Ince and U of M doctoral student Mustafa Sezer study
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"
pieceperformed at Carnegie Hallas original and
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 worldit's an
escape into my own world."
Ince's roots might point to a different career directionhe
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
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
"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
"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,"
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.
White in the city of blues
Born in Glendive, Montana
Moved with parents to Turkey
Began playing the cello
Enrolled in music school in Izmir, Turkey
Enrolled in Oberlin College in Ohio
Enrolled in Eastman School of Music in New York
Won Broadcast Music Inc. award for a piano concerto
Wrote "Infrared Only" for the New York Philharmonic
Youth Symphony 1987: Won Prix de Rome and Guggenheim Fellowship
Settled in Ann Arbor, Mich., as visiting professor at
University of Michigan
Began teaching at the University of Memphis
Commissioned to write "Symphony No. 2: Fall of Constantinople"
for the Albany Symphony
Released first CD
Released second CD and commissioned to write piece for
225th anniversary of Istanbul Technical University
Established ITU's graduate school of music
"Waves of Talya" named one of the best chamber
works of the 20th century by a living American composer
in Chamber Music Magazine
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
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."
Seven years ago, Ince was commissioned by the president of
Istanbul Technical University to write a piece for the University's
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
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.