1. What was the first piece(s) you learned? You studied sociology, was there a change of direction or was a career in music always on the cards?
I come from a musician’s family. There was always music at home. When I was 4 years old, I started to play the piano. The first piece(s) that I learned were German children songs (Kinder Lieder). Then I played the flute and guitar. I was always singing beautifully. After my adolescence I discovered my voice! My family supported me in order to develop it well. But university education was the most important thing in my family. My father studied law and music. For him having a good voice was not enough, I needed to learn the other sciences and research music. I never changed my direction. I was always focusing on music. But my sociology education gave me a new perspective of life and personal maturity. After my sociology education, we went to Salzburg with my father to receive professional singing lessons from mezzo soprano Hanna Ludwig. After that I could work with other teachers and with important artists such as dramatic soprano Carol Byers and pianist James Pearson in Vienna.
2. Is your family musical?
I grow up in a family of musicians, both my parents are pianists and they wanted me to be a pianist as well. My father pianist, Ergican Saydam, died in 2009 at the age of 80. He shaped my musical career a lot. I always tried to be as professional as he was. He was my first teacher. My Uncles were professional musicians as well. My oldest Uncle Prof. Erdoğan Saydam was a doctor and violinist, the second one Prof. Erçivan Saydam studied music theory in Paris and he was a first Counterpoint and Fugue teacher in Turkey. My youngest uncle Prof. Ermukan Saydam is still alive. He lives in Munich. He studied philosophy and music. He is a violinist and a composer.
3. Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?
I am a fanatic of mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig. I know she is very old now. But she made a wonderful career. She had an amazing voice and she was an academic singer. I learned o lot from her records. I can’t forget her Mahler and Strauss interpretation.
4. You appeared in the Istanbul Baroque Ensemble’s tercentenary production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas? Do you think this was your big break?
Dido and Aeneas is an opera for young singers to give them a wonderful stage experience. For me as a beginner that was a very good start. I could sing nearly all the roles. For example I sang Dido, Belinda, first woman, second woman, Sorceress, Witches. All these roles are in the middle range and suitable for mezzo-soprano and second soprano even for soprano. After finishing the Mimar Sinan University State Conservatoire, I only sang Dido as a complete role for mezzo-soprano. Dido is more suitable for a mezzo-soprano voice actually. I can’t forget Janet Baker’s Dido Aria ‘when I am late in earth’. One of my favourites!
5. What are your fondest musical memories, privately or performing?
I was attending a concert in Vienna. I was the only Turkish singer in the concert. I was singing Alto aria from the oratorio of Yunus Emre. I had a wonderful accompanist. The problem was the other singers were very professional and huge voices of Vienna State Opera House. They sang all the difficult roles and opera arias during the concert.
I was waiting at the back stage. Who cared about me! I had no chance to get any applause. My voice was big enough but I was singing only a small piece from my country in my language! Nobody knew me and Adnan Saygun. It was my turn. I went on stage. Enjoyed the silence for a second and started to pray. It was a great moment for me. I sang very emotionally. My pianist played so beautifully. Even though he wasn’t Turkish, he understood Saygun’s music and his idea very well. We couldn’t stop the audience! We changed the atmosphere. I think I made a very good impression. After the concert a lot of people asked me about Turkish contemporary music.
6. How was it like performing with your pianist father during the 1998 celebratory of the bicentenary of Schubert’s birth, giving a Schubertiade?
It was my first serious professional engagement. I was really very nervous. My father wanted me to sing from memory and with my own interpretation. He was very professional and a hard worker. It was a great stage experience for me. I learned a lot from him. Only a person with experience on stage could have that knowledge; it is impossible to acquire this experience at school.
7. Who are your favourite musicians and what in particular impresses you about them?
First of all, I like the 19th century and Romantic period. I also like Romantic poetry. I love to sing German lieder and Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Mahler among others that I like to interpret the most. I stayed in Austria for a while. I learnt German. I understand the language and mentality. In my opinion Schubert was the best!! He was genius and master of German song literature. Schumann captured the female sensitivity with his great piece (Frauenliebe und leben-A Woman’s Love and Life). Mahler was depressive, very intimate and extremely emotional. I sometimes cry when I sing Mahler’s songs.
8. What advice would you give to those who wish to embark on a professional concert music career?
First of all, I wish them good luck. Because there is huge competition everywhere in the world. We need an agent or agency to represent us. Of course music is a business; we have to read the contracts before we sign them. I would advice to make long term projects, be patient and work hard. Sometimes a diva approach doesn’t help but we have to be a diva on the stage! Social relationships and personal contacts are the most important things to go together with a concert career. We always need sponsors and sponsorship. Recordings are very useful; we always need a good presentation. For me the first priority is to keep a high musical level and personal qualities for a very long time. We have to practice all our lives. Only professionals practice.
9. How often and for how long do you practice?
A person who uses her voice needs to be very careful and do exercises like an athlete. Regular breathing and voice exercises are extremely important. I am practicing everyday. I am warming up my vocal cords half an hour, sometimes it takes longer and I am singing with a pianist as long as I can. I can’t practice for hours and hours. After one hour I take a break. I never push my voice. It is enough for a day.
10. Do you or would you like to teach music?
I do. I am teaching at the Istanbul University State Conservatoire. I am working with young singers. Teaching is a completely different area. I have to be very patient, good at psychology and not a routine teacher! I have to be very creative. It is a hard job and a big responsibility.
11. You graduated with a master’s degree in music administration; do you see advantages of this qualification in your current performing life?
To graduate in music administration gave me an academic background. Because of my master degree I could finish my doctorate. I have written a thesis project. I researched the Turkish composers of the past 86 years in Turkey, the pieces they have written for mezzo-soprano’s and how Turkish music has grown globally during this period.
As a performer I learned more about the music business, what happens in the music market?
How do producers, agents, concert organisations work? I met a lot of new people in my business. It was a very useful education for me.
12. Do you compose? What inspires you?
Unfortunately I don’t compose. I am just a performer. There is a huge difference between performing and composing. A performer has a huge responsibility. We have to be on the stage and use all the rules what composers demand from us and we have to interpret the music correctly.
13. Do you listen to ‘world music’, how wide is you taste in music genres?
I enjoy listening jazz music. As a classical artist I can’t listen to the music too loudly. But I enjoy dancing to South American and Latin music.
14. Do you have future projects in the pipeline?