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A Mediterranean Journey: An Interview with


By J. Bal

I met and interviewed internationally acclaimed performers, soprano Camille Zamora and guitarist CemDuruöz in Phoenix, Arizona in March of 2007 while they were there to perform their program "A Mediterranean Journey," which featured Flamenco inspired music from Spain, Italian aria,s as well as Turkish and Sephardic folksongs. As a celebration of music around the world, they performed classical Argentine Tangos, which embody Spanish and Italian cultures in their roots in addition to indigenous and African rhythms. The event was co-sponsored by the Bosphorus Art Project and the Turkish American Association of Arizona.

Q: How did the two of you meet and begin collaborating?

Camille: It’s funny, we met through our school, we both did graduate work at Julliard. I was actually wanting to do a project like this. I was asking around, “do you know of a guitarist that would like to collaborate with a singer?” Several people said, “Oh, Cem Duruoz.” I think you had just graduated.

Cem: Yeah. And also we had indirect connections, I was doing my debut at New York, Carnegie Hall, we knew about each other.

Camille: That’s right, we knew about each other.

Cem: And then at some point, we got in contact.

Camille: We got together and started to make some music. You had collaborated with other singers.

Cem: Yeah, in the past when I was in San Francisco and other places, different types of singers, male or female.

Camille: And there’s just such a mix, both in the classical realm and popular music, folksongs, tango.

Cem: I think it’s a great combination, I mean as a guitarist I worked with flutists or violinists, but voices, you know, are what I enjoy the most.

Camille: Yeah, there’s something about it.

Q: So, I was looking over some of the lyrics and it seems that love and heartbreak are some common themes in the songs you perform. What is the inspiration behind your song selections?

Camille: Yeah, this has certainly been fun this time, you know, this program which is based on a program we also did in New York, because we just sort of took as our touchstone this idea of literally a Mediterranean journey, finding our way through Mediterranean countries. It’s an endless body of music. Certainly, there are countries that we haven’t even begun to explore yet musically, but um yeah, just really kind of this idea of okay let’s do a survey. Let’s present together these sounds and in the same way, you know, if you were to go to a huge feast and be able to try the foods of all these different lands, to see what it’s like to experience all these sounds side by side. What is it like to hear a French expression of love or heart break right next to an Italian expression of love and heartbreak, next to a Turkish expression, next to a Spanish, next to a Judeo-Spanish expression? It sort of illuminates the nature and I think the particular character of each country in a lot of ways, you can hear them side by side.

Cem: And also it’s partly our individual backgrounds contribution too, for like Camille having, you know, your father is Spanish, right?

Camille: Exactly.

Cem: So, she’s basically bilingual for Spanish and she knows the repertoire really well for the songs. I came up with a few Turkish song ideas and then I did a lot of studies for tango. We selected some tangos together and things like that. The subject of the songs, I mean, it’s ironic in a way because they sound really sad, but some of them are not. For example, tangos always have sad lyrics, but when you go to a tango party everybody is really happy. The point is the fact that the lyrics are sad does not mean that the music is sad always. It depends, some of the music is really sad, but the lyrics don’t necessarily correlate with the mood of the style. So, in a way maybe by putting sad lyrics they get it out of their system and then they enjoy the dance and music afterwards, for tango I talk, you know, it’s not true for everything.

Camille: I think that’s a great point.

Cem: For tango that’s the way it works, for other things it’s probably different.

Camille: Even if you think about top forty popular it’s a lot of times, ‘baby I’m dying for you,’ that doesn’t literally mean I’m in a hospital dying for you, it’s sort of a way of expressing and I think you know even from a Shakespearian sense maybe dying is an expression for something else. There are all sorts of layers of meaning and certainly a couple of the songs we present, when you experience them you will feel a melancholy, but more often than not you will feel other things maybe more the passion.

Q: What do you hope the audience takes away from your performance?

Cem: I would say a cultural journey in the sense that to be able to compare all these different styles, which have that Mediterranean warm feel to it. Even tangos, I mean we put the tangos because they are also related. First of all, most of the Argentine people migrated from Italy and some Spanish culture came through Habanera and things like that, so actually tangos have the Mediterranean feel also. So, but it’s actually we thought a great opportunity to compare all these different harmonies and rhythms like in Turkish, you know, rhythms that we play are different than let’s say the flamenco inspired Spanish pieces we perform or the melodies in the Sephardic songs have a Middle Eastern feel to it and it was probably correlated with Arabic music indirectly maybe and the Turkish music, too. So in that way you know the audience can make interesting connections between the music and see differences and similarities between all these cultures. We hope that’s what they could feel.

Q: Cem, how do you feel about the persecution of writers and artists in Turkey for insulting Turkishness? Have you ever felt compromised as an artist in your self-expression because of that?

Cem: Personally, I never had an issue with that. Personally, I never felt any pressure or any problem, but I think I follow the news and everything and I think, of course I don’t approve of it. I mean, I think it is not a good policy, but it’s easy to from outside, it’s easy to say, you know, it’s not good we should be, we should support free speech and everything. Of course we should, but we need to look historically as to why this has been like this and how it can be changed. And I guess we are a pretty young democracy; it’s not like, you know, Turkey has been around as a republic, you know it’s only, it’s not even a hundred years. So, basically Ataturk tried to unify the country after the First World War by creating some principles, which tried to unify the country by making it feel homogenous. Then, you know, I think it maybe had some unintended consequences like you don’t want to accept other languages or things like that, but I think Turkey’s breaking out of it gradually, it’s just, I think it’s just going to take a while. I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight. But of course, I mean I think it’s sort of ridiculous what happened to the authors for example. On the other hand, you know, I sort of, I’m not surprised and I sort of think it’s going to take a little bit more time for people to become more mature and really support free speech and it’s sort of too easy to say from a country like the US where, you know, this has been discussed for centuries and centuries. Um, but I think it needs to sink in a little more gradually and it’s going to be a while because, you know, also some outside pressures from like Europe also have unintended consequences like we are trying to become EU members, but then because of Turkey’s passing many laws pretty quickly like, you know, freedom of speech and different languages and things like that, but then it’s also causing a rise in nationalism in an extreme sense, too. And that’s sort of dangerous, too, I think it needs to go at a more balanced tempo.

Camille: In a way, I do think part of the thing about the role of art, artists as social critics or as social barometers, barometers for sort of what’s going on in the culture. I mean, I think that’s a very, it is true in so many ways; artists are always going to be on the front lines.

Cem: Yeah.

Camille: They’re always going to be the ones getting in trouble, they’re always going to be the ones speaking up and part of that is because of what? Hopefully, what you do as an artist is learn how to see and so as a result you are going to be more aware of sort of the little feelings in the air like I guess what I’m sometimes thinking, sometimes the zeitgeist, like the spirit of the times. As an artist, hopefully you are going to be more aware of that and, yes, probably you may say things that are difficult for people to hear. That’s what artists historically have been, you know, even some of the composers that we are presenting; they are people that may not have had the smoothest road in their lives because maybe they were saying things that at that time were difficult for society to hear. I think it’s obvious it’s a very complicated issue, but I think at the same time, you know, I don’t think there’s an artist who would agree with censorship, but at the same time you know you’re sensitive to the fact that it’s a very culturally sensitive moment. I think anyone would say that hopefully, I mean this is a simple program what we are presenting in a lot of ways, I mean there’s not much controversy in this beautiful music of guitarist and singer, but hopefully one of the things it does is just show a bunch of different ways of looking at the world in one space in one sort of sonic space. In one hour and a half of time, you visit a lot of different ways of saying the same human things, which are: I love you, I’m sad, you know, you hear it in different languages and different harmonic languages, but it’s the same message. So, I do think one of the things that hopefully the arts can do, that the artists can do, is show how in many ways we are quite similar. That really whether you’re Turkish or whether you’re Sephardic or whether you’re Italian…

Cem: Right, the…

Camille: We’re saying the same thing.

Cem: The basic concerns are similar.

Camille: That’s right.

Cem: So anyway, I mean these things, you know about Orhan Pamuk, it’s sort of unfortunate, of course, he won the Nobel Prize, but I think he should say whatever he wants to say. I think you saying your opinion should never be a problem.

Q: Right, that’s why I was wondering because musicians  a lot of times, folk songs and things in America, a lot of folk songs are against the government so I had just thought, had you ever run into any kind of pressure?

Cem: Well, I’m not a singer, so when I go give a concert I play with a guitar so I don’t, since there are no lyrics it doesn’t directly imply anything. Maybe that’s why I’m sort of, I mean, even if I think I say my opinion musically it doesn’t seem to, people are not going to understand it so I think I’m in a different situation. It’s for more singers or people who are verbal and who have lyrics, it’s a different thing.

Camille: Or even, programming itself is even an interesting question though because it’s true we think especially classical music there’s nothing controversial. Like classical music, it’s all old fashioned; what does it matter? Well, Daniel Barenboim, there was a lot of controversy about the fact that he chose for the first time recently to present Wagner in Israel. So you know I think that’s very complicated.

Cem: Right, Wagner being a racist, anti-Semitic composer. It is complicated. I mean, of course, I personally believe anyone should say anything they want as an opinion and that should not be a crime, but I think it’s going to take a while for this to sink in to everyone. I observe going sometimes like I see the increase in extreme nationalism because of all the outside pressures, too, because I have friends who don’t like Orhan Pamuk. That’s there opinion, too, on the other hand they come across as a little aggressive and too nationalistic in the sense that it’s almost racist from their point of view, but that kind of scene came about in the last five-six years. So, I think that needs to be analyzed, too, because that’s not a good tendency at all. So, what I’m trying to say is from the US it’s easy to say, you know, free speech, pass the laws and it’s going to be fixed, but it doesn’t. So, I don’t know the solution, but I think time is one of the elements to it.  

Q: Camille, you have performed in many operas, how is this different?

Camille: This is such a pleasure, but one of the things with operas is that you always have enormous technical considerations, costuming, and sets and lights and so many times that’s really part of the magic; but it also is there’s something that’s just so pure about just being about making music with a guitar and all of those other technical aspects are gone. Really it’s just about this; I think also just the sound of the guitar it’s such an intimate, it’s chamber music, you know, it’s just such an intimate way of making sound. And I think also one thing that’s fun, this music certainly a lot of it is quite classical, but a lot of it is folky and real and earthy, which is really you find that earthiness in all our operas, but it’s just so readily available in this music.

Q: Are you touring all over?

Camille: No, we’ve done it a couple of times.

Cem: This is sort of a recent collaboration, actually, we have started in the last year or so, it is picking up speed right now.

Q: Camille, could you tell me about your Sing for Hope program?

Camille: Thank you for asking. That is something that is very near and dear to my heart. My dear best friend twelve years ago died of AIDS in our home town of Houston. And I started a very tiny concert, which is now amazingly, twelve years later, grown into the country’s largest annual classical AIDS gala. Continental Airlines came on as our sponsor about five year ago and they bring in ten artists and we do this big concert and raise a lot of money for AIDS. What I started to find when I was doing this concert out in the world, people would say to me when I was doing opera, ‘Hey you’re that girl that does that AIDS concert in Houston. Put me in the concert if you need another singer.’ I was hearing this comment from fifty-sixty singers. So I started thinking I need to set up something where singers can easily create their own benefits. And maybe in my case, the cause that touched my heart so much was AIDS, obviously because of my personal experience, but god forbid; what if someone finds out their mother has breast cancer let this person have a structure that supports them if they want to do a concert for breast cancer. So, with my best friend from Julliard, Monica Eunice, we started this organization and it’s really amazing, it’s just taken off. We have lots of concerts. Actually, tonight, in fact, there’s one in Paris, it’s for Habitat for Humanity, um, we have had one in Boston for Heifer International, it’s a sustainable agricultural group. The idea is, you know, it’s a way of allowing artists an opportunity to reach out very directly and use their art for a humanitarian cause. It’s a lot of fun.

Q: A lot of work, too, right?

Camille: (laughs) A lot of work, talking about that part we recently brought on an employee, which has helped a lot because it was all volunteers up until now. It’s been great.

Q: Cem, you are a guitar instructor at Wesleyan University and Akdeniz University in Turkey. You also run a young guitarist program for children. How would you describe your experiences in teaching?

Cem: Wonderful. Akdeniz University is a summer school, which is one week every year. This year it’s going to be in June, by the way. In Connecticut, I also teach some young children. I’m working to try to create some generation of young guitar players, not necessarily professional; I mean, if they want or not, but who really understand classical guitar and enjoy it. So, that’s why I started it. In the US, it’s sort of a little different than in Turkey. When you are in middle school or in high school (in Turkey) a lot of people play the guitar actually, and they play classical guitar. They just studied a little bit or, you know, most of them don’t become professionals, but they really enjoy it. I really try to create that type of thing in my area basically. But the thing about that is to start from childhood because most of the adults are pretty much set for what type of music they like and they are busy; they don’t have much time to play that much so I started to work with children, I started to run this program (in Connecticut). They start there from age 6 to any basically and it’s going really well. I teach them different fun things and children are always so creative and it’s always amazed me, I mean, the way they talk and the stories they tell. And they are always very smart, make jokes that like I would never imagine. (laughs) And then they play really well, they really learn it. Then it’s very rewarding. We do concerts every now and then. Any other teaching I enjoy, too. I like contributing; you know, imparting my experiences, at Wesleyan, you know, too, like more professional guitarists.

Q: Will you be taking this Mediterranean Journey throughout Turkey, Spain, and Italy?

Cem: Yeah, that is in our plan.

Camille: Part of the problem is finding the right scheduling. I get back to New York and I go right into a series of operas. Cem has his teaching and also other concerts so the challenge is scheduling.

Cem: But, it’s going to work.

Camille: We’re going to do it, we have to. I think we’re both, the more we get into this music the more we sort of fall in love with it. Basically, we get along so…

All: laugh

Q: What are your upcoming projects?

Camille: First, I’m going to Houston for a concert, a song recital. Then, I’m going to LA Opera to do a Spanish opera; it’s called Luisa Fernanda, a Spanish operetta with Placido Domingo so I’m very excited about that. That’s going to be a lot of fun and then I’m going to go, the summer home of the American Symphony Orchestra is at Bard College they have a festival there called Summerscape and we are doing an opera called Der Zwerg by Zemlinksky’s, it’s one of these operas that’s been recently recovered. He was one of the persecuted, actually one of the people who fled Nazi Germany, the composer was and it’s a really beautiful piece and I’ll be doing that in the summertime.

Cem: I’m playing in Turkey with a guitar concierto in Anatalya and then I’m doing a few tango concerts with a bandoneon player in Istanbul and Ankara. Then, I have a trip to Argentina, then, to Spain in May to Valencia for the guitar society, a concert.

Music and upcoming events for both artists can be found at their websites:

Cem Duruoz

Camille Zamora




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