The Istanbul Music Festival is considered as the most prestigious and established classical music event in Turkey. Throughout its history of more than 50 years, it has played a major role in building up an appreciation for classical music in Istanbul and Turkey. Acclaimed nationally and internationally with its creative programmes and innovative structure, the festival strives to create opportunities for artists to share their inspiration and artistic experience with one another and contribute to the enrichment of the national and international classical music repertoire.
Organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, the first Istanbul Music Festival, the flagship of the Istanbul Festivals, took place between 15 June and 15 July 1973, originally under the title “Istanbul Festival”. In its earlier years it has included in its programmes the finest examples of artistic creativity in diverse fields. In time, İKSV started to organise separate festivals and biennials in different fields, and during this process, the festival was renamed “Istanbul Music Festival” in 1994. Since 1973, the Istanbul Festivals and Biennials are proud to have become a joint platform for the local and the universal, for past and present, and for the role they have played in reinforcing such values as respect for cultural diversity and freedom of expression in order to enrich dialogue between societies and cultures regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or belief.
In its 50 years the Istanbul Music Festival hosted the most prestigious orchestras and ensembles such as Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Filarmonica della Scala, Philharmonia Orchestra, Kirov Opera and Ballet with such renowned conductors such as Pierre Boulez, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Simon Rattle, Mariss Jansons, Daniel Barenboim, Christoph Eschenbach, Yuri Temirkanov, Valery Gergiev, Gustavo Dudamel, William Christie, to name a few.
A distinguished line-up of international soloists such as Elizabeth Scwarzkopf, Kiri Te Kanawa, Kathleen Battle, Cecilia Bartoli, Montserrat Caballé, Renée Fleming, Itzhak Perlman, Anne Sophie Mutter, Renaud Capuçon, Gautier Capuçon, Fazıl Say, Yehudi Menuhin, Mischa Maisky, Maxim Vengerov, Gidon Kremer, Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn, Aldo Cicciolini, Daniel Barenboim, Radu Lupu, Lang Lang, Juan Diego Florez, Andre Previn, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Shlomo Mintz, Suna Kan, Ayla Erduran, İdil Biret and Hüseyin Sermet were among the guests of the Istanbul Music Festival.
Outstanding dance companies such as the Martha Graham Dance Company, Bolshoi Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Bejart Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theatre as well as Les Ballets de Montecarlo were presented to music lovers in previous years.
With its Lifetime Achievement Awards, Istanbul Music Festival also provides recognition to composers, judicious researchers, leading conductors, innovatory and creative artists, people who made significant contributions to our cultural heritage and whose projects reveal the unifying power of music. Among the recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award are Leyla Gencer, John Tavener, Arvo Pärt, Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, Gidon Kremer, Krzysztof Penderecki, and José Antonio Abreu.
Istanbul Music Festival also aims to enrich the contemporary music repertoire by regularly commissioning new works both to internationally established composers as well as to young and upcoming ones since 2011. Since then, the festival has been the platform for world premieres of Arvo Pärt, Giya Kancheli, Peteris Vasks, Alexander Raskatov, Fazıl Say, and Tigran Mansurian’s new works.
Being the oldest of the Istanbul Festivals, which became landmarks of cultural life in Turkey, the Istanbul Music Festival has also earned a reputation for its major role in encouraging research in musicology and in launching special projects on shared cultural values through its productions.
From the day it was established until 2000, the directorship of the Istanbul Music Festival had been undertaken by Cevza Aktüze, followed by Ahmet Erenli until 2006. Yeşim Gürer Oymak was the director of the festival between 2006-2017. Efruz Çakırkaya is the new director of the festival since August 2018.