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magazine home > archives > spring 2004 > features

U of M composer Kamran Ince draws from his Turkish heritage in producing music that has brought international acclaim and recognition for himself and the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music.

A Different Beat
by Blair Dedrick

Kamran Ince
Kamran Ince and U of M doctoral student Mustafa Sezer study recent compositions.

Have you ever heard a building? What does an arch sound like? What about a dome or a color?

While most people may just see these objects, Kamran Ince hears them. He puts architecture into music and tells stories with his symphonies.

The youngest-ever winner of the Prix de Rome, the U of M professor of music combines his Turkish roots with more modern elements for a sound that melds seemingly incongruous components, differentiating itself from other artists' compositions. Ince's work often is characterized by its ability to pinpoint the sonorous strains present in the jagged dissonance of elements such as a smooth cello yearning suddenly broken by an incongruent spatter of drum beats.

In 2000 highly regarded Chamber Music Magazine named Ince's "Waves of Talya" one of the best chamber works of the 20th century by a living American composer. The Los Angeles Times lauded Ince as "that rare composer able to sound connected with modern music, and yet still seem exotic." And prominent music critic Andrew Porter of The New Yorker hailed his "Infrared Only" piece—performed at Carnegie Hall—as original and new.

The composer is constantly exploring uncharted coordinates in aural landscapes. "What makes you feel the best is when your feel like you are doing something original," Ince says. "Writing is a different world—it's an escape into my own world."

When in Rome

Ince's roots might point to a different career direction—he was born in Glendive, Montana, a state that still has a "wild west" feel. But his parents moved to Turkey when he was 6 years old and he began playing cello four years later.

Ince's skills soon grew as he began composing with family friend and composer Ilhan Baran teaching him. Baran gave him weekly composing assignments, and Ince's father required him to finish one piece each day.

"In America, you start (a career) much later," Ince says. "I was lucky because it turned out well for me."

Ince continued playing cello and writing music, but found he needed to learn the piano as a tool for composing. To hone his skills, he went to a music school in Izmir, Turkey, where he was away from his family for the first time at the age of 17.

"That was good," he says. "For the first time, I was away from feeling like I was doing something for them instead of myself."

Ince enrolled at Oberlin College in Ohio in 1978 where he began writing abstract music. Two years later, he attended Eastman School of Music in New York where he won a Broadcast Music Inc. award for a piano concerto. He was then asked to a write a new piece for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra Youth Symphony for its 1985 concert series featuring young composers. What he came up with was the highly successful "Infrared Only."

"It brought a lot of attention in the press, it was being performed by professional orchestras and, since it was being heard, I started getting orchestra commissions," Ince says.

A portfolio that included "Infrared Only" enabled Ince to become the youngest winner of the Prix de Rome in 1987. He moved to Rome where he wrote maybe his most famous and successful piece, "Waves of Talya."

While still in Rome, Ince was awarded a four-year Guggenheim Fellowship which he used to become a visiting professor at the University of Michigan.

In White in the city of blues

1960: Born in Glendive, Montana

1966: Moved with parents to Turkey
1970: Began playing the cello
1977: Enrolled in music school in Izmir, Turkey
1978: Enrolled in Oberlin College in Ohio
1980: Enrolled in Eastman School of Music in New York
1984: Won Broadcast Music Inc. award for a piano concerto
1985: Wrote "Infrared Only" for the New York Philharmonic Youth Symphony 1987: Won Prix de Rome and Guggenheim Fellowship
1988: Settled in Ann Arbor, Mich., as visiting professor at University of Michigan
1992: Began teaching at the University of Memphis
1994: Commissioned to write "Symphony No. 2: Fall of Constantinople" for the Albany Symphony
1995: Released first CD
1997: Released second CD and commissioned to write piece for 225th anniversary of Istanbul Technical University
1998: Established ITU's graduate school of music
2000: "Waves of Talya" named one of the best chamber works of the 20th century by a living American composer in Chamber Music Magazine
2004: Released third CD, In White

In 1992 a temporary position opened at the University of Memphis, and Ince applied for and received it. "I had heard good things about Memphis," Ince says. The position soon turned permanent, and Ince has been at the

University ever since.

The music professor is commissioned to write three to four pieces a year, including commissions from the Albany Symphony, California Symphony, Houston Ballet and various movie directors.

As of late, Ince says his music has become more spiritual and aggressive.

The title track of his recently released CD, In White, is a violin concerto for 10 violins. "In White" joins pieces titled "Fall of Constantinople" and "FEST" as Ince's favorites, though he is hard-pressed to give that title to any of his compositions.

"Some music you'll hear and just think, 'Wow, that's close to perfect,'" Ince says. "It moves me and it moves others in its creative and technical aspects.

"In some ways, these pieces are the peak of my career," he says. "But in some ways, (asking me to choose a favorite) is like asking me to pick between children."

Giving back

Seven years ago, Ince was commissioned by the president of Istanbul Technical University to write a piece for the University's 225th anniversary.

While meeting with the president and professors of ITU, Ince noticed a lack of higher education in the music field in Turkey.

"There was nothing really doctoral level taught there," he says. "While graduate studies programs existed, they were not quality programs."

Ince established an American-style graduate school of music at ITU with the help of a team of U of M professors and ITU's president. The school includes some 15 professors and around 70 master and doctoral level students are enrolled in the program.

Within the school are an extensive music library, top-of-the-line recording studios and graduates who now study and work at some of the top music schools in the world.

Ince continues to travel back and forth to Turkey as he serves as the co-director of ITU's Center for Advanced Research in Music and its Advanced Studies in Music program.

In that way, Ince's life-one that has been spun from strands of time split between America and Turkey-mirrors the composer's music in its harmonious juncture of two different worlds.

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