Idil Biret
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Idil Biret biography

Idil Biret was born in Ankara. She started to play the piano at the age of three and later studied at the Paris Conservatoire under the guidance of Nadia Boulanger, graduating at the age of fifteen with three first prizes. She was a pupil of Alfred Cortot and a lifelong disciple of Wilhelm Kempff with whom she gave a concert at the Theatre Champs-Elysees in Paris in 1953 at the age of eleven, performing Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos.


With Wilhelm Kempff and Joseph Keilberth after the Paris concert (1953)

She embarked on her career as a soloist at the age of seventeen appearing with major orchestras in the principal music centres of the world like, Boston Symphony, Leningrad Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Orchestre National de France, London Symphony, Warsaw Philharmonic in collaboration with conductors of greatest distinction such as Erich Leinsdorf, Pierre Monteux, Hermann Scherchen, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Kazimierz Kord, Antoni Wit. Her first major concert was in Brussels in 1959 with Orchestre National de Belgique, which was attended by Queen Elisabeth of Belgium who had met her as a child in Paris at Nadia Boulanger’s home.


With Queen Elisabeth of Belgium after the concert (1959)

To many major festival appearances may be added membership of juries for international competitions including the Van Cliburn 1985), Reine Elisabeth competition in Belgium (1978), and Busoni competitions. She has received the Lili Boulanger memorial Award in Boston, the Harriet Cohen / Dinu Lipatti Gold Medal in London, the Polish Cavalry Cross of the Order of Merit, the Adelaide Ristori Prize in Italy, the French Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite and the State Artist distinction in Turkey.


With King Baudoin and Queen Fabiola of Belgium and Jury members (1978)

Her more than one hundred records since the 1960s include the first recordings of Liszt’s transcriptions of the nine symphonies of Beethoven for EMI which she recorded at the Church of Chamon Gistoux in Belgium in 1986,


EMI 6LP box / The Nine Beethoven Symphonies

Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique for Atlantic/Finnadar and for Naxos the complete piano works of Brahms, Chopin, Rachmaninov, the three Sonatas of Boulez, the Etudes of Ligeti and the Firebird piano transcription by Stravinsky, with a Marco Polo disc of the piano compositions and transcriptions of her mentor Wilhelm Kempff. Her Boulez recording the Golden Diapason of the year award in France in 1995 and the complete Chopin recordings have received a Grand Prix du Disque Frédéric Chopin award in Poland the same year.


Naxos 15CD box / Complete works of Chopin

In 2007 the President Lech Kaczsnky decorated Biret with the highest order of Poland (Krzyzem Kawalerskim Ordera Zaslugi) for her contribution to Polish culture through her recordings and performances of Chopin’s music.


President Lech Kaczynsky of Poland decorating Idil Biret (2007)

The IBA label is now issuing her old and new recordings which are being produced and distributed worldwide by Naxos on CD and digitally. More than 50 CDs have so far been released which include Beethoven’s 32 Sonatas, 5 Concertos, 9 Symphony transcriptions by Liszt (in a box set of 19 CDs), the many LPs she made for Decca, Vega, EMI and Atlantic records in France, Germany and USA as well as recently recorded concertos of Grieg, Liszt, Ravel, Saint-Säens, Schumann and Tchaikovsky.


The first three CDs on IBA released by Naxos (2008)

Her new recording of all the 5 piano concertos of Hindemith with the Yale Symphony Orchestra was released worldwide by Naxos in October 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his passing away. All the 100 plus recordings Idil Biret made since 1959 will be released in a single set containing ten boxes (Idil Biret 100 Edition) towards the end of 2016 .

Reminiscences on Idil Biret

by Leman Biret

As the parents of a gifted child, we were always reminded to keep a journal when Idil was growing up and record not only her musical progress but even her daily prating. Unfortunately, we never did get around to do this, and now I greatly regret the lack of any sort of documentation that would help me in reconstructing those good old days. All I can do is to dig into my memories in the hope of retrieving the more outstanding of the countless fascinating and pleasant events.


From the memoires of Alan Weiner on Idil Biret’s childhood years in Paris (1950)

The most vivid memories of my stay in Paris are the result of my relations with two females, one sixty two years of age [Nadia Boulanger], the other eight [Idil Biret].

Aside from my musical studies, the most rewarding result of my trip to Paris has been my acquaintance with Idil Biret and her parents. Idil was eight years old last November. I had noticed her sitting among the sopranos during the first few Wednesday afternoon chorus rehearsals, and at first thought that perhaps she was the child of one of the women there who just couldn’t get a baby sitter.


American Debut

İdil Biret in rehearsal under Erich Leinsdorf playing Rachmaninov’s 3rd piano concerto. 22 November 1963.November 22, 1963

Idil Biret’s first concert in the United States took place in Boston. Following a suggestion by Nadia Boulanger, Biret received an invitation from Boston Symphony Orchestra to perform a series of concerts in November 1963 in Boston, New York and other cities.

At the time of the invitation Charles Munch was the conductor of the Boston Symphony. In 1963 he was replaced by Eric Leinsdorf who went on to conduct Biret’s concerts.


The Declaration of the Piano Virtuoso Kempff

Excerpts of an interview with W. Kempff in Istanbul
AKSAM Newspaper – 21 January 1950
(Photo below: Copy of part of the original page of the newspaper AKSAM)

“Music in Turkey is becoming quickly westernised. I heard Idil Biret in Paris. In ten years she will be an internationally renowned artist”

Wilhelm Kempff was preparing his bags to catch the Ankara train when I found him at the Park Hotel in Istanbul.

I asked him how many times he had been to Turkey altogether. Five he replied adding that his previous visits were in 1927, 1931, 1937 and 1949.


Prof. Wilhelm Kempff in Turkey

Idil Biret read from this text for the Bayerische TV programm Prepared by Sefik Yüksel – recorded in Ammerland in 1995

It was in June 1982 during a weeklong stay of Idil Biret in Italy with Prof. Kempff in his Villa overlooking the Mediterranean from the Positano village heights that the subject of Prof. Kempff’s visits to Turkey came up. He was particularly happy that day. He had played a Schubert sonata in the late afternoon and Idil had joined him for a photograph taken near his piano.


Idil Biret’s career in East Germany (GDR)

Idil at Leipziger Gewandhaus in 1985 before the 2nd Bartok concerto under the baton of Thedore Guschlbauer
[please click photo for full size image of 1500 x 1163, 558 KB]

Idil Biret was due to make her fifth tour of the german Democratic republic in early 1990 with concerts scheduled in Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig, Halle and other cities when unrest started there which resulted in the fall of the Berlin wall, liberation of the peoples of Eastern Europe and reunification of Germany; a landmark period in the history of Europe.