integrate unique rhythms, modal structures or instruments of their own culture into their classical compositions, to Turkish players who bring just that extra something into the way they interpret the works of the western classical composers.


The cultural community was recently shocked by the case of Fazil Say. Does this affect your expectations for your concert in Turkey?

I believe and hope that the only way this horrible incidence could affect us and our concert is that we get a big audience of people who are even more encouraged to support us musicians. There is a lot to say about Say’s case and staying silent about it will only encourage those who will continue and try to take away our freedom of speech. There’s something morally and fundamentally wrong there, no matter what country in the world. I think as musicians it is our duty to rise against such incidents, either verbally or through our music. We hope that the audiences in Istanbul feel the same and will join us in showing the world that we will not be silenced in the face of such bigotry.


Berlin Counterpoint Works by Roussel, Bach, Liebermann, Connesson, Sweelinck, Thuille
May 5th, 20h – Villa Elisabeth, Berlin


What are your upcoming projects?

Well, we’ve already talked about our trip to Istanbul, and the composition that we have there. One of our most exciting projects at the moment is our upcoming concert series in Villa Elisabeth. We have rented this beautiful hall and are planning to continue with three or four concerts a year. This is a chance for us to perform exactly the repertoire that we wish, and experiment with different ideas, hopefully working with guest artists and maybe managing to incorporate some different mediums into the mix, who knows! Our series kicks off this coming Sunday, the 5th of May at 8 o’clock. We’re really looking forward to it!


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