APPLETON, WIS. — Eric Jenkins has long dreamed about a music career that some day might take him around the world. He just didn’t know it would get a kick start before he even finished college.
For the second year in a row, Jenkins, a pianist, and his playing partner, violinist Burcu Goker, will be spending part of their Christmas recess abroad in Turkey.
Thanks to an invitation from the Austrian government, the two Lawrence University musicians will perform Monday, Dec. 18 in a 250-year old, 300-seat concert hall in the Austrian Embassy in Istanbul for an invited audience of diplomats, ambassadors and other special guests and dignitaries.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Jenkins said of his improbable term break destination.
Jenkins’ and Goker’s upcoming concert at the Austrian embassy is an “encore” of sorts for a performance they gave last December as part of one of Turkey’s most celebrated national events — the annual memorial tribute to Ismet Inönü, who served as that country’s first prime minister (1923-38) and second president (1938-50).
For the first time in its history, last year’s service included an hour-long musical component that Jenkins and Goker had the unprecedented privilege of performing.
Talent conspired with serendipity for Jenkins, who studies in the piano studio of Michael Kim, and Goker, a student of violinist Stephane Tran Ngoc, to get invited to Inönü’s memorial a year ago, but it was their musical prowess alone that earned them a return engagement. Their performance in Ankara, which was nationally televised live throughout the country, left such an impression that other concert offers soon followed. Although several opportunities had to be politely declined because of school conflicts, the Austrian embassy invitation fit nicely into their Christmas recess from classes.
“It’s amazing how many doors can be opened from one concert, how many people you can meet from one concert,” said Jenkins. “The last time we performed, we were just part of a larger program. But this time, we are the concert and people will be coming specifically to hear us play.”
Since their performance for Inönü’s memorial, Goker, a native of Turkey whose parents live in Istanbul, has seen the trajectory on her star continue to rise. She was the subject of a story in the May edition of “Butun Dunya,” the Turkish edition of “Reader’s Digest.” In September, she was profiled in the national Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, that country’s equivalent of The New York Times. And most recently, was spotlighted with a full-page story in the November/December edition of “Andante,” an international classical music magazine.
While Goker is looking forward to showcasing her talents in her hometown, Jenkins sees the opportunity to perform in one of Europe’s most culturally diverse cities as an adrendaline rush.
“Playing in Istanbul is going to be such a thrill,” said Jenkins. “There’s such an amazing atmosphere to the city. There is so much culture all around you everywhere you go. Just to be a small part of it is going to be very exciting.”
Location aside, the duo are equally excited about the music they will be performing. Taking advantage of the end of a year-long celebration commemorating the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s Austrian birth, the duo will perform his “Sonata for violin and piano in E minor.” They also will play “Sonata Posthume,” a piece written by Maurice Ravel when he was relatively young, and five pieces from Prokofiev’s Opus 35. Russian composer Nicholas Medtner’s “3 Nocturnes, Opus 16,” a work that hasn’t been published for decades and is virtually unknown, also will be featured. Goker’s own composition, “L’Anatolie” will be part of the program as well.
“We’re going to be doing some very rare repertoire,” said Jenkins. “It’s really great music, some of the best violin-piano music of the Romantic realm, but it’s all been largely unplayed. It will be exciting exposing an audience to some music they likely have never heard before. “I hope we can fill the hall to capacity and have as many people come to hear us as possible.”
An international embassy seems a most appropriate concert setting for Goker, who sees her life as a musician through diplomatic eyes.
“A musician must not only be a soloist or a performer, but an ambassador to the culture of the arts,” said Goker, who performed a concert as a teenager at the United Nations before enrolling at Lawrence. “I believe that I could make a difference in the lives of many people by bringing them the message of music, not only as a musician, but as an enlightened artist who is well aware of the environment and surroundings that we all face today.”