Beste Kalender could tell you about the different pathways to success.
One can be discovered in competitions, especially if one wins. You can be mentored by great singers. There’s even the Hollywood legend, the understudy going on as last minute replacement for the star in a production of Carmen. Beste has done them all.
Every time I’ve seen her I’ve been impressed by her intelligence. At Verbotenlieder roughly a year ago I wrote this about her performance:
I laughed loudest at Beste Kalender’s brilliant re-imagining of “Erlkönig” (a drinking game! Divide the audience in three, based on the three characters in the song, and take a sip whenever you hear yours –Vater, Kind oder Erlkönig—mentioned).
She made a familiar song brand-new with her reinvention, and we had a great deal of fun along the way.
In a few days Beste will be back with Toronto Operetta Theatre in Johann Strauss Jr’s Gypsy Baron. I had to ask her a few questions.
Barczablog: Are you more like your father or your mother?
Beste Kalender: I am very close to both my parents, but I would say that in many ways I am more like my father. He is a self-taught musician and a guitar player. Growing up, I remember him working at the bank during the day and playing gigs with his band in the evening. In celebration of my birth, my father composed a song about me, and somehow foreshadowed my future by naming me Beste – which translates to ‘musical tune’ in Turkish. In fact, both my parents have an artistic side to them – my mother has a literary talent for writing stories and poems – but neither of them had the right circumstances to pursue art or literature professionally.
I can trace my love for opera back to when I was five years old. It was a cold winter in a small apartment in Ankara, and my parents were watching a concert on TV. When I looked up at the TV, I saw a beautiful lady in a fabulous red dress making the most magical sounds one can imagine. As my mom recalls that day, I pointed at the lady and said “I want to be like her!” As I look back to that day, I never doubted what I wanted to do in life.
My parents did not have the financial means to support my training as a musician abroad. However, they never let that stand in the way of my imagination and dreams. It is because they were such good parents who appreciated my passion and encouraged me, that I believed in myself, searched for scholarships, received grants, and completed a graduate training in Voice, as well as in Psychology.
Even though I am more like my father, I also think my parents make a great team and they both have inspired me in so many different ways. If I ever become a parent, I hope I can be as perceptive, kind, and loving as they have been to me.
Barczablog: What is the best thing about what you do?
Beste Kalender: The performing arts go well beyond entertainment to help us communicate with the whole world. That’s one of the main reasons why I’d like to keep singing, to share beautiful works of music from all over the world and to give voice to people’s joy and sorrow, to change lives or at least try to make a difference through my voice and music.
Today’s world is filled with so much conflict, hostility, discrimination and fear. One of the greatest and most creative performers of our times, Joyce DiDonato, often repeats: The opposite of war is not peace, it is creation! (J.Larson). I aspire to ‘create’ through my artistry and want that to be my antidote to all the negativity out there. I also love the fact that my profession gives me the opportunity to travel, meet with new cultures, people and colleagues from different parts of the world, which I find gives me perspective about my own understanding of art and people.
So far I have performed with companies and festivals in a number of countries. Jeonju Sori Festival (Korea), Helikon Opera (Russia), Bolshoi Theatre (Belarus), Bologna Opera (Italy), Choregies D’Orange (France) to name a few. Each engagement taught me something novel about people and their perception of the art. The only down side of all the travelling is that most of the time I am not able to share those experiences with my family. Feelings of homesickness and loneliness can creep in from time to time, but I try to make the best of the situation!
Barczablog Who do you like to listen to or watch?
Beste Kalender: I generally really enjoy classical jazz. Nowadays, I find myself listening more and more to my favorite Turkish composers from when I was growing up, as well as 60’s and 70’s world music. As for classical music, when in need of inspiration, my go to performers are Marilyn Horne, Joan Sutherland and Jessye Norman.
I also love listening to Anne Sofie von Otter and Leyla Gencer. For those who don’t know the latter, Leyla Gencer was actually the first Turkish singer who built an international career, and Italians called her “La Diva Turca”. She has become an idol and inspiration for many Turkish singers who would dream about an international career in opera, like myself. Unfortunately, she was not very interested in making recordings. Almost all the recordings you can find of Gencer are pirate recordings of live performances. Therefore she is also known as “The Pirate Queen”.
Barczablog: What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
Beste Kalender: Definitely sports! I love learning languages, dancing, singing, acting, painting etc.… However, when it comes to playing any kind of sports, I am generally hopeless. It would have been fun to play some volleyball or basketball growing up, but I didn’t have the aptitude for it. The only reason I got passing grades in the gym class was that I was representing my high school in music competitions. Bless their soul, my teachers must have felt sorry for me!
Barczablog: When you’re just relaxing and not working, what is your favourite thing to do?
Beste Kalender: When I am exhausted or want to relax, I usually end up in the kitchen baking and cooking, with some delicious jazz music, most probably by Ella Fitzgerald or Oscar Peterson, in the background.
More questions about projects & professional life.
Barczablog Can you talk about what you’ll be doing in the coming year ?
Beste Kalender: 2020 will be busy with some exciting projects. After The Gypsy Baron I will be on my way to San Miguel for the 6th annual Mexico-Canada CO-OPERA-TIVE Concert, which will be my performance debut in Mexico. Then, I will be back in Toronto as a guest soloist at Sinfonia Toronto’s concert: Musical Bridges & KOMITAS 150. This project has a very special place in my heart, as this will be the first concert in Canada where Armenian and Turkish artists will join each other on the same stage to celebrate this great musician and the founder of Armenian School of Music: Komitas. The concert will also feature the world premiere of some beautiful music by internationally celebrated Turkish composer Tahsin Incirci. After that, I will be with Edmonton Opera, giving life to another “older lady” character, The Old Lady in Candide. I have previously performed this role two years ago at Banff Centre and I am really looking forward to reviving it! After Edmonton, I will be back in Toronto in April with a busy schedule of some other opera and oratorio projects. Fall 2020 performances will mostly be in Europe. More details about my upcoming engagements for the year are available online at www.bestekalender.com
Barczablog A few days ago I heard that you’ve won the 26th Théâtre Lyrichorégra 20 Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques in Montréal. There’s a cash prize plus performance opportunities, too. Please tell us all about it.
Beste Kalender: Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques is a competition in concert format. Singers are selected via preliminary auditions in various cities in Canada or international competitions in Europe. There are four concerts in total. Participants perform arias and ensembles, in different styles and languages, in front of opera directors from Eastern and Western Europe, Asia and Canada. After the fourth concert selected singers are offered money prizes and/or role/concert engagements as well as other audition opportunities in Europe.
As for this year’s competition, I have been awarded the grand prize by the jury, was chosen as “Jeune Espoir Lyrique Canadien 2019”, and granted $5000 by Azrieli Foundation to support my future engagements and auditions in Europe. I have been also offered the title role in Carmen by Bizet in Sofia National Opera and Ballet(Bulgaria) for Fall 2020, a concert engagement in January 2020 with Opera de San Miguel, concert engagements with Opéra Angers Nantes (France) for next season as well as concert engagements with Shenzhen Poly Theatre (China)
Barczablog Later this month you’ll be singing in Toronto Operetta Theatre’s The Gypsy Baron by Johann Strauss Jr. Tell us about your role in the production.
Beste Kalender: The Gypsy Baron is a very fun piece with a number of colorful characters. Czipra is definitely one of those. She is an old gypsy woman full of life, also the leader of the gypsy troops in her area. She is very deeply involved in anything related to the spiritual world, fortune telling and such. She is also a very strong woman who fears nothing and no one. She raised Saffi (performed by Soprano Meghan Lindsay) who is later revealed as the daughter of a Turkish Pasha (I know…the irony), as her own daughter, and protected her against the Pasha’s enemies.
The story is about the marriage of Saffi and the landowner Barinkay (played by Tenor Michael Barrett), who just returned from exile. Czipra has a very central role in all the events bringing these young lovers together and it is very exciting to experience her “larger-than-life” spirit, laughter (she does laugh big…and A LOT)) and determination in taking care of her beloved Saffi throughout the story.
It all takes place in Hungary and Vienna in late 18th century but get ready for some modern touch with the English text as our fearless leader Guillermo Silva-Marin has a great skill to always bring these works up-to-date with some ingenious word play.
Barczablog You have a new hat you’re wearing with Tongue in Cheek Productions. Please explain.
Beste Kalender: As the position of “PR Sorceress” goes, I take care of the Public Relations, Press and Media Services for the company but, in reality, we really try to share the work as much as possible including casting and other organization related subjects. Mike Nyby and Aaron Durand are two of my favorite colleagues with whom I have performed in a number of different productions. They founded Tongue in Cheek Productions and asked me to sing for them in their second show “Verbotenlieder: Forbidden songs”, where female performers sang pieces they always longed to sing but were never allowed to, because their teachers or the actual “fach” forbade them. I got to perform Erlkonig by Schubert, which was SO MUCH FUN!!! I officially joined the team shortly after “Verbotenlieder”.
I really liked Mike and Aaron’s way of thinking about classical music, and how they wanted to stretch the boundaries of the average person’s understanding of the opera world and I am a big believer in the power of strong social presence and promotion for a successful career in the arts. I also really enjoy talking to and connecting with people, hearing what they have to say, which – I suppose – has something to do with my Psychology training. At the time, I was also curious about the administrative and promotion side of the shows in which I was involved. Since then our journey together has been nothing but real hard work and lots of fun. We all share the same vision, and I look forward to see what the future holds for our innovative, “classical music and people friendly” company!
Barczablog You’re playing in an operetta with TOT, you’re singing the Old Lady in Candide in Edmonton, you’ll be singing Carmen again (having sung the role before). You’re a singer who is very comfortable with spoken dialogue. Have you done a lot of this before?
Beste Kalender I was never trained particularly for spoken theatre but I have had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful stage directors who have significantly contributed to my talent as a performing artist. Leon Major, Paul Curran, Guillermo Silva-Marin, Tom Diamond, just to name a few. As for my acting and spoken scenes in general, I guess I am just comfortable with the stage.
I love the process, the dynamics, and the action in live theatre. It doesn’t really matter what role I perform…I am the happiest performer when I feel the presence of my audience.
Barczablog How many languages do you speak?
Beste Kalender My native language is Turkish and I am fluent in English.
My life-long passion for opera meant that I always had a great interest in Italian songs and the language itself. When I was in high school more and more Italian tourists started visiting our city of Antalya (on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey). A family friend was fluent in Italian and had his own carpet and silver shop at the bazaar. He loved to hear about my passion for opera and I loved the fact that he was a real gentleman and fluent in 6 languages including Italian. So we made a deal: I started working for him at the carpet shop, and he taught me Italian for one hour every day… and then let me practice with the tourists. It was the best summer of my life and the lessons came in handy when I had my first contract with Teatro Comunale di Bologna in Italy, years later.
I have studied some French in Turkey, and later continued my studies here in Canada. If you are patient enough I can even discuss some politics in French. I just adore the language! I am also a beginner in German but hope to have a better grasp of the language in the near future.
Barczablog At one time you were doing research in psychology. Could you talk for a moment about your interest in music and how it leads to your present life as a performer?
Beste Kalender: In Turkey, I finished a bachelor’s degree in Psychology (at Bogazici University in Istanbul) as well as a Voice Diploma Program (at Istanbul University State Conservatory with Ayse Sezerman Unel). I was really looking for an opportunity to study music abroad and, being exuberantly inspired by “La Diva Turca” Leyla Gencer’s biographical novel, to pursue an international career in performance.
At the same time, I was curious about how music can enhance our lives. During my studies at Bogazici University, I was working in three different labs with internationally respected scholars and professors. Oliver Sack’s Musicophilia being my favorite book, I was fascinated by neuroscience and studies supporting the idea of how music can promote so many cognitive functions, including memory and language skills via the overlapping faculties in the brain. I was the valedictorian of my class, also the recipient of the presidency award upon graduation from Bogazici University and I started applying for PhD programs in North America where I could conduct music-related Developmental Psychology research. In my applications, I was always honest about my interest in opera performance. I knew I wanted to be an opera singer but I did not want to feel disappointed with myself if I simply didn’t have the talent I thought I had. My goal was to be happy, to nurture my interests and dreams to the fullest. I was immediately accepted at University of Toronto by renowned developmental researcher Sandra Trehub. Upon my arrival I also convinced mezzo soprano Jean MacPhail to meet and hear me-I may have begged a little. Within six months, I was conducting my own studies as well as working on my first role, Tancredi in Rossini’s Tancredi for Guillermo Silva-Marin’s Summer Opera Lyric Theatre. Guillermo was the first director who ever gave me a chance to perform in Canada and develop as an artist!
During my time at the PhD program, I continued performing regularly and also completed an Artist Diploma in Voice at The Glenn Gould School of The Royal Conservatory of Music.
When I took a leave from research and joined Calgary Opera’s Emerging Artists Program, I was “all but dissertation”. Then, originally cast as Mercedes, I had the unexpected opportunity to fill in for the title role in Carmen at Calgary Opera, singing all four performances. My performance was well received and I knew I was ready to embrace what the future brings as a performer. The next day, I phoned my supervisor in Toronto and informed her that I am leaving academia. That Carmen role was just the first of many others… I can easily say that I owe my professional career to Carmen and to my mentors in Calgary Opera who believed in my talent to bring “her” to life!
Barczablog I saw in your bio the “Marilyn Horne Song Celebration Concert”. What is your connection to Marilyn Horne?
Beste Kalender: I feel very lucky to call Marilyn Horne my muse and mentor. I will never forget my first time meeting her…
When I talked to my former teacher about how I admire Marilyn Horne and aspire to meet her someday, she advised me to apply to Music Academy of The West’s Summer Music Festival.
In 2014, Music Academy announced their season production of Carmen – obviously my favorite opera ever – so I decided to give it a try and actually received a call-back. I entered the room and there was Marilyn Horne looking at me with the most radiant smile I have ever seen. I don’t remember how I sang. I just remember that all of a sudden it was hard to breathe. I turned back to exit the room then I heard Warren Jones, who is also one of the greatest coaches of the program, say “Please stop!” The rest of my audition turned into a short working session. After my audition, I was full of all sorts of feelings (singers joke!).
Then I heard the door open. It was Ms. Horne. She said “…so Beste Kalender from Turkey. You have worked with some wonderful voice teachers and you have the right voice for Carmen. Now tell me why you were so nervous…”
I told her: “Ms. Horne I grew up with this dream of meeting you some day. I was so overwhelmed by your presence.”
She answered back with that same wonderful smile of hers and said “Whatever happens…Don’t forget to breathe.”
Shortly before the results were announced, I was offered a lead role at a main opera house in Moscow. But I forgot all about Moscow when I heard that Ms. Horne invited me to her festival, this time just as a cover… for Mercedes. The following year she offered me the title role in Rossini’s Cinderella and we developed a great “”teacher-student” bond during the preparation process. Thanks to her, my story turned into a real life Cinderella story. She was very pleased with my performances and invited me to sing for The Song Continues Masterclasses at Carnegie Hall, which was followed by my recital debut at Carnegie Hall with another favorite mentor of mine: world renowned Maestro Warren Jones. After that I was featured by Musical America as “The Artist of the Month”. The following year I had the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall once again, this time at the Marilyn Horne Song Celebration Concert with many other internationally celebrated artists such as Isabel Leonard, Russell Thomas, Nicole Cabell, Susanna Philips et al.
Barczablog Do you have any teachers or influences you’d like to acknowledge?
Beste Kalender A career in this business is only possible when you are surrounded by the right team of people. I would like to thank TOT’S Guillermo Silva-Marin and Jean MacPhail for taking a chance in me 10 years ago when they first met me as a researcher and my former academic supervisor at U of T, Professor Emerita Sandra Trehub for her support throughout this adventure.
I would like to also thank my current teachers and mentors: Marilyn Horne, Warren Jones, Laura Brooks Rice, Rachel Andrist and Hans Nieuwenhuis for always being there for me.
With Beste Wishes…
Beste Kalender is featured in Toronto Operetta Theatre’s holiday production of Johann Strauss Jr’s The Gypsy Baron, presented with full orchestra conducted by Derek Bate and directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin, December 28th until January 5th at the St Lawrence Centre. Click here for tickets.