Hakan Ali Toker is a creator-interpreter. He gets his daily bread out of music in both the materialistic and spiritual sense of the word. He loves best to create-interpret with the piano, although all kinds of media of expression are under his belt -he uses them when called for. Hakan -prefers to be addressed by his firt name- creates-interprets sometimes alone, sometimes with others; always sincerely, yet always considering the listener. He has works in diverse genres. He uses music to open his heart to people, and also sometimes to entertain them; in short, to make contact. He fills his cup regularly with everything that pleases him among his findings from the East, West, from the past up to the most recent. Naturally, his audience get their share. He has won the hearts of his listeners mostly through his Turkish music interpretations, interactive improvisations containing musical jokes and inter-genre crossovers, and his compositions, most of which aspire to a melodic and harmonious structure. He is occupied with inner journeys as well as outer ones, as he still roams this world.
In his own definition...
He was born in 1976 in a clinic in Adana, as the child of a family living in Mersin. His childhood was spent partly in Mersin and partly in Saudi Arabia, where he lived for a while due to his father’s occupation. At the age of 8, his family got him a small electronic keyboard. Hakan began first by making random noises on this instrument, then playing tunes by ear, eventually improvising and composing. He got his first keyboard lessons from Meral Hamamioğlu, in Mersin. He began his formal musical training in 1988 at the Istanbul University State Conservatory cello department(1). In 1989 he trasferred to the Bilkent University School of Music and Performing Arts Preperatory School piano department(2). After his second year in highschool he was also admitted in to the composition department. Thereafter he continued as a double-major.
He began to concertize while a student, at age 15, with a recital he gave at the Mersin Hilton Hotel. At 17, he played his own works with the Sochi Municipal Orchestra and he gave concerts with this orchestra introducing symphonic and traditional Turkish music to the Russian public. That same year he became the youngest artist to take stage at the Istanbul International Music Festival. The following year he became the first Turk to perform at the Lvov Festival or Virtuosi, and with the solo recital he gave there, he introduced the Ukranian public to his own compositions as well as to those of other contemporary Turkish composers.
In 1996, after completing his 2nd year in college in Bilkent, he took a break from his formal studies and went to Iceland to study piano privately with Anna M. Sigurðardóttir. In 1997 he was admitted to Indiana University School of Music (USA) where he continued his studies(3). In 2000 he graduated from the piano and composition departments of this institution. He also took classes and lessons on jazz and electronic music while at IU. He is mostly self-taught on the fields of improvisation and Turkish music. He learned mostly by himself to play the kanun and accordion. He also gained experience playing other keyboard instruments(4).
Between 2000-2006 he worked with Bloomington/Indiana/USA-based bands Salaam, Silk Road and Orquesta Son, giving concerts featuring Middle Eastern, Central Asian and South American music respectively; with them he took part in many educational seminars, symposiums, festivals and similar events. In the mean time he continued to work as an accompanist quite frequently, continuing to give classical recitals. During this time he began to play piano for silent movies in Bloomington for the Ryder Film Series. It was also during those same years that he got to take part in many creative projects with dancers, poets, trapeze artists, jugglers, electronic music and multi-media artist. Moreover, he participated in experimental Avant-garde concerts with the band Qwertyt, of which he is among the founding members. During this period he recorded two solo albums “Transformations” (2003) and “Turkish Music on Piano” (2005) and took part in 3 of Salaam’s albums.
In 2006 he went back to his homeland and started the band Tanini with kanun player Tahir Aydoğdu and ney player Bilgin Canaz. He recorded two albums with this band: “Touches” (2008, Kaf Music) and “Touches II” (2011, Kaf Music). With Tanini he gave many concerts in Turkey and abroad; to many national and international statesmen/women, in such prestigous venues as the Presidential Palace of the Turkish Republic, the US National Reserve, Presidential Palace of Malta etc. Tanini still continues these activities and frequently takes the stage upon invitation from embassies in foreign posts.
In 2008 during his military service he seized the opportunity to get to know the symphonic wind ensemble (marching band), he composed various pieces for this ensemble and concertized with them. These pieces have been performed again also after his military service by various military bands of the Turkish Armed Forces.
In 2009 he founded a musical comedy duo called Al Dente with the Belgian flutist Christian Plouvier and performed a big show for children on Childrens’ Day (April 23rd) at the Ankara Festival, which was well acclaimed. But this project did not continue.
In 2011 his solo album “Alla Turca Alla Toker” came out under the management of Levent Conker and sponsorship of Finansbank. That same year he took part in the album “Season of Love” by Dilek Türkan (Kalan Music). That year he also became the first artist to give recitals featuring pianos specially (microtonally) tuned for Turkish music (at Istanbul Technical University, Middle East Technical University, Işık University). He was aided by Fikret Karakaya and Dr. Ozan Yarman regarding tuning. As a follow-up to his work in this field, in 2015 he gave another recital in London on the microtonal keyboard instrument called Fluid Piano invented by Geoff Smith, performing Turkish microtonal music for the first time entirely accurately on an acoustic keyboard instrument.
In 2012 he set-out to interpret traditional Turkish music through the language of the symphonic orchestra with his project entitled “Senfonik Fasıl”. That same year he founded the band Toker Trio with doublebassist Mehmet Sönmez and percussionist Mert Baycan and began giving jazz concerts with them.
In 2013 he was honored with the “Our Living Values” award by the 1st Mersin Cultural Festival committee.
In 2015 he became member of the newly formed band Abra, giving concerts with an emphasis on poetry. The following year he appeared in the band’s album “Poetly Loves” (Kalan Music) as pianist and arranger.
In 2015 he founded the production company H&H along with percussionist, composer, sound engineer Hakan Çetinkaya and began to record and produce his own albums as well as those of other artists.
In 2016 he founded the trio “Üçiz” along with cellist Murat Süngü and percussionist Hakan Çetinkaya and produced their first album “Tales of Three Hearts” (H&H Productions) featuring their own compositions. This band began to concertize together with Turkish vocalist Eda Karaytuğ. That year Çetinkaya also became the new drummer of Toker Trio.
Toker is among very few pianists in the world today who in their recitals keep alive a nearly-forgotten tradition of the Western world since the early 20th century, namely, the art of improvisation in classical music.
Up-to-date he has performed in 27 countries; some being solo appearances, some with various ensembles and orchestras, most of them with his band Tanini(5). Among the prominent festivals he has taken part are the International İstanbul, Ankara, Mersin, Side music festivals (Turkey), Blacksea Festival (Russia) and Indianapolis Jazz (USA) Festival. Among the artist he as had the honor of sharing the stage are Munis Şerifov, Yıldız İbrahimova, Benyamin Sönmez, Dilek and Derya Türkan. Among the conductors he has worked with are Valentin Tatarenko, Tadeusz Strugała, Ender Sakpınar, Dağhan Doğu, İbrahim Yazıcı, Cemi’i Can Deliorman.
Toker who also likes to teach, gives masterclasses, workshops and private lessons in various educational institutions at home and abroad. Among these activities, ones that have taken place in Fine Arts Highschools across Turkey (solo and with Benyamin Sönmez), İzmir Dokuz Eylül University (solo), Edinburgh University (with Tanini), Zagreb Conservatory of Music (solo) and the Groznjan Summer Jazz School of Jeunesse Musicale Croatia (solo) are worth mentioning.
He has over 200 compositions and arrangements in the genres of Western classical music, jazz, traditional Turkish music, wind ensemble music, popular music and electronic music. One of his compositions has been recorded and released among works of other Turkish composers on an album entitled “Richness of Tones” by the viola-accordion duo Duo Mares (2012, Çağsav).
In addition to his musical life, Hakan A. Toker has hobbies. He holds and interest in Origami and other handcrafts. He writes on self-help issues at YeniBoyutlar.com (in Turkish).