I was born in Istanbul and I grew up in a Ladino speaking home. As a Sephardic family we had a distinct identity and culture. I always wondered why our culture was different from the rest of the country I was living in, even though my community had been living in Turkey for hundreds of years. Later, I discovered many more aspects of my culture, apart from our language Ladino which came from the Iberian peninsula.
When I visited Portugal and Spain I saw the roots of my culture, the food, the way of living, the family relations and the music. I realized how unique this was, keeping the culture of a distant land without having any contacts for generations.
I studied classical singing and I performed leading roles in many operas. This unique culture where I grew up in had such a strong effect on me that I put a lot of effort investigating Sephardic folk songs quite seriously.
I had two uncles who were amateur musicians, so I had a lot of music at home while I was growing up. Singing all types of music including sephardic songs or 'kantikas' was part of my life. After graduating from the classical voice department in Hartt School of Music in the USA, I moved back to Turkey where I sang in the Izmir State Opera for 16 years.
I got my Masters and Doctorate degrees at Dokuz Eylül University. I decided to do my thesis on Sephardic songs. Since I am a classical musician, I decided to contribute by transforming these folk songs to universal song repertoire in the classical style. The idea was to perform them on a classical music stage as art songs. For my thesis we arranged several songs into classical form for voice and piano, on the other hand I also researched other arrangements written by different composers. I sang these songs in my classical concerts usually with piano accompaniment and for special events with small ensembles and orchestras.
I was so excited and happy when I was contacted by the Oporto Jewish Community in 2017 and was invited to take part in a memorial concert called ''Tradition and Modernity – Tribute to our Jewish Musical Heritage''.
The law of return for the Sephardic Community of Portuguese ancestry is quite an important event that happened in our lifetime after many generations. To be invited to perform in this important event and taking part in the preparation of the special concert program was going to be a great honor for me, considering that many Portuguese political leaders and many international Jewish community representatives would attend and the concert would take place in the prestigious Casa da Musica.
My friend and colleague, contralto Judit Rajk from Budapest with whom I performed many concerts was also very happy to join me in this event. She provided all the scores of the Sephardic songs for orchestra arranged beautifully by composers Shimon Cohen and Arie Bar Droma. We worked with the conductor Antonio Saiote in the planning of the concert.
As Sephardic songs arranged for voice and orchestra we chose:
Excerpts from Seven Sephardic Folk Songs by Shimon Cohen
1. Yo m'enamori d'un aire
2. Hija mia mi querida
3. Estas casas
Una noche al lunar, 10 Ladino songs for voices and string orchestra
2. Avrix mi galanica
3. La novia destrenza el pelo
4. Prohibido el paso
5. La roza enflorece
6. Puncha puncha
7. La Serena
8. Quien es este de la ventana
9. Anoche mi madre
10. Adio Querida
We also included in the program three excerpts from the Hebrew version of Esther's oratorio by Handel (texts in Hebrew by Jacob Saraval, the Rabbi of the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam), which is a very rare but meaningful work for Jewish culture.
We ended the concert with Ose Shalom, by Nurit Hisch (arranged by Gyula Fekete) and The Exodus Song, by Ernest Gold (arranged by Ballint Laczko) which cheered the wonderful audience.
This concert which took place on 16 November 2017 has been one of the most special and memorable concerts that I have done, accompanied by a young orchestra ''Orquestra Sinfónica da ESMAE''. It's historical significance was high and the concert program was well suited. But what I remember the most is the warm hospitality of the Oporto Jewish community throughout our stay. Am Yisrael chai.