INTERVIEW - Canan Maxton

Mrs. Maxton, where this music passion comes from? Were there anybody interested in music in your family?

My love of music comes from my family. My mother had a lovely expressive voice and used to sing Turkish classical songs. My father was a fan of opera and had a good tenor voice and woke us up very early most mornings with opera arias. Rigoletto was his favourite opera. My sister was a good pianist and played with great gusto and agility, mostly pieces composed by romantic composers. She used to play a lot of Chopin. Like all good girls brought up in upper middle class families of Istanbul, I was required to play the piano too. We were all required to play “Für Elise” at varying degrees of competence. I loved music but I could not play the way I wanted to perform. I did used to practise a great deal. In addition to homework from school, I used to sit at the piano for at least an hour or two. My weekends were a nightmare, my piano teacher appeared not only on Sunday mornings to teach me and my sister and the miserable friend who lived upstairs, but my mother also asked her to stay for lunch. Although I did not comprehend the meaning of the word depression, I am sure, I was depressed every Sunday. Finally not being able to tolerate the bad music I was creating, I decided to give up abusing the piano. Had I continued to play, I think I would have become what I call “a piano typist”, meaning someone with learning and a degree of technique but not great talent. I am glad I did not continue. Good listening is immeasurably preferable to bad playing if one is not deriving a great deal of pleasure from the act of making music. People ask me why I do not play an instrument myself. Now you have the answer. However, I have no objection to other people not playing it well, yet persevering with it. It gives them pleasure and music should be pleasurable. That is what counts. Music to me is like breathing, Not a day passes when I do not listen to some sort of music. Above all I like classical western music, some types of jazz, popular music if it is the product of a wonderful voice, koto music and strange types like Mongolian nose singing among others.

At Notre Dame de Sion where I spent 8 years, I was lucky enough to have a great music teacher who made the rudiments of music history and appreciation of music great fun. To my shame I cannot remember her name. I listened to a lot of music at home while doing homework. We had a massive record collection because my father used to buy all the new releases he could get his hands on. I was a voracious listener.

You graduated from Robert College. Were you involved in musical activities there too?

When I joined Robert College Yuksek – now Bosphorous University, I found out that a friend of mine, Özhan Akçalı, a fellow student, was setting up the Robert College Classical Music Club. Our college was very generous and gave us the use of a room which we transformed into a good music club room. We put together an extensive collection of records, labelled them and looked after them. Bought a painting, a facsimile reproduction of a famous still life. My mother made the curtains and the settee cover. The members of the club could come in and listen to music in silence. We had rules which were mostly obeyed.

We also organised concerts at Robert College. Ömer Umar and Lothar Schmidt of ARKON, a music management organisation in those days, used to provide us with artists. They were impresarios and artists’ agents. We organised concerts for such names as Witold Malcuzynsky, Peter Katin, Julius Katchen, Mildred Dilling in addition to famous Turkish musicians of the day like Suna Kan and Ayşegül Sarıca among others.

During those years, Lothar Schmidt introduced me to wonderful musicians whom they brought to Istanbul to give concerts. I met Sviatoslav Richter, Wilhelm Kempff, Zubin Mehta, Andre Watts, Arturo Rubinstein and many others. A couple of years ago, Idil Biret very kindly gave me a photo of a group of us taken at dinner with Sviatoslav Richter.

When did you come to London? What have you done here? Did you involved in musical activities in London from the very beginning?

A lifetime ago in 1971, because I married an Englishman. I continued to listen to music as it was an essential element in my life. When my daughter was 4 years old I began to teach at the Associated Arts School in Wimbledon. It was a ballet school where the students also had to comply with and follow a high school education. I used to teach French, English, History and other subjects. I still remember a very talented young ballerina crying her eyes out because her parents could not afford to pay for extra coaching sessions which would have given her the necessary push to enter the Royal Ballet School. She did not get in because she could not afford to pay for extra lessons. She was better than most of her classmates but she was poorer. Not fair is it when young talent is wasted.

My musical activities in London were kind of forced upon me. I had attended a recital given by the Turkish soprano Tulay Uyar at the Turkish Ambassador’s Residence, when the Ambassador’s lady, Handan Haktanır introduced me to Tulay Uyar and suggested that I help her out by organising a concert for Tulay who did not have any exposure to the English public. I organised a concert at the Leighton House Museum, a most beautiful setting for a lovely voice and impressive stage presence. She was accompanied by Linda Ang on the piano. Linda was my partner’s piano teacher. She is an inspirational teacher and a very good accompanist. This concert was the beginning. Following it, I was requested by various charitable organisations to organise concerts. The Association of Turkish Women in Britain, ATWIB, wanted to help UNICEF with their Street Children Project. Ezgi Saydam, mezzo, very kindly sang for us together with some British musicians. One of these, an Irish soprano, Kim Sheehan whom we had met at the British Youth Opera, became the first musician to benefit financially to a serious extent from my activities. The money paid to Kim Sheehan took care of her rent for a year and she did not have to work long hours after college in order to survive. Now, Kim is an established soprano, much sought-after by international opera houses. She has sung at a number of charity concerts for us, last one being in March 2011. She is a real example of what can be achieved by lending a helping hand and solving a financial problem for a young talent. Since - approximately the year 2000, I have been organising concerts. Many of them were for cancer charities. Some concerts took place at my home where we served food and drinks to the guests following the music. I remember when Gülsin Onay, a very dear friend, offered to give two recitals on two consecutive evenings at my home for the benefit of the Anglo-Turkish Society and PCRF – Pro Cancer Research Fund - a charity looking after and doing research into breast and prostate cancers. We had a wonderful time and ate lots of good Turkish food. The Royal Marsden Hospital, Breast Cancer Campaign, Breast Cancer Research are among those charities who received funds from me.

How did the idea of establishing a Foundation came to your mind? Who were the contributors? What is the mission of Talent Unlimited?

Having organised so many concerts, it became obvious that that in order to do the work I was doing, I would have to set up a charity to become officially recognised and benefit from various advantages offered by a charitable state. I was involved in raising serious funds for And Karabacak and Lara Ömeroğlu – now Lara Melda – when I realised that a charity with its own account was an absolute necessity. With the help of some of my good friends, we set up Talent Unlimited which got registered in November 2010. We had the launch of our charity in October 2010 at SOAS, School of Oriental and African Studies, with the help of Dr Bengisu Rona. Dr Emre Aracı, a great friend, composer, conductor, musicologist and author, gave a talk on his then latest book, “Naum Theatre” – since then he has written another one “Kayıp Seslerin İzinde” [Seeking lost voices], a most evocative compilation of some of his articles. We had a most successful launch, many people joined Talent Unlimited as “Friends” by paying an annual fee.

What are your achievements so far?

Talent Unlimited is my brainchild but I have a group of friends whom I can call on for help. Hakki Gokmen and Leslie MacLeod-Miller are the other two directors in addition to me. Gürer Aykal, Sir Timothy Daunt, Gülsin Onay are the Patrons of Talent Unlimited. Bilge Erengül, Nuran Güngörencan and Naciye O’Reilly are the Trustees. Craig Encer is my faithful web designer and my wonderful friend Ayşe Dickson, founder of Ladybug Home Textiles, is my constant support. Ayşe and her husband Ted help Talent Unlimited not only financially but also by physically helping out with such tasks as dealing with the reception and serving drinks to the guests. Vicky Yannoula, pianist and founder of a sister charity AKOUSON Classical, will help in any way she can. She is a very dedicated soul to music and musicians. My other mentor is my partner Keith Beresford, a patent attorney by profession and a passionate musician and pianist by inclination. Keith is a wonderful accompanist to singers so much so that we got invited to Jordan and had the opportunity of visiting Petra so that Keith could accompany a couple of sopranos for the Jordanian-Canadian Free Trade Treaty Ball.

Since we began our work under the banner of Talent Unlimited, about 2 years ago, we organised a concert for the guitarist Cem Duruöz, then the next concert was for Meral Güneyman, pianist. I was told that our registration had come through at Meral’s concert. Then I got involved with Emre Engin, studying violin at the Royal College of Music. I organised a concert for him where he was accompanied by his teacher, a most accomplished pianist Alison Rhind. Mesruh Savaş, composer and Emre’s teacher attended the concert for the premiere of his work. It was a most successful evening. Then we had a big concert with 9 musicians, 3 of them being singers, for the joint benefit of Talent Unlimited and the Royal Marsden Hospital Charity. Following that concert Rusen Güneş, viola, very kindly gave a concert at my home to help Talent Unlimited. AyşeDeniz Gökçin, a future international star, a remarkable pianist, gave a concert for the benefit of Talent Unlimited in June, 2011.

Our next concerts are: Erdem Mısırlıoğlu, the Winner of the piano section of BBC Young Musician of the Year 2008, will perform in a programme of Beethoven and Liszt on 9 November 2011, Emre Engin and Paul Ulman will play the Spring Sonata by Beethoven at the end of January 2012 and our “piece de resistance” will be our traditional March concert on 15 March 2012 with a soprano, mezzo, bass, tenor and two pianists. As usual we shall have a big reception following the concert. For further fund raising we shall have perhaps a dinner where I shall ask people to come in costume or at least wear a hat or a feather in their hair or a historical outfit, and of course we shall have music too.

Those who are going to be beneficiaries of the monies raised by Talent Unlimited for this coming academic year are:

Emre Engin, violin, 2nd year at the Royal College of Music
Emre Ersahin, double bass, 1st year at Purcell School of Music
Clare Presland, mezzo, for a set of coaching sessions for Carmen
Cenk Karaferya, counter tenor, set of coaching sessions with Andrew Watts, vocal coach
Donat Bayer, in the process of finishing his Doctoral thesis.

Also substantial fees will be paid to Mısırlıoğlu, piano and Paul Ulman, piano. We help many other musicians with advice and such mundane things as finding a part-time job or lodgings.

Talent Unlimited concentrates its efforts on Turkish musicians, but we also help others like Clare and Kim Sheehan in the past. British musicians with limited means suffer as much as the Turkish ones, but they have the advantage of paying lower fees. EU students pay much lower fees at schools and colleges.

You are introducing Turkish musicians to the Londoners. How they evaluate the successes achieved in Turkey in a short span of time in the classical music, opera & ballet fields?

The schools and colleges are well aware of the fact that we, in Turkey, raise wonderful musicians despite the limitations of our facilities. Turks are talented. All our students’ need is money to help them along the path of their passion. They deserve not to have their ambitions thwarted.

The general public, is rather more surprised by the fact that we have a well established, although historically rather young western classical musical tradition. What is needed is more effort on the part of the Turks living in London to recognise the necessity of promoting our young musicians. Again the same old refrain; money money money...always money is necessary to promote our musicians. Concerts are very costly to organise when one takes into account the fact that tickets are relatively cheap and venue hire costs, receptions, printing are expensive. In my organisation, nobody gets paid. We are all volunteers. There is no director’s fees or petty cash!

If Talent Unlimited were to be properly supported by big Turkish businesses in London we could really do wonderful work in promoting the Turkish musicians and provide them with the necessities of life in London. It must be very difficult to remain dedicated to one’s cause and passion and remain without wavering along the chosen path if one has to work out whether a plate of pasta or a baked potato will be more filling. I am not talking about meat or fish. Musicians’ work is very demanding physically and they need to eat better.

So going back to your question, if we want Londoners to be marvelled by the sounds coming from Turkish musicians we need to put our hands in our pockets and help them.

Classical music community in Turkey came to know about you with your Figen Phelps’ interview published in AKOB about her documentary film on the Dame Ninette De Valois, Are there developments in her studies?

Figen needs money too, in order to complete her documentary. It is the same problem, lack of funds. Her documentary will be shown in İstanbul during the first week of November. If and when she decides to contribute further to the pages of AKOB, of course I will help her with another interview.

Talent Unlimited is to be a sample study for many persons and establishments. I personally think that there are many common things between the missions of AKOB and Talent Unlimited. I hope to encounter with you on some platforms in future for some joint venture projects. For example; some reciprocally organized concerts in London and in Mersin! I wish you think over this proposal to cement our future cooperation.

The sky is the limit! AKOB and Talent Unlimited can of course work on various projects together. Each project will need to be assessed for its own merits and a meaningful cooperation will need to be entered into. A lot of realistic hard work will be needed in addition to ambition and enthusiasm. Perhaps we can get help from the great names in the Turkish musical firmament. With their support, concerts will attract bigger audiences and larger amounts can be raised for the good of those who do not have the means to study music and do justice to their talent.

I receive quite a lot of heart-rending e-mails from young musicians who wish to buy an instrument, have their broken instruments repaired, buy a strong case for an instrument so that they can travel, or simply buy a bow or go to an audition in a foreign country or even travel within the country. Every time I have to refuse someone help, I feel like crying. Life should not have to be this hard for those who have so much beauty to give to the world.

Then, with your kind permission, I wish to let our readers know that, from now on AKOB and Talent Unlimited would be sister organizations… I wish you success in your studies…

I am delighted and most honoured that you wish to consider Talent Unlimited a sister charity. I am sure we will manage to do great things in the future. There are a number of brilliant young British musicians who would like to be involved in concerts/operas in Turkey. I have been giving the details of AKOB to various musicians to acquaint them with your organization. One day we shall see them in Mersin perhaps.

İhsan Bey, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to do this interview and helping to raise consciousness about my charity. I thank you also on behalf of the musicians I am supporting.

Interview conducted by İhsan Toksöz, editor of the AKOB Magazine published in the city of Mersin, Turkey by the Mediterranean Opera and Ballet Club - a NGO for the promotion of Opera, Ballet and Classical Music.