İhsan Özgen

kemençe, tanbur & rebab

İhsan Özgen is a self-taught musician, composer and teacher. He performs on a variety of stringed instruments including kemençe (kemenche), tanbur, lavta and violoncello. He has studied and mastered the works of Tanburi Cemil Bey who is considered to be the most creative Turkish musician and composer of this century. Among the instruments Özgen plays, the kemençe carries the most importance for him. Özgen has also studied the techniques of playing the violoncello and violin and has applied new techniques to the playing of the kemençe such as new left hand positions and bow techniques. Özgen’s fame is usually associated with his kemençe playing and melodic taksims (improvisations). Özgen’s kemençe playing brings out soft, full and rich sounds from this instrument.

İhsan Özgen was born at Urfa, southeastern Turkey, in 1942. Born into a musical family, he started to play Turkish instruments as a child. As an undergraduate he was interested in classical music and played violoncello and violin. In 1967 Özgen graduated from Istanbul University’s School of Economics and then joined Istanbul Radio. Later he would join Ankara Radio and in 1976, he became the head teacher for tanbur, kemençe and lavta at the Istanbul Conservatory.


During the early part of his career, Özgen’s work involved traditional classical music. Later, his musical ambitions led him to projects where he could combine classical music with new ideas and present it with innovative forms and interpretations. The result was global concerts with the leading musicians of Turkish classical music including Necdet Yasar, Niyazi Sayin and Kudsi Ergüner. Özgen also worked on renaissance music with Mutlu Torun. In 1993 he performed with Dutch improvising composers Guus Janssen and Theo Loevendie. Özgen lectured and participated in seminars on the practical and theoretical rules of Turkish music in Boston and at New England School of Art, Wesleyan and Maryland University.

Özgen organized the group Bosphorus in 1989. Bosphorus was composed of musicians from Turkey and Greece. The group gave many successful concerts in Europe. In recognition of his work with this ensemble, Ihsan Özgen was awarded the Abdi Ipekçi Peace Award in 1991. Anatolia is the latest ensemble established by Özgen. This ensemble’s repertoire includes music of Turkey as well as other Balkan and Middle Eastern countries.

Özgen is currently the head of the Stringed Instrument Department at ITU Turkish Music Conservatory, where he teaches in kemençe, tanbur and lavta playing techniques and history. He has also written a book in which he considers the significance of Tanburi Cemil Bey’s taksims. In addition, Özgen has many songs to his credit, composed in free form.