LIVE REVIEW // Katrina hears Ayşe Gӧknur Shanal and Benjamin Martin in Recital


Ayşe Gӧknur Shanal and Benjamin Martin in Recital
Alex Theatre – The Lounge, St Kilda, 22 October

Ayşe Gӧknur Shanal and Benjamin Martin’s recital was introduced by their friend and fellow musician David Weisinger. David spoke of human values – truth, integrity, and willingness to engage in conversation – and how the evening’s performers bring their values to the table both inside and outside their music careers.

The passionate, truth-seeking, and creative exploratory approach to their artform shone through in the pair’s recital. They combined individual mastery and their unique collaboration with audience engagement. As one of Australia’s leading opera singers, Ayşe brought her versatility to the intimate setting of The Lounge in the Alex Theatre. Ayşe and Benjamin’s performance transported the audience on a journey through continents, passions, and human conflicts as their personalities brought these musical stories to life.

From my personal conversations with Ayşe online, I have learnt that she and Benjamin (pictured above) make a priority of reaching out and engaging with their audience, examining how their music reflects the human condition.

Ayşe’s rich, clear, and effortless soprano complemented the expressive brilliance of Benjamin’s piano with his golden bell-like tone. Their expression across the widely varied program ranged from the ethereal and sublime to the raging and stormy.

The program began with Manuel De Falla’s Siete Canciones Populares Españolas (Seven Spanish Folksongs) covering a range of geographic origins and subject matters. Ayşe’s voice showed strength and pithy earthiness, concluding with the suite’s wild, fierce, and vengeful final song Polo.

The next item was Richard Strauss’ Morgen (Tomorrow) – a song with a message of new hope. I was conscious of a sense of mystery dawning, and of the magic of Benjamin’s performance. This was followed by a dazzling performance of Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade, incorporating a powerful climax.

Among the other numerous items on the program were one of Benjamin’s original compositions Ragamuffin. He first announced that this song was about a child who had been abused. While there was no formal trigger warning to be found alongside the booking information, this personal address to the audience did mean that listeners had an opportunity to understand the content prior to hearing the song. The words sung detailed the story of a mother being distressed at her son’s own distress, trying to reassure him that nobody wished to cause him harm.

Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are, with the audience invited to sing along with the refrain, and enriched by Benjamin’s arrangement and embellishments of the piano part; and Turkish folk song Drama Köprüsü (Drama Bridge) by Yalçın Tura, with its lilting rhythm and simple haunting melody.

The program concluded with a cheeky Turkish song Uzun Kavak by Muammer Sun, in which Ayşe played traditional wooden spoons that were handmade in her grandmother’s hometown.

The recital was independently organised and funded, so venue had been booked for a limited duration. But finding there was time to spare, the performers treated the audience to a much-appreciated recap of one of the program’s items: O Mio Babbino Caro from Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini. Justice to this immensely popular aria was given through Ayşe’s sweet tone, flowing expression, and lingering climactic notes.

Ayşe and Benjamin then spoke directly to their audience about the importance and value of music in society, and gave an open invitation for us all to join them to celebrate!

This performance demonstrated the way these two performers consider it important to live – and bring that life experience into the music. In turn, this made their music come alive, and made it real and honest.

Ayşe and Benjamin worked to bridge the gap between audience and performer, and at the end of the concert the soprano addressed the audience with her thoughts on the power of music to “celebrate humanity, celebrate arts – a service to humanity – to evoke the conscience, to inspire, to uplift, to help provoke thought, to heal, to bring people together, to break down barriers, to unite everyone. It’s the ultimate expression and language of love”.

“Music is a very vital part of society and civilisation. Where a civilisation is advancing, there you will see the arts thriving; there you will see that society is involved and is participating and is supporting arts. That’s the measure of a civilisation,” Ayşe shared.

These words reflected David’s opening remarks: “It’s not common for such high art [….] to be so available to the public.”

Image of Benjamin supplied.

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