Ümit Eroğlu

Born: July 7th, 1947, Ankara (Turkey)
Nationality: Turkish

Eurovision record
Ümit Eroğlu conducted two Turkish entries, ‘Gözlerinin hapsindeyim’ for Kayahan in Zagreb (1990) and ‘Unutamazsın’ for Tüzmen in Birmingham (1998). In both cases, the orchestration was written by Eroğlu himself.

At work in his recording studio: Ankara, ± 1990

Biography
Ümit Eroğlu’s talent for music was passed onto him by his father Kemal (1913-2007), who studied the clarinet at Istanbul’s State Conservatoire. After having worked as a music teacher across Turkey, Kemal Eroğlu was commissioned by the country’s president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, to found Turkey’s first private music school. “Atatürk visited all corners of Turkey, inspecting how his country was run”, Ümit Eroğlu explains. “He met my father, who was teaching his lessons in a cultural house in some outpost village. It was Atatürk’s policy to bring music and other arts to the countryside. He aimed at westernizing Turkey. My father was complimented on his job by Atatürk, who invited him to come to Ankara to bring culture to the new capital. My dad accepted. He taught at colleges and primary schools, while at the same time running his own music school.”

It was in Ankara that Ümit was born in the summer of 1947. “Perhaps my first memory is of riding my children’s bike – but not out on the street, but inside the house amidst music sheets! These sheets had been printed by my father. He always put the carbon papers on the floor of our living room to dry. In a way, that was how my music lessons began! My father was an authoritarian man. He did not want me to play with the other children outside the house… that was why I had to ride my bike in the living room! Dad was determined that I should learn to play the accordion. He had founded an accordion orchestra… in fact, that is how he met my mother, who was one of his students at that instrument. When I was five, he started giving me accordion lessons… and he was a strict teacher. I remember being punished by him, because he felt I was not putting in enough effort!”

Young Ümit on his bike amidst his father’s music sheets (c1951)

Ümit studied with his father until he was seven. By that time, he had also taken up mastering the piano, an instrument which he loved from the beginning. Kemal Eroğlu, acknowledging that teaching one’s own child can be a liability, found a better teacher for his son. Ümit: “This piano teacher was a German lady who had married a Turkish violinist. She guided me for a couple of years. I was more profoundly influenced by Mithat Fenmen, a virtuoso piano player who taught at Ankara’s conservatoire… My father sent me to him for private lessons when I was ten years old. Fenmen liked my playing and was adamant that I should go to the conservatoire. He was a great teacher and effectively laid the foundations which allowed me to get into the conservatoire. Meanwhile, I made my radio debut as a member of my father’s accordion orchestra.”

In 1961, Ümit was duly accepted to the Ankara State Conservatoire, at that time the only academic music school in Turkey. Here, he stayed until 1965, continuing his piano studies with Mithat Fenmen and moreover being taught sight-reading, composing, and harmony by Ulvi Cemal Erkin, one of Turkey’s most influential classical musicians. After one or two years in conservatoire, Ümit started earning some extra money, though the way he had to go about to do so was slightly unorthodox. “Friends of mine bought jazz records at the American army base in Ankara. That is how jazz music arrived in Turkey! There were a few clubs for the Americans in town. I was attracted to this type of music rightaway. Oscar Peterson became a favourite. With four friends, I formed a group, the Jupiter Quintet, with which we performed at a US officers’ club. All of this had to be done in secret, because the conservatoire was a boarding school and we were not allowed to go out at night! Moreover, the staff disdained any music genre that was not classical. Somewhere late in the evening, we had to escape from the dormitory... with some of the school’s instruments, including a big double-bass which we tied to a rope and lowered from a balcony on the second floor! Beforehand, we had arranged a taxi which was waiting for us. Of course, we were often found out by our teachers when we got back... but they kind of liked us, so we got away with it...”

Turkish pop singer Erol Büyükburç and his accompanying band in Istanbul, 1965, from left to right: Altan Severcan (drums), Uğur Başar (guitar), Ümit Eroğlu (piano/arrangements), Erol Büyükburç, and Işık Tapan (bass). Uğur Başar is the brother of Selçuk Başar, Turkey’s conductor in the 1984 Eurovision Song Contest

Consequently, Ümit began having second thoughts about the education he was receiving. “As a student of classical piano, you are taught to become a soloist... but only genuine virtuosos really get there. All the others have to find a job as a teacher or répétiteur, accompanying ballets. That kind of work paid some 700 Turkish liras a month, which is very little... while one night in the officers’ club earned me 50 liras! In the summer months, our quintet went to Istanbul to play there. In 1965, I decided to go for it... I found a job as a pianist in Istanbul and called my girlfriend Firuzan, who was a ballet student at the conservatoire in Ankara, to join me. She escaped and we got engaged. In 1966, we married! The Jupiter Quintet fell apart, as all members were picked up by different dancing clubs. All of us stopped playing jazz... even back in those days, there was no money in jazz. It was pop music that people wanted to hear.”

In Istanbul, 18-year-old Ümit met Erol Büyükburç, originally a jazz singer who had thrilled Turkish teenagers with his hit song ‘Little Lucy’ (1961). “He mostly sang in Turkish, though”, Ümit adds. “He sang adaptations of folk repertoire. At that time, he was really popular. He hired me to be the leader of his stage band. It usually consisted of five or six persons. In effect, that was the start of my career as a music professional. From the start, I wrote the arrangements. In 1968, Erol released his first album record... albums were a relatively new phenomenon in Turkey at that time. I arranged this album too. In the tour which followed, we wanted to bring the album sound onto the stage... Therefore, I brought together an orchestra which included ten strings and two brass players. Maybe I cannot claim that I created the orchestra on stage in Turkey, but a pop concert with a full orchestra was certainly something which the Turkish audience had never seen before. The LP and tour were a huge success and Erol became an even bigger star than he had been before. On tour, Erol, me, and our wives were driven around in a luxurious Ford Galaxie. At one moment, the crowd even lifted the car up, while we were seated in it... they carried us to the stage. We were young and not afraid of these huge masses of people. Even in those days, though, I was wondering if this was the life for me. Back then, being an arranger was not a job in Turkey... but I told my wife that, if it was to become a profession someday, I would prefer it to going to play somewhere in some bar or nightclub. Staying home to write music and make a living like that... what could be better? In 1967, my son Cenk was born and, in a way, I longed for a more quiet life with my family.”

Ümit, Firuzan, and their son Cenk, who was born in 1967

In 1968-’69, Ümit was called up to perform his two years of military service. Except for four months of obligatory military training, he spent most of his time in Ankara, playing the piano in the local officers’ club. In these twenty-four months of exile from Istanbul’s pop scene, he constructed a small studio in an unused kitchen of his father’s music school and started making arrangements for some low-profile music projects. Eroğlu: “Career-wise, it was a disaster having to leave Erol Büyükburç’s band, since we were so successful at that time... on the other hand, these two years in Ankara gave me the opportunity to experiment with this new studio and earn a little money at the same time. I was trying to make the best of a bad situation.”

A couple of months after being released from the army, an interesting opportunity came Ümit’s way. Turkish drummer Turhan Eteke asked him to join his five-man-band for a European tour, which also included bass player Onno Tunç. Not only did Eroğlu accept the offer, he ended up staying with Eteke’s dance orchestra for five years (1970-’75) and working in five different European countries. “Turhan had connections with a European agency which arranged tours for us. The first season I joined, we started in the Mocambo, a dancing hall in Berne, Switzerland. Our repertoire? We played anything that was in the charts... the popular tunes. The arrangements we played were never written out. We did not really have to, as this was a small band with guys of a good, professional level and all of us had enough experience to play this kind of music easily.”

“Usually”, Eroğlu continues, “we played at a venue for one month. After our contract expired, we travelled on to the next town. We were on the road all year. Sometimes, we finished playing somewhere at two o’clock in the morning, packed our stuff and drove 1,500 km to the next club in Germany. Instead of going to the pension, we went to the local dancing hall, did a rehearsal with the local singer, and in the evening performed without having had a second of sleep. We were young and never felt exhausted! We enjoyed our work and it was inspirational too... In Europe, it was far easier than in Turkey to obtain sheet music, records, and modern equipment. Moreover, we were friends... perhaps even comparable to a family, travelling as we did from one place to another with five cars and one minibus. I had my wife and son with me. We enjoyed seeing new cities and new countries.”

Astonishingly, Ümit managed to hold out life on the roads of Europe for five years, working with Eteke’s band in clubs and halls in Switzerland, West Germany, Sweden, Finland, and Norway, performing as far north as Haparanda on the Swedish-Finnish border. In 1975, however, he decided to come back to Ankara: “The main reason was that my son was of school age. We could have stayed, but that would have implied that he had to go to international school somewhere. I would have been away from him and my wife for virtually the whole year... unbearable. Back in Ankara, I initially worked as a piano teacher in my father’s school. Of course, I still had my kitchen, the tiny studio I had constructed during my military service. I could not resist taking up recording again. I had always been fond of the recording table and sound engineering. In my kitchen, I recorded the single ‘Bodrum, Bodrum’ with MFÖ, a band consisting of three friends of mine from Ankara. That song was quite successful and paved the way for bigger projects.”

At work in his ‘kitchen’ studio, ± 1977

In 1977, Eroğlu, bolstered by his first success as an engineer, founded a fully-fledged recording studio, simply called Stüdyo Ankara: “There were two or three good studios in Istanbul at that time, but none in Ankara. My studio offered singers modern equipment, allowing a technically well-balanced recording of their work. After a while, many artists from Istanbul started coming over to work with me. Back then, TRT was the only TV channel of the country and it was based in Ankara. TRT had high requirements. Officials did not want audiences to have to listen to badly recorded music. I helped singers making a good version of their song with which they could make a playback performance on television – and thereby achieve a nationwide breakthrough. In the course of the years, dozens of artists recorded their work in Studio Ankara. If their work required additional arrangements, I was usually the one they turned to to write them. I never became their producer, though. I am not the kind of person who is able to make a business from music... I am simply the guy in the kitchen. I started this job in my father’s kitchen and continued doing the same job, albeit in a slightly bigger ‘kitchen’, for decades. The studio did well from the beginning. We earned a good life from it for some thirty years.”

Over the years, Ümit wrote arrangements to songs for many famous Turkish folk and pop artists, resulting in countless chart successes. He is adamant, however, not to mention specific songs or artists. “It is not important to list all these names”, he insists. “I was simply doing my job. It is the songwriter who deserves credit for his creativity in making a new song. Songwriters are good at writing lyrics and combining melody and words, whilst my job is to put in the music theory bit. Though I composed perhaps a dozen of pop songs, I was happy to remain in the background. If I should be remembered for some contribution to pop music, it is certainly for my work with Kayahan. With most of the others, I just did one album or a couple of songs, but with him, I had a working relationship which lasted for over fifteen years.”

Working on an arrangement, ± 1989

The way the long standing working relationship between Eroğlu and Kayahan Açar (1949-2015) came about, was somewhat unusual. “It was somewhere in the 1970s, just after my return from Europe. A moody man came to the door of my studio. After I had allowed him in, he sat down and explained to me he did not have the money required to enter a song in Turkey’s Eurovision pre-selection. Kayahan was not a total stranger to me. I had seen him on TV, performing a song called ‘Istanbul’da bir güzel’, a single he had made with Atilla Özdemiroğlu. Until then, he had had limited success and he mainly worked in bars and clubs. I felt there was something promising to this man. In 1975, I arranged and recorded Kayahan’s first album (entitled ‘Bekle gülüm’ – Ed.). It took several years before he managed his breakthrough, though. From the early 1980s onwards, though, he got more and more popular with the Turkish public.”

For seventeen years (1975-’92), Ümit Eroğlu arranged and recorded all of Kayahan’s single records as well as eight studio albums. In 1995, Eroğlu co-arranged another of his CD releases, ‘Benim penceremden’. “Over the years, Kayahan became a friend”, Ümit comments. “He was not always easy to work with. For one song, he could change the lyrics a hundred times... same thing with the melody. I hardly ever met someone who was so meticulous. He was an excellent songwriter, but not a professional musician. He did not even read notes. Therefore, he needed an arranger by his side – and that is where I came in. The two of us proved a good combination… and with good combinations, miracles can happen. He could call me in the dead of night, asking advice about some song he was working on. Many times, he also contacted me for personal reasons. He did not have too many friends, but I was one of them. After some years, when he became one of the biggest acts of Turkey, it became increasingly hard to work with Kayahan. At some point, he brought in some inexperienced, young musicians and wanted them to get involved in the arranging process. In the course of time, we slowly, slowly separated, but even after we stopped working together, he called me for advice each time he was working on an album. Years later, we teamed up again and made a last album (called ‘Biriciğim’e’, in 2007 – Ed.) for which I was the pianist and arranger of two pieces.”

In the studio with his son Cenk (centre) and producer Şafak Karaman (± 1994)

Away from his involvement in recording pop music, Ümit Eroğlu composed the music to five entire series of TRT soap operas. In 1978, he invented the intro tune to TRT’s news programme, which was used for three consecutive years. As a conductor, Ümit performed in the 1989 edition of the Sopot Song Festival in Poland, leading the orchestra for the Turkish entry performed by Nilüfer, whilst he also led the orchestra for the ‘Golden Antenna 1995’, a Turkish song festival televised live by TRT. From the 1990s onwards, Eroğlu also regularly worked as a session pianist and orchestrator for his son Cenk, a rock guitarist who managed to establish himself as an arranger and producer in his own right. In 1993, at the request of Ankara’s Opera House, Ümit Eroğlu founded a thirty-piece-big band, allowing classical musicians to play lighter genres once in a while. This so-called ‘Ankara Pop’ ensemble existed for three seasons.

In 2007, after exactly thirty years, Ümit closed down his recording studio. “There was no longer any money in the studio business”, he explains. “The budgets of record companies have become so much smaller. Bands and songwriters usually prepare their playbacks on a computer – they do not need a professional arranger to do it for them. In 2007, my father passed away at the age of ninety-four. I inherited his music school. I knew it would be hard to take over from him. He had been such a passionate teacher and able business man, keeping this music school alive for sixty years. Though I am not businesslike at all, I decided to switch careers. Apart from becoming the manager of the school, I started teaching piano and music theory. There are two other institutors teaching the guitar and the violin. Usually, we have some fifty to sixty students a year.”

Conducting the big band of the Middle East Technical University, 2009

From 2008 onwards, Ümit has been the musical director of his own big band at the Middle East Technical University, where he teaches jazz music one day a week. On top of that, more recently, he finally devoted himself to creating the music of his own preference. “I never made a solo album, as I was always busy working on other people’s music. I am not bitter about that – quite the opposite. Arranging was what I was best at... my special talent. Music notation is a language of its own. Everyone can learn languages, but few manage to write a novel or poetry. The same is true for music: hundreds of students graduate from conservatoire every year, but few of them are able to write or arrange music successfully. I have no reason to complain. At heart, though, I still am a jazz musician. It is more interesting, more intricate than rock and pop music. Therefore, I have been recording jazz piano solo pieces now – just for fun, but I am toying with the idea of creating a solo album. Now that I am more or less retired, it would be great to create something as a memory to my children and grandchildren.”

Ümit Eroğlu in the Eurovision Song Contest
Ümit Eroğlu wrote tens of arrangements for Turkish Eurovision pre-selection hopefuls, first and foremost for his protégé Kayahan Açar. After five fruitless attempts between 1981 and 1989, Kayahan finally won the Turkish heats in 1990 with his song ‘Gözlerinin hapsindeyim’. “Like so many other of Kayahan’s songs, we essentially created it together, step by step”, Ümit comments. “He invented the song on his guitar. Following his ideas, I made a vocal pattern, based on his reach. Finally, I wrote the orchestration which I conducted in the Turkish final. Though I do not really remember, for Kayahan winning the ticket to the Eurovision Song Contest must have been a fulfilling moment. I had been trying for so many years. He wanted to do Eurovision at all cost.”


Ümit Eroğlu conducting the original arrangement to ‘Gözlerinin hapsindeyim’ in the 1990 Turkish Eurovision pre-selection show

This initial arrangement was totally different from the version which was performed in the international Eurovision final in Zagreb. Why was the song changed so profoundly after the Turkish pre-selection? Frustration about Turkey’s bad Eurovision scores in the 1980s lay at the root of this decision, as Eroğlu explains: “Our broadcaster TRT was always looking for solutions to do better in Eurovision. They had a special budget, which was sometimes used to make a new recording of the song abroad. Another time, they hired a choreographer from Europe. They were always looking for people who could help making our songs more palatable for the general public in Europe. For ‘Gözlerinin hapsindeyim’, Kayahan’s manager Nino Varon suggested to TRT to contact Jean Claudric, the arranger of Enrico Macias. He argued that Claudric’s oriental style of arranging, which had been so successful for Macias, would suit our song as well.”

In the end, as can be traced in Jean Claudric’s biography as well, TRT managed to lure the acclaimed French orchestrator to come to Istanbul in order to make a new arrangement to Kayahan’s Eurovision entry. Accompanied by a guitar player and an accordionist from Paris, he spent twelve days in Hotel Dedeman, whilst Kayahan and his entourage were waiting for the result of his work. “It was a funny situation”, Ümit recalls, laughing. “We were all in this hotel: Kayahan, Nino Varon, the manager of Kayahan’s record company, and Bülent Osma, the man at TRT responsible for the Eurovision Song Contest. Me and my wife – we were also there, because I was supposed to conduct the song in Zagreb. Jean Claudric made the most of his stay in Istanbul, giving the impression that he was working on the song. Most of the time, he spent in his hotel room, not communicating with any of us. Kayahan could not curb his curiosity and asked a bellboy to knock on Claudric’s door and have a peek, just to check what he was doing. All the boy could tell Kayahan was that he had seen sheets of music paper on the desk…”

Working on the remake of ‘Gözlerinin hapsindeyim’ in Istanbul, from left to right: Nino Varon (Kayahan’s manager), backing vocalist Demet Sağıroğlu, Kayahan, and Ümit Eroğlu; to the right of Ümit are Jean Claudric (far right) and one of the Parisian session musicians whom Claudric had taken along to Turkey

“Kayahan was right to feel nervous”, Eroğlu continues, “because we were really close to the submission deadline. If we did not send in our orchestration in time, we would be disqualified from the Eurovision Song Contest. With just one or two days left, late in the evening, Nino Varon came to my room and told that Jean Claudric wanted to use a countermelody from my arrangement to turn it into the chorus of the song. In the Turkish final version, there had been no such chorus. Claudric felt he could catch an interesting melody from that counterline. I agreed, but Nino immediately told me to keep it a secret. Kayahan hated the fact that the chorus of the Eurovision version was not really his invention! He never managed to write lyrics to that bit... he found it impossible. Therefore, he simply sang ‘hai-la-la-la-la’.”

Jean Claudric came up with an idea to change the build-up of the song, but what about the orchestration? Ümit: “That critical last day before the deadline expired, Claudric finally finished his version. He recorded it in Melih Kibar’s studio in Istanbul, but just with the accordion and guitar – there were no strings, no nothing! He left, saying: “I will complete the strings and brass later onwards and send it to you from Paris”, but there was no time for that! He left for France, taking the money TRT had promised him... I do not know the exact amount, but it must have been thousands of dollars. I remember all of us were sat at Kayahan’s house. Nilüfer (famous Turkish pop artist – Ed.) was also there. We listened to the tape Claudric had left us. I remember seeing disappointed faces all around. I was asked for my opinion and said: “Well, I do not know... it sounds like a typical French chanson, a bit démodé, but it is all right”. The others were more outspoken. They said they liked my old arrangement better.”

The big night in Zagreb: Ümit and Kayahan minutes before their Eurovision performance

“What to do now? Claudric had not left us anything else but this recording. Though he deserves credit for coming up with this idea for the chorus which became the trademark of the song, he failed to do what he had been hired to do in the first place! He took the money and was never heard of anymore! Kayahan and his entourage now wanted me to make an arrangement based on Claudric’s version. By that time, it was eight in the evening. I went down to the same studio and worked until five o’clock the next morning. In one night, I finished the job and everybody congratulated me on it. Kayahan felt guilty and wanted to book a room for me and my wife in the Grand Tarabya, the most expensive hotel in Istanbul, but I declined! Our sheet music arrived just in time in Europe to avoid being disqualified from the Eurovision Song Contest. So that was the story of Jean Claudric...!”

Finally, Ümit Eroğlu and Kayahan with the Turkish backing group travelled to Zagreb as one of the twenty-two participating acts in the 1990 Eurovision Song Contest. After the particularly complicated preparations in Istanbul, the rehearsals were relatively easy, as Eroğlu recalls: “There was just one thing... the trumpet players had a hard time playing the high notes in the chorus of our song. The brass players were classical musicians and, with their embouchure, they failed to make the steep climb in the melody – but in the end, they nailed it. Most members of the orchestra spoke some basic English, just like me. But when the subject is music, communication problems can hardly arise. After all, music terminology is the same in all languages. Conducting the orchestra was easy. I mean, of course I am not properly trained to conduct a classical symphony, but this was my own arrangement... and what could be more logical than to have the guy who wrote the arrangement to conduct the orchestra himself? Perhaps some other, trained conductor would not have been able to get the result that I wanted from that music score.”

Ümit (far left), Kayahan, and the remainder of the Turkish Eurovision delegation in the greenroom in Zagreb, waiting for the voting

The Eurovision edition of 1990 saw the ‘famous’ conductors’ strike. The producers of the show wanted to leave out the presentation of the conductor at the beginning of each song. Eroğlu: “I heard of it during the rehearsals. Until that year, it had been a rule to show the conductor while he enters the stage. The Yugoslavians said they needed to save time to avoid the broadcast dragging on for too long. Now, that year, all conductors were in the same dressing room, just like athletes in a sporting event, so ganging up together was easy. We did not have to go looking for each other. I guess it was right before the general rehearsal that we had a meeting and decided not to accept this. We took off our official clothes and refused to go on stage. Upon that, the matter was solved fairly quickly. We negotiated with the organisation and the result was we were shown without taking a bow, but while counting in our song. As you can imagine, we had a good relationship amongst one another that year. We were united against a common enemy.” (much more about this striking episode in Eurovision history in the biography of Stanko Selak, that year’s deputy musical director)

In spite of a spirited performance, Kayahan failed to impress the international Eurovision juries, finishing seventeenth with just twenty-one votes, but, according to Eroğlu: “We were not really upset, because Turkey always lost. The performance was cooked, in other words: well-prepared, and everything went well. We had nothing to feel sorry about. Needless to say that we had hoped for more points, but even now, years later, when I watch that performance on video, I think: “Yeah, that was good!” And what was more important: the song was a huge success in Turkey. In our country, it is still one of the most popular Eurovision songs of all time. Of course, politics played a major role in Turkey’s bad scores, but I have always maintained that if the song is good enough, you can push away cultural and language barriers no matter what. At that international level, apparently our song did not stand out enough. In Eurovision, the most important thing is to be there and participate. Losing is part of the game. Just look at Norway’s Eurovision history. They came last many times, but they persevered and won it (for the first time in 1985 – Ed.). I never accepted the idea of Turkey withdrawing from the contest. You have to come to terms with the fact that there can only be one winner each year.”


Ümit Eroğlu conducting the orchestra in Zagreb for Kayahan’s Eurovision Song Contest performance of ‘Gözlerinin hapsindeyim’ (1990)

After having participated as an arranger and conductor of many entries in the Turkish Eurovision pre-selections many times, Ümit Eroğlu was commissioned by TRT to mount an orchestra and be the musical director of the national final on three consecutive occasions (1996-’98). “These three programmes were all recorded in Ankara”, he explains. “TRT gave me full freedom to bring together a good orchestra. The rhythm section consisted of the guys I also used for recording sessions in my Studio Ankara, whilst the brass elements came from the TRT Big Band. I recruited most of the string players from the Ankara State Symphony Orchestra.”

As was customary in the Turkish Eurovision selection shows, each act was allowed to choose the conductor of its preference to conduct the orchestra. All remaining participants were conducted by Eroğlu himself. Amongst the guest conductors to appear in front of Eroğlu’s TV orchestra were Timur Selçuk and Levent Çoker. The latter won the pre-selections in 1996 and 1997 with his songs ‘Beşinci mevsim’ and ‘Dinle’, both performed by Şebnem Paker. ‘Dinle’ did spectacularly well in the Eurovision Song Contest, finishing third – better than any Turkish entry had done before. Eroğlu: “‘Dinle’ was the right song at the right time. Oriental elements in music were popular at that time and everybody tried with songs in that style. The song successfully combined the Turkish rhythms with Şebnem Paker’s voice.”


One of the songs conducted by Ümit Eroğlu in his role of musical director in the 1998 Turkish Eurovision heats: ‘Gökkuşağı’ by Pamela Spence. The orchestration to this tune was written by Mete Artun.

The 1998 Turkish pre-selection was won by one of the entries arranged by Ümit Eroğlu himself, ‘Unutamazsın’, a wonderful ballad composed by Erdinç Tunç and performed by Tarkan Tüzmen (in arte simply referred to as Tüzmen). Like Kayahan, Tüzmen was particularly motivated to win the right to represent his country in the international Eurovision final – and for him, it was a case of ‘third time lucky’ after two botched attempts in the Turkish pre-selections of 1996 and 1997 (both arranged by Ümit Eroğlu as well). Ümit about Tüzmen: “Yes, he tried several times. He was married to the sister of Erdinç Tunç, who composed ‘Unutamazsın’. He created it on the guitar. By profession, Erdinç is not a musician, but a surgeon! Before the Eurovision Song Contest, I had already worked on several songs of his in the studio.”

What about the striking piano part in the orchestration to ‘Unutamazsın’? Eroğlu : “Basically, the melody of the song was not very complicated… a standard form. It needed something to make it more interesting. Therefore, I invented that piano arrangement. In the Turkish final, I conducted the orchestra whilst simultaneously playing the piano myself. After Tüzmen won the Turkish selection, everybody I talked to afterwards was sure that I had been improvising, but the opposite was true… I had written out that arrangement note by note! When we went to the Eurovision final in Birmingham, I was slightly worried about someone else having to play such a complicated piano solo. Not every pop pianist could have played it. Therefore, I requested the organization to allow me to play the piano and conduct at the same time, the way I had done in Ankara. They claimed that, due to the stage design, it was impossible, but that, if I chose to, I could play the piano while the English host conductor (Martin Koch – Ed.) would lead the orchestra. At that point, I thought to myself: “Being a conductor is better than being a pianist…”, so I decided to conduct it myself. The pianist in the BBC Concert Orchestra must have had a hard time with the music score, but he played it exactly right – he proved to be a good musician.” (… and therefore, Jean Musy remains the only conductor in Eurovision history to have led the orchestra from behind the piano, being the MD of the 1975 French entry)

The promo single release of ‘Unutamazsın’

In the 1998 contest, the Turkish song was one of very few entries which were performed entirely live, without any backing track including pre-recorded elements. What was more, the ballad did not have any drum parts, thus lacking a fixed rhythm. “The first time we rehearsed it”, Ümit remembers, “we were well over the three-minute time limit... and the second time, again. As a conductor, for a song like this with a free tempo, you usually listen to the artist on stage, indicating the tempo to the orchestra that he has chosen. Because Eurovision has this time limit, however, this was a problem. We were reminded by some BBC staff that we needed to solve it. Part of the problem was that the stage was huge. Tüzmen was so far away from me that we were waving hands to each other across the stage. I wore headphones just to be able to hear his singing. Of course, we had been aware of this time limit when we prepared the song in Ankara, but even if I indicated the right tempo to the orchestra, Tüzmen could slow it down by his singing... and I had to follow. In the end, we found a way to just stay within the three minutes. I do not remember being particularly stressed about this. It was something that was addressed properly in the first rehearsal. After that, we did not have any problems.”

In spite of this slight hiccup, the BBC Concert Orchestra was firmly on the side of the Turkish conductor. “When the host conductor introduced me to the orchestra at the first rehearsal, I was applauded by the musicians. As he told me, they liked the song and the arrangement... one of the few entries with a classical approach. Perhaps, with such a traditional song, we were out of place… I do not know. At any rate, I noticed that, since Zagreb eight years before, the Eurovision Song Contest had changed. Tuxedoes had become a rarity. The event had lost its gravity. It was a sign of the times. Being a musician, I preferred the contest the way it was before – but you cannot stay behind. I never expected Dana International to win the festival, but having said that... I never predicted the correct winner. As a musician, you tend to focus on vocal qualities and interesting harmonies, whereas in a thoroughly commercial event like Eurovision, you have to try to look at things from the audience’s point of view. I am not very good at that!”


Ümit Eroğlu making his second and last Eurovision appearance, conducting ‘Unutamazsın’ for Tüzmen in Birmingham, 1998

Amongst the twenty-five competing entries, ‘Unutamazsın’ finished fourteenth. Not a bad score, but after good Turkish results in the previous two editions of the festival, it came as a bit of a disappointment. Tüzmen’s album, arranged by Eroğlu and released after the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest, did not receive much attention in Turkey either. Ümit, concluding: “Tüzmen is a good singer and he has the looks, but his career in Turkey never really took off – do not ask me why! Nowadays, he works as an engineer. The song was not a hit, but I look back at the experience in Birmingham with pleasure. The BBC did a good job on the organization… much better than in Zagreb. Birmingham had whole-heartedly embraced the festival. In shops, you did not have to line up in queues… as soon as the staff noticed your Eurovision accreditation, you were immediately given priority. It was nice to represent my country twice in such a big event. In hindsight, I was there at a turning point, as the contest in Birmingham was the last with a live orchestra… an important moment perhaps, but it was something which made me sad nevertheless.”

Other artists on Ümit Eroğlu
Tarkan Tüzmen, singer of the 1998 Turkish Eurovision entry: “Ümit is the greatest musician I have ever worked with by all means. We have lots of memories concerning song contests and albums. He is full of humor, easy to work with and utmost talented. We have had great times in the studio, arranging the songs and performing them. He’s like a father and the best friend at the same time.” (2015)

Interviewed by And The Conductor Is: La Wantzenau (France), May 2015

Links & sources
  • Bas Tukker interviewed Ümit Eroğlu in La Wantzenau (France), May 2015.
  • Thanks to Ümit Eroğlu for providing us with interesting photo material to publish with his story.
  • Heartfelt thanks to Ümit’s daughter Deniz for acting as an impromptu translator in some parts of the interview.
  • Thanks to Tarkan Tüzmen for sharing his memories of working with Ümit Eroğlu.

  

Songs conducted
1990: Gözlerinin hapsindeyim
1998: Unutamazsın