Guest review by Mary Grace Nguyen

Extraordinary, unconventional, interactive and fun are the words I would use to describe the launch of crossover artist and classical music pianist AyseDeniz Gokcin’s new album, A Chopin Affair: Sonatas. On Friday night [March 9th] St James’s Sussex Gardens near Paddington was surprisingly packed – people had to find chairs and create their own space to sit down. The audience was a mix of savvy young artists, bright-eyed students, middle-aged professionals and family members keen to grab a glass of wine, relax and listen to some scintillating Chopin.


The Turkish classical pianist has produced crossover albums including music inspired by Pink Floyd and Kurt Cobain from Nirvana. She recently told me in an interview, “if you look at history, Liszt was a showman and Chopin was very much behind the scenes…they were very innovative and active. We don’t have that anymore.” Breaking the mould, Gokcin sees a gap in the classical music industry, “although I do crossover projects, they have a message. There are issues that I care about.” Gokcin is on a mission to change society, one way or other, whether it’s through channeling classical works in a unique way or transmitting a social message about issues she cares about through brand new music.

Sitting on the right of the stage, by the grand piano, was street artist and Instagram star, Zabou and conceptual artist from the Royal College of Art, Tommy Ramsay. Both artists accompanied Gokcin in the art of painting as she performed Chopin’s Piano Sonatas Nos. 2 &  3. One sonata after the other, Ramsay and Zabou presented their own depiction of what Gokcin had prepared for them on the piano keys through Chopin’s music.

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As a regular concertgoer, I am used to people turning off their phones beforehand, but here photography was almost encouraged. The audience took endless photographs of the entire event and despite the usual concert etiquette standards, it felt entirely acceptable for this relaxed and quirky event.

Although a late start, Gokcin was in good spirits and beaming with excitement when she came on stage. Presenting herself in a black laced skateboard dress, she expressed her personal relationship with Chopin’s music and her interest in his relationship with female writer George Sand with little hesitation. She recalled her years as a student, learning the sonatas and discovering the deep and emotional connection she had with the music from being away from home, performing in interesting and unusual venues such as the Kremlin in Moscow or a basketball court in Ecuador.

Piano Sonata No. 2 includes the immediately-recognisable Funeral March; a slow and sombre movement with a highly lyrical middle section. Gokcin’s dexterous fingers did not lose form in this movement. In fact, she appeared more focused and attentive. From the outset, the first two movements and last (Grave, Scherzo and Finale) are a feast of lyrical themes, varying tempo and dynamics. It was marvellous watching Gokcin perform with great control and confidence, sliding her fingers across the piano and never missing a beat.

The “Funeral March” sonata contrasts with the optimism and major key of the Piano Sonata No. 3. Gokcin encapsulated the serene and beautiful melodic tones in the Scherzo – Molto Vivace, and took the pace down a notch with the Largo. With Gokcin’s playing, she takes you on an infinite journey into the unknown, but you’d happily walk the same path for ever. Where the music was uplifting, Gokcin maintained the energy and where the notes needed emotional stock, Gorkin intimately fused with the music.

Interestingly, despite the more relaxed atmosphere, no one in the audience applauded between movements. Here was another of the very few concerts that celebrate the accessibility and inclusive nature of classical music. Maybe we need to take a leaf out of Gokcin’s book and find new ways to become more innovative.

Mary Grace Nguyen is a blogger and reviewer at TrendFem focussing on opera, theatre, dance, music and art. She holds an MA in Journalism from Birkbeck College, and graduated from SOAS with a degree in Anthropology and studied Modern Japanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). In addition to her blog, Mary has also written for various online publications including LondonTheatre1, LDNCARD, Fringe Opera, and Theatre and Perform.

Twitter: @MaryGNguyen





Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career? 

Apparently, my grandfather always wanted my mother to play the piano, but they came from a very humble background and decided that instead of going to a conservatory she would be much better off attending a regular school to become a doctor. When I was born, she was 35 and finally started taking lessons. However, it was just too difficult to continue lessons while working and looking after two kids, so she instead spent her free time with me playing games at the piano. I would sit at the instrument, singing and playing with full concentration for hours, which they thought was unusual for a baby. So my mother took me to her teacher, who kept refusing to teach me, saying my fingers were too short to start. She finally took me on when I was five-and-a-half years old, so my formal musical education began at her studio on the weekends.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing? 

I think that the ‘social environment’ is very important, as well as your upbringing. At my home there were two gigantic speakers that my father put up in the living room with much pride. It was always very important to be able to ‘to listen to music’ instead of playing something in the background. I think this made me an ‘active’ listener, paying attention to melodies and just generally being aware of what is happening. Music was also something that connected my family. Despite all the little fights we had, we would turn the music on to dance and laugh. I remember times when the four of us would all wear sunglasses and dance to Rock ’n’ Roll in the living room. My dad had some killer moves – he would spin me in the air. My sister also loved singing – although her voice was pretty awful. (She is now much better and often sings to her own baby son!)

On the weekends when I took lessons, it was much more formal and disciplined. My first teachers made me understand the huge responsibility you take on as a performer, when you are playing a great piece by a classical composer. From the beginning, I knew it was not something you could take ‘lightly’. To me, playing the piano was serious: it needed so much detailed analysis, character and effort. I remember playing a Chopin Waltz when I was 7 years old in front of hundreds of people and it felt like my heart almost stopped backstage. I still get that feeling; but I wouldn’t call it ‘stage fright’ because I always loved going on stage, yet it is the enormous respect you feel towards all these amazing composers and you, as a pianist, should represent their work the best you can, so the audience can understand it.

I think, I took lessons following these two approaches: 1) using music to communicate and to have fun 2) taking it seriously and approaching it with respect and admiration

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? What advice do you have for other musicians? 

There are amazing talents I’ve met at my schools and it is almost always the same path for musicians: you teach, take part in competitions and accompany people to earn money. Yet, when you do what you have been educated to do (give concerts), they expect you to do it for free. It is not seen as a career, as you do not earn money for the hours you spend practising the piano, and this is such a pity. I see so many of my colleagues spending so much time wasting their skills on things they would not do if they were provided with better financial opportunities. They also do not have any time left to create something new because they spread themselves too thinly. (The tragic truth is even an entry level secretary gets paid more than an experienced professional musician)

This is because funding for arts and music gets cut first whenever there is a financial crisis, and without sponsorship and/or government support it is difficult for musicians to prosper.

Thanks to the digital age, I am lucky to have so many amazing fans around the world that connect with me through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and make it possible for me to have a busy concert schedule!

I would like to see the same happening to my friends and I think the greatest step they can take is to use self-initiatives, take risks and communicate with their audiences more.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?  

I did a peace concert in Moscow along with 11 other pianists, all from conflict-affected countries. It was at The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (the tallest Christian Orthodox church in the world), and was an event where people from different religions, races and political sides came together to promote worldwide peace through classical music. It was so touching, and I had a great time working with everyone there.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

I think each venue has its own unique characteristics. I love it when there is good acoustics and a great piano, yet it is also the people who listen to you that affect your performance. I like it when the audience members are willing to interact with me and this can happen the most in the unexpected parts of the world. For example, I was 12 years old performing at a small Greek town when after the concert an old Greek man approached me and told me the lines from a Turkish poem he had memorized, following a “tesekkurler” – (‘thank you’). I guess the magical experiences are created by people, not buildings or pianos. My favourite venues are those where I can inspire as many people as possible through music.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I listen to a lot of romantic classical music as well as oldies, rock and pop music up until the early 2000s. I love performing Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Liszt. I also love Beethoven because he was such a revolutionary guy.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I admire those ‘giants’ who are sadly no longer with us, among them are Vladimir Horowitz, Arthur Rubinstein, S. Richter, Rosalyn Tureck and Artur Schnabel. Currently, my favourite pianists include Menahem Pressler and Arcadi Volodos, who always make their performances ‘magical’ and ‘inspiring’.

I also admire Lang Lang for being so open-minded, creative, hugely talented, for inspiring so many young people with his music and for his entrepreneurship. I think we need more people like him in this world.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

My first concert with orchestra when I was 9, playing J S Bach’s 5th Keyboard Concerto was so important to me. It was the first time I showed I was able to handle this work. It was also very stressful, as there were more than 700 people in the audience hearing me for the first time. In the end it was a success. I received a huge toy dog from an audience member as a present, which I still keep.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

I think the most important thing is to be honest with what you do. Do not try to hide your own characteristics, in fact exaggerate them! I hear so many people who play so robotically just to be ‘perfect’ – yet their music becomes nothing more than a ‘photocopy’ of other people’s performances. It is important to be spontaneous on the stage and really let your emotions control your performance.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I am working on the rest of my Pink Floyd arrangements for the full album to be released this summer, along with chamber music performances and solo classical concerts. It is very busy, arranging, practicing, rehearsing and performing. I also like doing some creative and not-so-classical productions to really enjoy music.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Happiness to me means always having a project ready to inspire people with.

What is your most treasured possession?

I do not treasure objects. I treasure people, and the time you spend with them. Most of it is with those who inspire me and open my eyes, help broaden my thinking and allow me to see the world differently.

What do you enjoy doing most?

I love getting reactions from audience members after concerts. It reminds me of why I chose this career.

What is your present state of mind?

I am in a state of ‘production’ – focusing a lot on creating my own path.

AyseDeniz Gokcin is giving a private recital in London on Tuesday 14th May. Programme includes her own ‘Pink Floyd Lisztified’ and Liszt’s  “Apres un Lecture de Dante”: Fantasia Quasi Sonata, plus works by Chopin and Mozart. Further information and tickets here

AyseDeniz’s Billie Jean Smooth Criminal Thriller Mashup – a tribute to Michael Jackson on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of his performance of ‘Billie Jean’ on the Motown Records 25th anniversary tv show.

AyseDeniz recently completed her Masters in Piano Performance at Royal Academy of Music in London with Merit, under the tutelage of Christopher Elton, receiving the Maud Hornsby Award and completing the LRAM Teaching Certificate. In 2009, she finished her Bachelors Degree at Eastman School of Music (Rochester NY) in the studio of Douglas Humpherys, where she received Howard Hanson and Clements Scholarships as well as the John Celentano Excellence in Chamber Music Award.

AyseDeniz made her concerto debut when she was nine, with Gordion Chamber Orchestra playing J.S. Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 5. At thirteen, she had already performed as a soloist with various orchestras under conductors including Ibrahim Yazici, Fahrettin Kerimov, Antonio Pirolli, Cem Mansur, Engin Sakpinar, Ertug Korkmaz, Rengim Gokmen, Vladimir Sirenko, and Kirill Karabits.

Upon receiving an invitation from Nikolai Petrov, she has performed in Kremlin Palace (Moscow, Russia). She has also appeared in L’Eglise (Verbier, Switzerland); Duke’s Hall, Kings Place (London, UK); Central Park of Culture and Resort Open Air Hall, Lysenko Hall (Kiev, Ukraine);  ‘PepsiCo Hall’ Texas, ‘Kilbourn Hall’ New York, ‘Harris Hall’ Colorado, ‘Lehmann Hall’ California (USA); Bellapais Antique Monastry (Northern Cyprus) and most of the important art centers in Turkey, including the Sureyya Opera House during the 38th Istanbul International Music Festival.

She attended prestigious summer festivals including Verbier Academy; Music Academy of the West, Aspen Music Festival and School, PianoTexas, Goslar Konzerterbeitswochen, Tel-Hai and Beijing International Music Festival and Academy, studying with renowned piano pedagogues such as Menahem Pressler, Jerome Lowenthal, Arie Vardi, Yoheved Kalpinsky, as well as Lang Lang. Having been invited by the world renowned Bach interpreter Rosalyn Tureck to Spain, AyseDeniz had the privilege to study with her for a semester during her last years.

AyseDeniz has appeared on various TV channels, radio stations and in magazines including CNN Turk, NTV, TRT, The Voice of Russia and Vogue Turkey. She is currently working on solo and recording projects, as well as giving concerts to raise money for charities around the world.