When I first entered the Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM) as a young opera soloist, I was mesmerized having seen the sweepingly vast stairs on one side and the aglow spirally staircase on the other, and I thought to myself; “There, I should be here!”. This was in 1981. I was going to perform on the same stage with the great soloists whom I have heard of but have not yet seen live. I was given one of the lockers used by all. At that moment, I knew that I was part of AKM.

             I signed up for the Angelotti role in Tosca, but I was forced to merely watch the rehearsals. In the last general rehearsal, they said, “Come now, it is your turn; get up on the stage!” It was as though I was to demonstrate the balance sheet of my time of pupilage at the Ankara State Conservatory in Cebeci. It was almost like all the courses I had taken in school - makeups, set and costume history, fencing, mimics, scene, rhythmic gymnastics, movement, solfeggio, singing lessons, and teachers - and all my teachers were flashing before my eyes. I was to give a test as the student of all these courses, and especially during the last period of my study, with the moral responsibility of having studied with all the great names who have specialized in their field in one on one lessons, as I was then the sole student of the class.

            When the time for rehearsals approached, I was training for that little role for so many long hours; I put on my costume and made my own makeup. And at last, I was on the stage... The conductor of the orchestra, the director and his assistants, the whole orchestra, members of the choir, and almost all soloists of the institutions were curiously awaiting the first performance of this young man. As I heard the first measures of the opera, Tosca, and threw myself on the stage as was suggested by the direction, I found myself abandoned on that enormous stage of AKM; belittled, so pitiable and miserable, and crushed. As I later discovered in the memoirs of Leyla Gencer, who at the beginning of her career, felt just as I did, “at that moment on the verge of that cliff”. I was either going to jump and start flying like she did or plummet down. I tried to fly and demonstrated the education I had received, which I had attended for this moment, right on that stage. The director at the time, Mustafa İktu, called on to me, “I will no longer give you such short roles”, and in the next breath explained that he gave his own solo bass part in Beethoven’s 9th to me.

              The baritone Sedat Öztoprak taught me how to drive in the backyard of AKM. I learned how to drive an automobile, you see, amidst parked cars. There, I was making busts playing with the clay at the sculpture atelier of the sculptor Halis Başarır; would go to the ballet rehearsal halls and make sketches; in the setting and costume ateliers, chat with all, listening to the personal achievements of the members of the orchestra. 

There was not a single quarter of AKM that I had not visited. The holidays seemed to me to be too long. Every August 31st, I was overjoyed with excitement. It was not something only experienced by me; everyone in the institute was feeling the same way. Although it was not compulsory to sign in, on September 1st, without exception, everyone would gather at the canteen and would share their stories of the summer. The soloists who missed their singing instructors would get in line to attend the classes. Saadet İkesus Altan, Belkıs Aran, Elena Kember, and later İ. Lütfiyar, L. Montefusco… 

             We would find the seminars on a certain style and composer, especially those delivered by Leyla Gencer, extremely helpful and couldn’t wait. All the pianists, particularly Elisabetta di Stefano and Nurten T. Kolçak, and all other young pianists, were training an army of soloists.     When there was already a stage rehearsal of a piece on the stage with a piano accompaniment, there would, simultaneously, be the orchestra rehearsal of another piece, and when the stage rehearsal on the lower floor got into a recess, I would dash to the third floor, pacing the stairs two, three steps at a time, and listen to the rehearsal of the orchestra; or, if they were to play a section of a piece in which I was to play, I would sing my part with the orchestra. With the warning of the stage manager, “You are called for the rehearsal downstairs”, I would go back to the stage below. Without resorting to any excuses for having a performance the same night, after running from rehearsal to rehearsal all day, I would go on the stage later the same day. Years passed, thinking, “come morning, let me go back to that magical place”, although being dead tired, returning home. Typically, there should be an end to such a sensation. The funny thing is, the thrill of stepping into the AKM has never diminished for me.

              For me, AKM was not simply a “workplace” where I fulfilled my profession; it was a part of my life. Just like home. On the day of the inauguration of my arts and photography exhibition at the AKM, I also had a performance on the stage. In other words, I was there as a musician, painter, and photographer. I was, in a sense, communed with AKM, and it was with me. That feeling made me feel special. 

              At the end of all discussions, fights, and court hearings to make a better AKM, in the scope of the 2010 İstanbul Cultural Capital, the AKM we left in 2008, had to be abandoned to its own fate for nearly 13 years. I deem the absence of all the performances, concerts, and exhibitions that could be staged during that period to be a great injustice, treated particularly on İstanbul, our country’s arts, and on humanity. Thankfully, with all the pearls and pitfalls, with a relatively quick construction process, our arts have gained significant momentum once again under the name “AKM”. It turned into an “art factory”, working at full capacity, as though getting its revenge for the time it had lost during all these years when it was shut. 

1981- 2022... “AKM” was always with me, whether I was working there or not, and it will always have a special place in my heart. AKM is my home...




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