FeaturedInterviewsIssuesSeptember 2021

Artist Interview: Nihan Atalay, Fluting in Turkey

Nihan Atalay teaches the flute at the Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul, and throughout the years she has been asked to collaborate with numerous orchestras and ensembles, both in Turkey and Europe. She participates in exchange and research projects with prestigious international institutions both in her country and abroad. Her skills enable her to tackle a number of different repertories: from contemporary to baroque music, she has played under the direction of Pierre Boulez, but also alongside prestigious names in the early music scene such as Florence Malgoire, Jonathan Rubin and Guido Balestracci. A pioneer in the use of historical instruments in her country, alongside her performing career she is involved in the promotion and diffusion of early music, with special interest in contact points and mutual influences between European and Turkish music. She is often invited professor as well as creative and research projects in Europe and Japan. She is Powell Flutes artist.

Can you give us 5 career highlights?

I was selected to Lucerne Festival Academy by Pierre Boulez. Playing in the orchestra conducted by the legendary Pierre Boulez was an unforgettable moment for me.

İn 2012, I first prize in a Baroque Flute Competition and Special Jury Prize at NFA.

I also had a big chance to play in Italy and in Turkey as a soloist with Modo Antiquo Baroco Ensemble which has several Grammy Prizes.

I was invited as a lecturer and concertist at the Kyoto Fine Arts University. This experience  was priceless for me.

The fifth highlight is that when I passed my last state competition which enabled me to have a professor title in my University.

How about 3 pivotal moments that were essential to creating the artist that you've become?

In fact, while answering your questions, I realized how much I have changed over the years and have become a very different person. First of all, meeting and working with Jose-Daniel Castellón for many years opened up great horizons for me as both an academic and an artist.

In addition, with the international projects we did at the Geneva Conservatory, it taught  me that the music cannot fit into a mold.

Finally, the concerts I gave in hospitals and in the poor parts of my country and the work  with young people developed me personally. I saw that art cannot belong to a single community and the music should reach all segments of society. I think these three important points formed my thinking blocks today.

What do you like best about performing

When I am performing I like being inside of the music and feel the music like waves on the sea and sharing this feeling with colleagues. I like being on the stage and telling what I want to say to the audience with my flute. For me the preparation before the performance is very exciting too. I enjoy very much rehearsing and sharing these beautiful moments with musicians.

CD releases?

I recorded two CD’s in the past. The first one is “Minerva’s Breath “ for Solo flute from the Baroque era to 20th century. I realized this CD with the traverso for baroque pieces and modern flute for pieces from 20th century.

My second CD is a research Project CD for my University. Let me explain it a bit about the research and the CD. There is no harmony and polyphony in Turkish music. The object was to find seven songs from seven regions from Turkey and harmonize those folk songs for flute, oboe and piano. This Project was a big success for my academic career and it permitted us to play our traditional songs with western instruments.

In the past I realized an anthology  of contemporary Turkish composers for flute and piano. Next year I wish to realize a CD of these pieces with my pianist.

What does your schedule look like for the next 6 months?  

Due to Covid, we had to cancel so many chamber music concerts and festivals. It was a very difficult time for us. Next year I am going to have those concerts that were cancelled in Turkey and in Romania. I am also planing to record the Turkish Contemporary Music for flute and piano. I wish to translate from English to Turkish “Performance Day Book” by Mrs. Cathy Herrera.

What are your goals personally?  Professionally?

Professionally I am planing to work and play for global problems like fires in the world, climate problem, violence against women and children.

I want to perform to draw attention to the global problems. I try to teach also to my students about these topics. Personally, I want to look at the world with more positive eyes.

What inspires you the most in life?

Nature inspires me. Especially being alone in the forest and listening to all kind of sounds. This opens my senses and fills my heart. Observing people and discovering other cultures inspire me a lot, too.

What has been your professional greatest challenge?

I had a very important concert in İstanbul with Geneve Baroque Ensemble in 2016. I remember that our violinist came to the concert hall just four hours before the concert due to her flight delay. We rehearsed only once before the concert. It was a very big challenge and very stressful for me.

Who were your music mentors?  and what did you learn from them?

My first flute mentor was Professor Mükerrem Berk who was one of the founder of İstanbul National Sypmhonic Orchestra, he was very galant and sophisticated man. He was very open minded  and a citizen of the world. Thanks to him I decided to continue my  studies in France.

After moving to France, my first French mentor was Mr. Frederic Berteletti. We practiced a lot with the sound, the flexibility, and position of the body and the flute. Mr. Jose-Daniel Castellon was my main mentor and I was in his class for several years. He was a very sensitive and emotional man, so when he was teaching and playing, his music and his sound were coming from a very deep place in his heart. We were often all together with other students in the class and our lessons were always very joyful and friendly. He taught me not only the flute and how to make music, but also how to play with soul and the heart.

On the other, hand I participated master-classes and work-shops with Philippe Bernold,Emmanuel Pahud, Sophie Cherrier, Michel Moragues,Vincent Lucas and Sandra Miller,  who taught me not only the flute technics but also how to be a good musician. They taught me musical phrasing, colors and musicality. I multiplied  my knowledge of contemporary music technics with Mrs. Sophie Cherrier.

I had my first baroque flute from Mr. Serge Saitta in Geneva Conservatory. Thanks to him I discovered baroque music era and he taught me baroque flute with all details and subtleties. He was an excellent professor with very deep knowledge about 17th and 18th century. He taught me almost the most important baroque chamber music repertory and baroque flute repertory. Lastly, I had two wonderful years in Schola Cantorum in Basel with great musician, Mr.Marc Hantai. He taught me to play with sensitivity but also about he mathematic side of music. I learned from him how to use the musical line with the harmony.

Can you give us 5 quirky, secret, fun, (don't think too much about this) hobbies or passions? 

I started swimming when I was eight months, so I was a baby swimmer. My big passion and my relaxing area is the sea. I am like a fish under water, I also love scuba diving. I am practicing and thinking about the respiration and the exhalation when I am under water.

My other passion is cycling, when I feel the wind on my face while I am riding my bike, I feel very free and strong.

We have so many street cats and dogs in İstanbul. My other daily routine is feeding street animals as it makes me so happy and I feel that I am serving others' lives.

I also like gardening, I have an avocado tree that I grew from seed and it took almost ten years. This is very unusual for the Turkish climate and I am very happy to have the fruits from this tree every year.

I like traveling and visiting museums and historical areas. Before the pandemic I was traveling a lot for my job.

Reading mythological stories inspires me a lot for the music and general culture.

What 3 things would you offer as advice for a young flutist?

It will be a classic answer, but first of all, I recommend that they work hard in a rational, pragramatic way. Listening our flute repertoire as well as different styles of music. This helps to gain new ideas to express  musicality. This is why I advice them to listen a lot of musicians from around the world. Now a days we have so many young flutist competitions online or live, and in my opinion, this is very good to take part in these competitions. But young musicians should remember that we are artists above all and that competitions should be a tool to improve ourselves, and not a goal.


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