Whichever methods the leading music centres of the world have experimented with since 1950 appear in the compositions of İlhan Usmanbaş. Together with composers like Bülent Arel and İlhan Mimaroğlu, Usmanbaş belongs to the second generation of modern Turkish composition. He is a progressive composer who focuses on the tonal intensity of sound rather than its melodic quality, and chooses free forms instead of conventions. Usmanbaş, who has composed nearly 120 works, is the Turkish composer who has won the greatest number of foreign awards and citations, including commissions from the Fromm Music and Koussevitzky foundations in the United States, a Wieniawski competition prize in Poland, a prize at the International Composers Tribune in Paris, and a prize at the International Competition for Ballet Music in Switzerland.
He was born in Istanbul, grew up in Ayvalık, and graduated from Galatasaray Lycée. He went on to study under Cemal Reşit Rey, and then under Saygun, Alnar, Erkin, Akses and Zirkin at Ankara State Conservatory. In 1952 he went to America on a UNESCO scholarship, attending seminars and lectures with pioneers of the new music. Usmanbaş's reputation abroad and the innovative character of his compositions opened the door of Turkish music to contemporary qualities. In 1971 Usmanbaş, who is married to opera singer Atıfet Usmanbaş, became a State Artist. In 1993 he was awarded a gold medal by the Sevda Cenap And Foundation, in 2000 an honorary doctorate by Boğaziçi University, and this evening, at the 32nd Istanbul Festival, he will be presented with the Lifelong Achievement Award.