By Zachary Sclar
Guitar students and music lovers gathered in the Mayo Concert Hall to witness a performance and master class by guitarist Celil Refik Kaya on Wednesday, Feb 18. Kaya, who recently received a Master of Music degree at the Mannes College of Music, dazzled the audience with a 40 minute concert entitled “From Anatolia to the New World.” After beginning with his own arrangement of the Turkish folk song “Köyde Sabah,” Kaya demonstrated his versatility and virtuosity as he played a number of intricate and diverse pieces with concentrated ease. Two such pieces, “Prelude” and “Celil’s Dance,” were written for Kaya by famed Argentine composer and guitarist Jorge Morel.
“It was an honor to meet him,” Kaya said. “One year later, he wrote a piece for me. Then, he wrote another.”
But the honor was likely just as much Morel’s, at least after he witnessed Kaya’s playing. His playing, which was concentrated yet seemingly effortless, created waves of melody and harmony that seemed to hypnotically wash over packed audience in Mayo Concert Hall.
Indeed, Kaya’s mastery of the diverse music he played — from flamenco to English waltzes — made it easy to imagine him as a divinely ordained creature, sent to spread the mellifluous sounds of his playing across the land.
Kaya’s real story, however, is much more interesting.
According to his performance, Kaya was born in Istanbul in 1991 and began his study of guitar at age 6 under the tutelage of his father, Dr. Mehmet Refik Kaya. A fast and eager learner, Kaya gave his first concert less than a year later. Growing up, Kaya’s father showcased his budding prodigy on several European television and radio shows, and by age 13, Kaya had already won the Forum Gitarre Wien, a prestigious guitar competition held in Vienna.
Following in the footsteps of his father, Kaya attended the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul, graduating first in his conservatory and with high honors. Looking to further his understanding of the guitar, Kaya then enrolled in a masters program at the studio of Michael Newman at the Mannes College of Music (Newman is currently the College’s new Artist Teacher of Guitar).
During the post concert discussion, Kaya elaborated upon this busy time in his life and offered solid advice for the college aged audience.
“I learned how to use time efficiently,” Kaya said. “I tried to focus on what I needed to focus on. You need to find how to use the time.”
And Kaya has certainly used the time efficiently. Since coming to the United States, he has won competitions in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Georgia and Louisville and has also performed with the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Virginia Symphony and the Lake Placid Sinfonietta. Recently, Kaya embarked upon a five-year Musical Arts Doctoral program at the University of Texas.
Despite his hectic schedule, Kaya had more than enough time to give some pointers to the College’s guitar ensemble after his performance. After listening to their performance of a short Arabic piece entitled “Zana,” Kaya eagerly doled out tips and opinions to the five man ensemble.
To thank him for the advice and his performance, Dr. Newman awarded Kaya with a goodie bag of merchandise from the College, which included pens, socks and a can hugger.
For a performance of such prodigious skill, the trinkets were but a placeholder for the audience’s true awe and admiration.