Turkish Rhapsody

She looks tiny as she enters the huge café where we have decided to meet for a chat, but as soon as she sits down at the blue table, which happens to match her neat jacket, she takes up more space. A strong and gentle presence in her hazel eyes and frequent, careful smiles. And in the way she talks about what she loves – music.

Arzu Kirtil

Arzu Kirtil takes an admiring look at the journalist’s latte and comments that she once managed to drink a whole latte without breaking the heart the barista had made. Then she takes a sip of her own white jasmine tea and starts to talk – about music.

The concert she is giving at the Philharmonie in Luxembourg on May 6 is on her mind. Her twin sister, Gamze, is flying in from Istanbul, Turkey for the concert – not as a listener, but as a performer. Together the twins form a piano duo, and they haven’t been on a stage together in Luxembourg since 2008. This concert is also the occasion to launch their first CD “Arzu & Gamze Kirtil Piano Duos”.

A twin-sister piano duo may sound exotic, but Arzu just states matter-of-factly:

-Oh, there are many of them in Turkey.

Indeed, when Arzu and Gamze started to play the piano at age 10, twin-sister piano duos were what inspired them. The most famous ones are Güher and Süher Pekinel, who were discovered by Herbert von Karajan , and Ferhan and Ferzan Önder.

Turkey – knowing what you want to be

Age 10 is also when the twins leave their childhood home at an army base in Istanbul, by the Bosporus, where their father is a trainer for the Air Force volleyball team and their mother a music teacher.

They’re off to the Conservatory, a boarding school, with a scholarship in their tiny back pockets. There is only one piano at home, they need two. Besides, boarding school will be fine, they have each other, they’re already determined that piano is their thing, and they can go home on weekends.

-Our father would come to pick us up at say 18.15, and at 17.30 we would be waiting by the gate, bags packed.

They escape a few times and take the train home, proving their independence. But they’re also devoted and into their piano business. The school is always open to practice, but each day is a quest for free rooms, so the girls often practice early in the morning or late at night.

-But we had fun too, we played ball and would throw water balloons from the windows into the courtyard.

At school, their teacher is like a second father to them, and to this day one of their major influences. Around the time they graduate, he passes away. At the blue table, slim fingers fiddle with a bracelet and hazel eyes cloud briefly.

France and Luxembourg – for music and love

After 10 years at the Conservatory, Arzu goes on to do a master’s degree, still at the Conservatory, with Russian pianist Tatiana Pikaizen, and then both sisters go to Perpignan in the south west of France on a scholarship. They find that Perpignan is quite relaxed and not too cold. Paris will prove to be the opposite.

Even if they’ve always known they would play together, the girls have so far trained to be soloists. It’s important to stand on your own feet, and gain confidence and independence. In Paris, Germaine Mounier, a renowned teacher in her seventies who has trained many big piano names, will guide them as a duo, and she becomes another major influence. The duo feeling is challenging, you have to get the right sound, like in an orchestra, and you have to form a character.

L’Ecole Normale de Musique closes its doors on holidays, so Arzu and Gamze can’t practice all the time. Instead they walk the streets of Paris, once they even walk the distance of a metro line. The metro costs money and the girls are once again on a scholarship in an expensive city. Still, when they go home on holiday, they pretty much leave the piano alone.

-I think that to miss things makes you more productive, and that forcing yourself too much makes you less productive. Follow your instincts.

Arzu Kirtil

When they graduate in 2003, Gamze goes back to Turkey and becomes a teacher at the Bilkent University Faculty of Music and Performing Arts in Ankara. But Arzu…well, there’s this Englishman living in Luxembourg whom she met through friends during a stay in Scotland. Nothing really came of it then, but it just so happened that he had a training course in Paris some time later, and the two of them bumped into each other again. Now she moves to Luxembourg to be with him.

-My husband plays the trumpet in three jazz bands. It’s certainly a plus that he’s into music, but I’m glad he’s not a professional. Professional musicians are often individualistic and competitive, and the marriage suffers.

A long distance relationship

So, Arzu enters a long distance relationship. Not with her husband, but with her twin sister. She enjoys Luxembourg. Paris was so dramatic, busy and crowded. Luxembourg is calm and relaxing – and she learns Luxembourgish to overcome all language barriers.

-It’s easy to bump into people you know on the street, and easy to meet up with friends.

Getting into the musical world is hard though. Artists are often sensitive, and it’s difficult to sell yourself. But then she gets to know clarinettist Romain Gross, who even speaks a bit of Turkish, and he helps her meet the right people.

Today, Arzu teaches at the Union Grand-Duc Adolphe music school (UGDA) and at the Lycée Michel Lucius, and she gives private piano lessons. The school lessons are her only fixed thing, for the rest she wants to be free to decide. 9-5 is not for her. She could have had a different job though:

-I could have been an archaeologist – I can see myself as a female Indiana Jones!

The “what would have happened if…” thought intrigues her. But then there was never really any doubt. The other half of the duo being far away, she performs as a soloist and in various groups. Sometimes she’ll bring Turkey into the music.

– I like multicultural music performed by a mix of nationalities. Yet nationality doesn’t really matter, we all share the same language and come from the same place. It’s just a good exchange.

Interpretation for Arzu is about trying to get into the composer’s mind and at the same time bring her own ideas into the music, picturing the story that the piece is telling. She easily sees and remembers in pictures. For inspiration, she will turn to anything that will develop her creativity and imagination – jazz, world music, art exhibitions, books, yoga or t’ai chi…

Quite often she’ll join Gamze and travel in Turkey to give concerts, and it’s always nice to come back. For the music, for the human connection, for the food and for the weather – to be “nurtured by nature”. There are mixed emotions though:

-The country has changed, so I feel a bit alienated after 17 years. I meet friends there and remember how things were.

But when she gets together with her sister again, things are the same. They match. Only Arzu feels a bit nostalgic about Turkish composers and folk music, whereas Gamze doesn’t. She is living in that culture.

100% connected

Gamze has arrived in Luxembourg. The twin sisters quite automatically pick up where they left off. They’re pretty equal, so who plays what is usually a matter of preference and it sorts itself out naturally. They just need a couple of days to settle and get to know the grand pianos at the Philharmonie. Hopefully the pianos will match too, that’s important. Yet even two identical pianos coming out of the factory on the same day may not have the same sound – much like identical twins!

Arzu and Gamze are in sync, not just because they’re twins, but because they’ve been living together and have shared experiences for so many years. Some days they’re not as connected as other days though, and their moods may differ. But for a concert, they’re always 100% connected.

Arzu Kirtil

Arzu’s advice:

  • Listen to your breathing to help you relax. A lot of stress and stage fright comes from not breathing correctly, and it blocks you.

Arzu’s favourites:

  • Living pianist: Marta Argerich, Argentina.
  • Composers: Rachmaninov, Bach, Brahms and Schumann (to name a few)
  • Musical era: Baroque, but also early romantics and contemporary
  • Non-classical musicians: Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and Chucho Valdés (jazz pianists)
  • Performance: The Smolny Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia

-Russians listen more intensely, they come and see you and show their appreciation. A composer even gave us music.


Arzu and Gamze Kirtil  CD launch and concert  | Luxembourg Philharmonie Chamber Music Hall | 6 May 2014 20.00 |tickets €20 (full price) here or call box office 26 32 26 32


Text by Unni Holtedahl, April 2014. Photos by Lisbeth Ganer. © 2014 Lisbeth Ganer.



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