Live Improvisations From Concerts

Live, from a recital given in 2007 at TRT Ankara Radio Station

Live, from a recital given in 2007 at TRT Ankara Radio Station

Live, from a recital given in 2007 at TRT Ankara Radio Station

Birkaç Türk teması üzerine doğaçlama: Üsküdara Gider İken, Ah Bir Ateş Ver, Ilgaz, Yine Bir Gülnihal

(Canlı, 2007’de TRT Ankara Radyosu’nda verilen bir resitalden)

Cellist Benyamin Sönmez was one of the greatest virtuosi to come out of Turkey. In late 2011 he passed away unexpectedly, at a very young age,. One of the pieces that we used to include in our concert programs together was the etude version of Paganini’s famous variations, rendered for solo piano by Liszt-Busoni. I used to play this piece alone, in the middle of our otherwise duo concerts.

After Benyamin passed away, memorial concerts began to take place yearly. These are mixed programs where Benyamin’s friends and admirers take the stage in turn, playing a piece or two each. One of these concerts took place on January 18, 2014 in Ankara, at the Çankaya Municipality Modern Arts Center, organized by Pınar Alpay, sponsored by the Sevda Cenap And Music Foundation. I was among the invited artists to perform that evening. However, I hadn’t decided on what to play beforehand. I had only given notice that I would improvise something. I decided on what to base this improvisation on, that very day, right before the concert: As I took stage, I grabbed a list of all the works being played that day in memory of Benyamin by his friends (I placed the concert program in front of me, made notes of a few of the tunes as a reminder to myself), also grabbed a few scores from people who had taken stage before me and some who’d be taking stage after me, even downloaded one of them from the internet, placing my phone on the the piano’s music rack -because the person to play that piece hadn’t arrived yet. Then I improvised, making a variation out of each of these tunes, fitting them all to the framework of the Paganini theme.  Hence, the first variation ended-up incorporating a motive from the Bach suite, the second variation incorporating Saint-Saëns’ Swan, the third variation incorporating another movement from the Bach suite, the fourth variation incorporating Telemann’s Viola Concerto’s Largo movement, the fifth variation incorporating the Allegro movement of the same piece, the sixth variation incorporating a motive from Scriabin’s op. 28 Fantasy etc. The rest can be figured-out from the program below.

The recording quality is low. However I wanted to share it here, because it was a one-time endeavor.

In memory of Benyamin…

Transformations (CD)

Improvisation on “Für Elise” by L. V. Beethoven

Improvisation on “Autumn Leaves” by Joseph Kosma

* Taksim meaning “distribution” is a term for traditional Turkish improvisation.

Improvisation on a theme from “Fiddler on the Roof” by Jerry Bock

* Sultaniyegah is a traditional Turkish scale/ makam. 

Saz Semaisi is an instrumental Turkish form, traditional played at the closing of vocal concerts.

The name of the composer here translates: Sir Arif the Pilgrim and K anun Player

It is unknown to me whether this song sang by the Afghan singer Ahmad Zahir is also composed by him or not. If you know who the composer is, please get in touch with me.

All tracks on this album are first-take improvisations except the last two, which are semi-improvisational arrangements.

Turkish Music on Piano (CD)

You are a song; you are now far away but either way one summer day you will come to me from the other end of the world, calling me your “altar”. Then we will spend many blissful nights under the pine trees!

( This is a humorous title combining the names of several songs in waltz time by traditional Turkish composers)

*Ilgaz is a mountain range in northwest Anatolia , Turkey.

Hakan A. Toker, piano

Dale Langdon, percussion

* Sultaniyegah is a traditional Turkish scale/makam.

Sirto is a traditional instrumental form which has common Turkish-Greek roots.

* Kasap Havası (Tr.) or  Hasapiko (Gr.) is a traditional line-dance originally danced by the Greek butchers of old Istanbul, nowadays also popular in Turkish weddings.

Hakan A. Toker, piano

Dale Langdon, percussion

Afghan Music on Piano (CD)

It is unknown to me whether this song sang by the Afghan singer Ahmad Zahir is also composed by him or not. If you know who the composer is, please get in touch with me.

It is unknown to me whether this song sang by the Afghan singer Ahmad Zahir is also composed by him or not. If you know who the composer is, please get in touch with me.

It is unknown to me whether this song sang by the Afghan singer Ahmad Zahir is also composed by him or not. If you know who the composer is, please get in touch with me.

It is unknown to me whether this song sang by the Afghan singer Ahmad Zahir is also composed by him or not. If you know who the composer is, please get in touch with me.

It is unknown to me whether this song sang by the Afghan singer Ahmad Zahir is also composed by him or not. If you know who the composer is, please get in touch with me.

It is unknown to me whether this song sang by the Afghan singer Ahmad Zahir is also composed by him or not. If you know who the composer is, please get in touch with me.

It is unknown to me whether this song sang by the Afghan singer Ahmad Zahir is also composed by him or not. If you know who the composer is, please get in touch with me.

It is unknown to me whether this song sang by the Afghan singer Ahmad Zahir is also composed by him or not. If you know who the composer is, please get in touch with me.

Compositions for Piano

No: 1
No: 2
No: 3
No: 4
No: 5
No: 6
No: 7
No: 1
No: 2
No: 3
No: 4
No: 5
No: 6

Piano: Hakan A. Toker

Darbuka: Mustafa Boztüy

Waltz
Serenade
Song Without Words

Piano: Hakan A. Toker, Marianne Ackerson

Hakan A. Toker as Performer

Assai Allegro
Adagio
Presto
No: 1
No: 2
No: 3
Vivace
Andante Cantabile
Allegro Scherzando

Compositions for Other Instruments

Violins: Jeff Leigh, Mark Levine

Taksim
Minuet
Song Without Words
Chifte Telli
Serenade
Gigue


In March 2005, while living in Bloomington, Indiana, USA; I met somebody online. What seemed to be a beautiful girl by the name Nadezhda Mayorova, who claimed to live in Cheboksary, Russia. I fell in love instantly! And so did she, according to her emails. I had not fallen in love for 3 years. Nor had I composed any music in 3 years. I used to write a waltz every time I fell in love. Two days after my first correspondence with "Nadezhda"; inspiration struck me as I was driving from Bloomington to Indianapolis, Indiana. Mostly while driving, singing her name over and over; on my steering wheel, I wrote the initial draft of this piece. A musical motive, or rather "germ" appears in over 200 places throughout the music, based on the contour of her name: a short note followed by a higher pitched longer note, followed by a lower pitched short note.

Over the next several weeks as "Nadezhda" and I kept on sending many passionate love letters (emails) and photos to each other, I worked diligently on my waltz; adding details, fine-tuning it; creating first a solo accordion rendition, then a piano-trio version. Love drove me into a creative delirium that resulted in not only this piece of music but also many other visual works of art I created night and day, inspired by her. I recorded both versions of the waltz with the help of my friends Danny Stewart (violin) and Lucio Amanti (cello); intending to send it to "Nadezhda" as a surprise present.

She said she wanted to come visit me in the States and claimed she didn't have the money for it. I was on the brink of sending her $1550 when I found-out -thanks to friends and the internet- that “Nadezhda” was but an illusion created in order to steal money from me. A common international spam which toys with the feelings of gullible men like myself, causing them to lose thousands of dollars sometimes. I was lucky not to lose any money…

When the void in the heart is so strong, it can make us delusional. It can make us go for the “wrong” target. Yet, even in those situations there is tremendous gain. I believe there's a reason for everything, and that even the most negative experiences could be looked upon as a learning experience; hence a "failure" can turn into a "gain" with a shift in perception. That's how and why; at the critical moment when I found-out what "Nadezhda" really was, I made the choice of letting go of whatever was already lost -instead of resentfully holding onto it- and being grateful for whatever was gained (the waltz, the lesson, and more). I wrote a final email to “Nadezhda” starting “Dear sir or madam”. I congratulated them for deceiving me for over 3 months, thanked them for bringing love back into my life, and making me write the waltz, and I forgave them in the name of Love. I do believe it was love, true Love that made me write this piece. Although the trigger was fake, the source which it helped me connect with, is real and endless.

May Love shine from within you, and illuminate your path and the paths of others!

 

 

Hakan A. Toker

Viola: Danny Stewart (originally written as violin part)

Cello: Lucio Amanti

Piano: Hakan A. Toker


In March 2005, while living in Bloomington, Indiana, USA; I met somebody online. What seemed to be a beautiful girl by the name Nadezhda Mayorova, who claimed to live in Cheboksary, Russia. I fell in love instantly! And so did she, according to her emails. I had not fallen in love for 3 years. Nor had I composed any music in 3 years. I used to write a waltz every time I fell in love. Two days after my first correspondence with "Nadezhda"; inspiration struck me as I was driving from Bloomington to Indianapolis, Indiana. Mostly while driving, singing her name over and over; on my steering wheel, I wrote the initial draft of this piece. A musical motive, or rather "germ" appears in over 200 places throughout the music, based on the contour of her name: a short note followed by a higher pitched longer note, followed by a lower pitched short note.

Over the next several weeks as "Nadezhda" and I kept on sending many passionate love letters (emails) and photos to each other, I worked diligently on my waltz; adding details, fine-tuning it; creating first a solo accordion rendition, then a piano-trio version. Love drove me into a creative delirium that resulted in not only this piece of music but also many other visual works of art I created night and day, inspired by her. I recorded both versions of the waltz with the help of my friends Danny Stewart (violin) and Lucio Amanti (cello); intending to send it to "Nadezhda" as a surprise present.

She said she wanted to come visit me in the States and claimed she didn't have the money for it. I was on the brink of sending her $1550 when I found-out -thanks to friends and the internet- that “Nadezhda” was but an illusion created in order to steal money from me. A common international spam which toys with the feelings of gullible men like myself, causing them to lose thousands of dollars sometimes. I was lucky not to lose any money…

When the void in the heart is so strong, it can make us delusional. It can make us go for the “wrong” target. Yet, even in those situations there is tremendous gain. I believe there's a reason for everything, and that even the most negative experiences could be looked upon as a learning experience; hence a "failure" can turn into a "gain" with a shift in perception. That's how and why; at the critical moment when I found-out what "Nadezhda" really was, I made the choice of letting go of whatever was already lost -instead of resentfully holding onto it- and being grateful for whatever was gained (the waltz, the lesson, and more). I wrote a final email to “Nadezhda” starting “Dear sir or madam”. I congratulated them for deceiving me for over 3 months, thanked them for bringing love back into my life, and making me write the waltz, and I forgave them in the name of Love. I do believe it was love, true Love that made me write this piece. Although the trigger was fake, the source which it helped me connect with, is real and endless.

May Love shine from within you, and illuminate your path and the paths of others!

 

 

Hakan A. Toker

The year 2006 was the 150th anniversary of Turkish – Italian diplomatic relations. Among the cultural activities was a Turkish Culinary Week entitled “Colours and Flavours of Turkey”, which took place at Hotel St. Regis Grand between October 26 and November 2. Kanun player Tahir Aydoğdu and myself were invited to perform daily, during this event; so we went. St. Regis is a sumptuous hotel, situated at the center of a magnificent city, bursting with history everywhere. We both stayed at this hotel, as well as performed twice a day, throughout the week, at its huge lobby, which contains a restaurant where the guests had a chance to taste Turkish delicacies. At our spare time, we went sight-seeing. When we left Ankara, it was gloomy and cold. Yet, it was still summertime in Rome! With our sunglasses and city map, we set out on foot, daily. For everything we wanted to see was within walking distance. We were only unfortunate for not having checked the weather before arriving, as we sweated in our long-sleeve shirts and pants. What wonders we saw! Magnificent structures, monuments, museums, squares dating from the most pompous times of the Roman Empire… More than what can be described with words. Must go see Rome! Here, I intend to skip many delightful moments of this memorable trip, and recount one particular experience that has touched me deeply. It was the 3rd day of our stay. We were visiting the famous Fontana Di Trevi, also known as the “Fountain of Love”. Tahir wanted to sit and have a coffee at a nearby cafe. I wasn’t feeling like sitting, so we decided to split for a short while. I walked up to the famous fountain. The scene was full of tourists. The sun was shining and the air was ever so fresh. Affected by all the beauty surrounding me, including the weather, a joyous feeling came over me: What a perfect day to fall in love! The only thing missing was a girl. In that mood, I stood right in front of the fountain and sang a song to myself. After I finished, I met up with Tahir. He took a photo of me in front of the fountain. Then I saw her… She was dancing by a wall, at the direction I’m facing in the photo, crosswise from the fountain. She was one of those street performers you can see all over Rome. She was dancing on one foot, very slowly, as if doing Tai-Chi; on top of a leafy pedestal, wearing a flowery dress, complete with a fake potted plant on her head. Her face was painted white, like a mime artist. A plastic butterfly was attached to one of her white gloves that she was wearing. There was no music accompanying her. Yet, it seemed as though she, with her elegant gestures, was dancing to the music of imaginary silence. I stood there, bewildered. I didn’t hear the crowd’s noise anymore. She noticed me. We gazed at eachother, while she went on dancing. I fell in love!.. I attempted to take a photo of her, but failed even to get a good shot, at the state I was in. It turns out, I had lost Tahir. He found me. We needed to move on. There was much to see until our performance in the evening. I threw a coin into the girl’s money cup and tore myself away, with much difficulty. We had barely gone a block, when I couldn’t resist going back. Asking Tahir to wait, I bought a piece of chocolate from a nearby store and took it to the girl. I felt like giving her something special, more than money. When I arrived, she was taking a break from her show. I introduced myself. She said her name was Emanuela. It turned out that she also played the flute and worked in restaurants with an accordionist. I told her I was also an accordionist, and that I would love to acompany her. She accepted. She said I was welcome to join her the next day at the historic pedestrian avenue (Fori Imperiali) leading to the Colosseum. Needless to say, I was dizzy with bliss! On our way back to the hotel, I started thinking about what kind of music I could accompany her with. Since I couldn’t accompany her with a piano in the middle of the street, I had to do it with an accordion. Luckily, I had brought mine with me to Rome! Albeit, how was I supposed to accompany that kind of a dance with this kind of an instrument? Only silence, or perhaps soft murmurs of the wind could accompany her, I felt. That day, I set out to compose a piece for her. The next day, I found her in a different costume. She was disguised as a mermaide, along with another friend of hers. They were lying motionless, with their eyes closed, on a simple yet fairy-tale-like setting, consisting of pebbles and seashells on a cloth laid out on the sidewalk. Many musicians, dancers and live sculptures were trying hard to make some money on that very popular historic pedestrian avenue. Some even had set-up their own sound system. Nevertheless, the largest crowd was gathered by the mermaides. Despite the fact that they seemed to be doing nothing, at first sight. One had to wait to see their show. Whenever someone would throw a coin into the cup, –which was accompanied by a piece of paper with an Italian poem written on–, one of the mermaides would open her eyes, with a very slow and elegant gesture, would pick-up a seashell or pearl from the ground and smilingly hand it to the donor. When they took a break, she saw me and invited me to join them. I sat behind them with my accordion. I tried to accompany them with very subtle music, like the “dance” they were doing. When they had their eyes closed, I imitated the sound of waves hitting the shore, with the air button of the accordion, making only a quiet breathing sound. When they would open their eyes and move; I would improvise a mysterious melody wth a few quiet notes. When they finished, we chatted for a short while. Emanuela introduced me to a singer friend and stopped paying attention to me. We parted. I made sure to get her phone number and email. In the days that followed, I constantly thought of her. Whenever I wasn’t playing at the lobby, I was working on her waltz. Our days in magificent Rome were numbered. It would’ve been a pity not to continue sight-seeing. Therefore I set out to accomplish both tasks at once. Everywhere I went, I brought the accordion along. While walking, I was composing and practicing simultaneously. For, once again, as it was while composing Nadezhda, I was writing a piece beyond my level as an accordionist. In order to play my waltz proficiently to Flower-Girl –we called her that, because of her costume–, who herself was a musician, I needed to practice hard and become a better accordionist in a rather short time! Tahir kept making jokes about my practicing, while I gnawed away his brains with it everywhere we went. In the mean time, I called Emanuela 2-3 days after our second meeting. I asked her out on a date. She refused, saying “I can’t”. I did not insist. It was obvious, I wasn’t her type. I still kept-on working on the waltz diligently. Even if on my last day in Rome, I wanted to go see her, give her the score of the waltz and play it for her. I had no expectations in return. I just wanted to declare my love through music and leave. I did finish the waltz on time, but I still couldn’t play it well on the last day! Instead of ruining the magic of the moment with a sloppy performance, I chose not to let her know at all. I decided that, even if years later, someday I will return to Rome, find her, and present her the piece. I kept on practicing the waltz after I returned to Turkey. I first performed it in USA, three weeks later, on my friend Sophia Travis’ live radio show. That is the recording on this website. Later I also performed it on Valentine’s Day on television in Turkey… Once again, after the Nadezhda incident, I understood that love is a phenomenon that is created and cultivated by the individual themselves, when suitable conditions are present. The object of love needs not be a “real” person, nor do you have to know them closely, or share something with them; in order for love to be valid or real. One could fall in love with a dream. And still, it is true love! Some don’t believe in love at first sight. But it is scientifically proven! Even the hormones we produce when in love can be measured today. I offer the Flower-Girl Waltz as another proof to you. I know that the magnificent city of Rome, the Fountain of Love and the weather had just as much a role as Emanuela herself –whom I had seen twice and spoken but a few words to– in the making of the short but intense, single-sided feeling of love I experienced in Rome!

1st Army Regional Band

Conductor: Major Kemal Tufan

1st Army Regional Band

Conductor: Major Kemal Tufan

1st Army Regional Band

Conductor: Major Kemal Tufan

Soloist: Hakan A. Toker, accordion (playing the violin part)

Salaam band

Violin: Megan Weeder

Viola: Dena ElSaffar

Clarinet: Joe Donelly

Ud: Victor Santoro

Kanun: Hakan A. Toker

Double bass: Ron Kadish

Darbuka: Tim Moore