To fulfill her mission: “Making contemporary music more approachable for everyone,” Turkish Pianist/Composer Seda Röder, has tapped into internationally seismic changes of accessible entrepreneurship in the arts.
Röder brings her boundless energy and entrepreneurial instincts to all of her endeavors in her native Istanbul, Europe, and the US, giving lectures, recitals, and performance collaborations while building an interactive platform for contemporary musicians from Turkey. Her website: “Listening to Istanbul” shares its title of her 2010 CD, which pioneers piano compositions of Röder and six other contemporary composers from Istanbul, commissioned and performed by Röder herself.
Röder’s album cover quotes: “I am listening to Istanbul, intent, with my eyes closed.” This is how Orhan Veli, the great Turkish poet of the 20th century, began his most celebrated poem about Istanbul…Seda Röder listens to Istanbul once more, intently, with open ears and eyes for an emerging new era. What she hears in 2010 while the city bears the title of the ‘Cultural Capital of Europe,’ are captivating and exciting sounds of a new generation of Turkish composers. Filled with energy and innovative creative force, their music represents the vivid and quickly changing atmosphere that the melting pot of Turkey radiates into the world.”
As she shares with me, Röder considers her commitment to creating a democratic and enlightened society in Turkey, between Orient and Occident, being subtle rather than overtly political. Even though she writes a column for the Turkish Art and Music journal, “Neo Filarmonie,” engaging in themes related to national and international art politics, the content that she writes is mostly about new music programs, deficits of new music in festivals, and the support of contemporary composers today. While Röder’s website, which features biographies, CDs, an international concert schedule, and general information about composers active at the Bosporus, is supported from money arriving from Istanbul (ISGYO – Istanbul Real Estate Investment Trust), the Harvard Associate in her explores her expertise as lecturer, in her podcast series, Blackbox, on iTunes.
Röder’s original ambition was to engage within the whole world of music, whether she accomplished this by graduating from the Salzburg Mozarteum’s performance exams with distinction, intensively working with Brahms specialist Gerhad Oppitz at the Musik Hochschule in Munich, exploring the principles of performance practice of orchestral music, or working with period instruments.
Bridging cultures has become second nature for the proponent of a new music scene in Istanbul, where she often performs and engages in music-related events. Just this past March, Röder was involved with a performance undertaken by the Austrian Culture Forum at the Austrian Consulate General in Yenikö.
In 2007 she arrived in Harvard via Salzburg, and researched piano music from Alban Berg and Arnold Schoenberg, leaving as an Associate before finding herself again back in Salzburg. Culture and music history in Austria are clearly formative for Röder’s style, as is evident by the repertoire she chose to record for her debut album; her first album’s content descends from Mozart to Berg, three composers who were all active in Vienna. Last year, Röder performed often in the US on both the East and West coast, but this year’s performances are more concentrated in Salzburg, and Röder will be back in Istanbul to celebrate the Austrian Cultural Forum’s 50th anniversary in May.
When it comes to familiarizing audiences with the differing language of 20th-21st century composition, Röder is thoroughly inventive. By presenting atypical work by different composers, including herself, Lei Lang, Beat Furrer, Morton Feldman, Helmut Lachenmann, and John Cage, she surprises her audiences with the realization that behind the “typically” shocking and outrageously avant-garde styles of these artists, there can also lay tame, even classical elements. For example, John Cage, who is famed for his jarring experimental compositions, can also produce romantic outputs like his “In a landscape,” which recalls a strong heritage of Debussy’s images. Röder’s programmatic choices bring into focus the idea that these composers made personal decisions to take their music in the direction that they became known for, and that vivid realization can change an audience’s perspective drastically.
Röder is an all-round musician who believes in the power of bringing together different art forms such as video, dance, and music. Her musical work draws upon a sonic vocabulary that consists of sounds produced with the help of electronic, as well as acoustic devices including e-bows, mallets, and metal coins used on the keys, strings, and body of the piano. I heard her showcase performance at Munich’s “Classical: Next” in the summer of 2012, which left me with the impression that she is a fine pianist, no matter what repertoire she chooses to perform. Additionally, directly after performing, she could be found talking personably about her performance, and her entire upcoming concert schedule.
In her recent co-production with SEAD, “Same room, same time – John & Merce,” Röder pays tribute to the sonic imagery of Cage. The piece is entitled “False Memory,” and it refers to the psychological phenomenon déjà vu, recalling an event that seems to be part of a larger-than-life memory, but may have never necessarily occurred in reality.
Röder was called a “master of contemporary piano art” by classical master Alfred Brendel, who was especially impressed by her dialogues with silence. Röder’s “Beethoven Now!” program saw her creating electro-acoustic cadenzas for Beethoven’s piano concertos in improvisation, and was a transcendent example of her iconic exploration of old and new.
Röder’s work Black and White, which will have its premiere at the Tirol Festival “Klangspuren” in September 2013, exemplifies her focus on the piano. As a composer, Röder searches for new definitions within piano repertoire both connected to Austria as a land of great piano tradition, and contextualized within the piano music of today’s composers. “The Austrian Sound of the Piano” is the sub-title of her Black and White Statements, an extravaganza in search of a new piano sound that focuses in on her world of the piano, and reminisces of twelve Austrian composers. These composers find themselves vis a vis an instrument of which language seems tragically to have said everything there is to say. The urgency and drama in Black and White is palpable, smothering the air with a threat; it is almost as if the piano must learn a new way to speak, or risk eternal silence. The program understands itself as an answer to previously unasked questions, a collective reduction of the piano’s essential qualities that aims to explore its essence anew.