Financial Times

Aghet – Ağıt, Radialsystem V, Berlin – ‚A howl of protest‘

Helmut Oehring’s Massaker, hört ihr MASSAKER!, given its world premiere in Berlin last Friday, is dedicated to the protesters of Gezi Park in Istanbul, as defamed by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a 2013 speech. The piece is about the Armenian genocide, which Erdoğan denies.

Like its title, Oehring’s piece is a howl of protest against an atrocity that is often regarded as the first genocide of the 20th century. In fact, the Ottoman Empire’s cold-blooded slaughter of its own Armenian minority 100 years ago was preceded by Germany’s smaller-scale but no less horrific Herero and Namaqua genocide in Namibia, an act that could also use some reflection and atonement. But that was not the point of last Friday’s concert in Berlin’s Radialsystem V.

Bringing together musicians for the project, an initiative of guitarist Marc Sinan, was not easy, with many potential Turkish participants fearing repercussions at home. Dresden performers have their own worries, with up to 15,000 protesters gathering every Monday in the square by the Semperoper to bay for the blood of refugees and of Angela Merkel. The ability to ignore history’s lessons is ubiquitous. That makes initiatives like this all the more important.

As befits a meeting of such diverse cultures, the three pieces presented are radically different. Turkish composer Zeynep Gedizlioğlu’s Notes from the Silent One, also receiving its world premiere on Friday, is a whispered breath of painful fragility for string orchestra. It is a musical reflection on things left unsaid, and, by implication, on the unspeakable, infused with the kind of uncomfortable delicacy that makes you lean forward and take note.

Armenian composer Vache Sharafyan’s Surgite Gloriae, a concerto for viola, duduk, baritone, boy soprano, horn, bells and string orchestra, is a more outspoken work in every sense. A form of sacred lament, told in language which owes much to both high romanticism and Armenian liturgical music, it is narrative in nature, with the violist playing a cantor-like role and the haunting sounds of the duduk forming an emotional core.

Oehring draws on a more diverse and dissonant vocabulary for Massaker, hört ihr MASSAKER!, with a 12-voice women’s chorus who double as percussionists and a string orchestra which also speaks. Declaiming texts about his Armenian grandmother while playing complex guitar riffs, Marc Sinan makes an impressive figure at the work’s centre.

Emphatic conducting from Andrea Molino and sensitive orchestral playing ensured an evening of scrupulous music-making. The performers, with admirable courage, will take the programme on to Dresden, Istanbul, Belgrade and Yerevan.