Music of "Mystery and Joy" with Conductor Nisan Ak

Oct 17, 2019

Nisan Ak, conductor of the Bruch Chamber Orchestra.
Credit Bradley Fuller / South Carolina Public Radio

Those who insist that speaking about music is akin to dancing about architecture would do well to take a few preliminary steps with Columbia-based conductor Nisan Ak. A native of Istanbul, Turkey, Ak knows that a little preparation before taking in a performance can go a long way.

In this interview that aired Tuesday, October 15th, Ak speaks with SC Public Radio’s Bradley Fuller about the works she will conduct for the Bruch Chamber Orchestra’s upcoming “Mystery and Joy” concert. Included on the program are Richard Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, as well as Felix Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides Overture, Op. 26 and Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64.

For Ak, Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, also known as “Fingal’s Cave”, is a stunning musical evocation of the awe-inspiring landform that the German composer visited while touring Scotland's coast as a young man.

“The whole piece is about the feeling—what [Mendelssohn] got—when he saw the cave,” Ak says. “When you do listen to it, I think you can hear the waves.”

Ak is also captivated by the concert’s second featured work, Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll.

She finds the composition an enigmatic one that rewards the listener on repeated hearings. That initial sense of mystery is in keeping with the work’s original purpose as a private expression of love to the composer’s wife, Cosima.

“Wagner wrote this piece and premiered it in Lucerne at 7:30am at the first floor of their house with a fifteen-piece orchestra as a birthday present to Cosima. So, he woke Cosima up with this piece. It’s so beautiful. It’s so romantic.”

Ak also highlights Wagner’s skillful use of “The Three Rule” at the outset of the composition.

Concluding the program is another work by Mendelssohn—his Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64. Overall, Ak feels that the concerto reflects Mendelssohn’s signature style as a Classicist among Romantics. Some elements of the work fall in line with expectations already well-established by the time of the work’s premiere in 1845, while others take the listener by surprise.

“I think the most interesting thing, for me, about the concerto is the ending,” Ak says.  She explains that a three-movement concerto labeled as being in a minor key would typically feature a minor-key last movement.

“Mendelssohn is building all these expectations for you, and then the third movement starts. The third movement starts in E minor…for a minute. Then--plot twist! It’s in E major. I love it. I love it.”

The concert will be given at 7:30pm on Friday, October 18th, in the W.W. Hootie Johnson Hall at the Darla Moore School of Business in Columbia, and is presented by the Robert S. Handler Charitable Trust. Violinist Ari Streisfeld solos for the Mendelssohn Concerto.