Necdet Yasar Ensemble
North America Tour

The program of the Necdet Yasar Ensemble features selections from two related yet distinct musical traditions from Turkey - Ottoman court music and the music that formed a central element in mystical Sufi rituals. Throughout the Ottoman period from before the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 to the collapse of the empire following World War I, court music enjoyed the patronage of sultans, viziers, and other members of the elite, who might themselves compose or perform. Murad II, Bayezid II, Ibrahim, Murad IV, Mehmed IV, Mahmud I, Selim III and Mahmud II were either composers or great lovers of music, and their deep involvement in this art during their reign goes far beyond an official interest. The conquest of Constantinople (now Istanbul) made the city a bustling urban center that attracted musicians active in the elite Islamic cities of the Middle East. Ottoman court music was composed not only by Muslim Turks but also by members of other religious and ethnic groups in the empire, such as the Greeks, Armenians and Ottoman Jews.

A fundamental feature of the classical music of the Middle East is the makam, a complex modal construct which was brought to a high level of development under the Ottomans. Music plays an important role in the spiritual practice of all Sufi orders but is integral to the spiritual practice of the Mevlevi order. From the 16th century and possibly earlier, the Sufi Mevlevi order of dervishes used the makams in their ceremonial rites, in which music and dance helped to lift the participants to the greatest intensity of mystical exaltation. Makams are musical tonalities that, in the Sufi healing tradition, are considered to have specific effects on the physical and spiritual aspects of the human being.

Based on the same Pythagorean principles of construction as Western modes and scales, Makams predate equal temperament, and closely reflect ancient intonations. Classical Turkish composers and performers regard makams as rules of composition rather than simply scales. While any makam may be reduced to scale form, their application is most significant in the context of a melody. The ancient intonations of makams appear at different scale degrees, according to the particular makam in use, and are microtonal in measurement. The result is a diatonic melody containing a pitch or pitches which are "out of tune" by standards of equal temperament. But to the trained ear, makams are a highly organized approach to pitch interpretation which lead to a variety of colors and sensations.

The classical instrumental concert suite is characterized by the alternation of the precomposed form (peshrev) and the improvisation (taksim); interspersed with the peshrevs are also lighter forms called "semai". The peshrev is characterized by long rhythmic cycles (for example 28, 32 or 48 beats) and is divided into four sections, each frequently in a different makam. The taksim, often performed as a solo, involves extremely delicate nuances of intonation and striking changes in tonality.

The program also features a vocal suite (fasil) composed of light classical songs (sharki). In the latter part of the 19th century, as court patronage for the classical concert suite declined, the sharki (which uses shorter rhythmic cycles than the courtly suite) was developed as a lighter suite form for urban entertainment. Ottoman and Turkish classical music derives it’s richness and sophistication from this fertile exchange between secular, spiritual and courtly sources.


Tanbur player Necdet Yasar is a living master of Turkish Classical music and was recently honored as a Distinguished National Artist. Considered one of the finest instrumentalists in Turkish music in the second half of this century, he is a virtuoso on the tanbur (a long necked string instrument). Born in 1930 in Nizip, a small town near Gaziantep in Turkey, Yasar began his musical education as a young lad on the baglama, a rural folk instrument. Overwhelmed by a performance by Mesut Cemil, he gave up the baglama in favor of the classical tanbur and, while still attending university, he joined the government run Istanbul Radio. He performed for the radio with the Classical Turkish Music Chorus for 30 years under Mesut Cemil, the man who had first inspired him to pick up the tanbur.

Necdet Yasar is well known for his familiarity with all aspects of the Turkish musical repertory: classical, Sufi and modern. His ensemble, ideally composed of six musicians or more, is at ease with a repertory that includes rare musical styles from the oldest traditions dating back to 13th century to the modern forms of the 20th century. Widely acknowledged as the grand master of the Turkish tanbur, he developed an advanced right and left hand technique to produce a louder sound on the relatively quiet musical instrument. Unrivaled at playing taksim (instrumental improvisations), Yasar is also famed for his subtle renditions of the composed peshrev and saz semai and renowned for his technical knowledge of the makam system, in particular the intricate distinctions of melodic progression and microtonal intonation. His improvisations display rich and amazing modulations, masterfully employed transpositions, an advanced technique and, of course, his talent in creating impressive melodies. Yasar has always been able to produce original improvisations and avoid stereotyped musical phrases. Truly, Necdet Yasar is a poet of the tanbur, who recites makamic verses.

Yasar was the principal student of Mesut Cemil Bey, the preeminent tanbur player of his time and the son of the legendary Tanburi Cemil Bey, a tanbur and kemenche virtuoso who can trace his lineage back through the centuries to the greatest players of the Ottoman court. Necdet Yasar has twice been a resident artist in the Program of Ethnomusicology at the University of Washington (1972-73 & 1980-81) where he lectured on the makam system of Ottoman classical music. He has toured throughout the world as a concert artist and ambassador of Turkish classical music, performing in Europe, East Asia and North America. Yasar founded the Istanbul State Turkish Music Ensemble in 1988 and was the director until retiring in 1995. He has performed music with almost all of the prominent musicians of Turkey, such Mesut Cemil, Munir Nurettin Selçuk, Cevdet Çagla, Sadi Isilay, Yorgo Bacanos, Haluk Recai, Niyazi Sayin, Ihsan Özgen, Alaeddin Yavasca, and Bekir Sidki Sezgin. He will be touring and conducting workshops in North America in 2002.

"Excerpt from an article by Bülent Aksoy, Bogazici University, Istanbul"

1959 Gaziantep - Niyazi Sayin, Yesari Asim, Necdet Yasar
1981 Illinois - Necdet Yasar, Niyazi Sayin

click to listen Suzidil Saz Semaisi

(Composers: Sedat Öztoprak & Fahri Kopuz) Necdet Yasar (tanbur), Derya Türkan (kemenche), Yurdal Tokcan (oud), Göksel Baktagir (kanun)

From CD "Necdet Yasar" (Kalan CD 102, 1998) © 1998, Kalan Muzik
Used with permission