IC community and UI School of Music come together for earthquake benefit concert for Turkey and Syria

In light of the recent earthquakes that have devastated Turkey and Syria, University of Iowa professor Volkan Orhon hoped to help out and spread the word through a benefit concert on Feb. 25.


Emily Nyebrg

Bahri Karacay (left) and Volkan Orhon (right) perform at the Congregational United Church of Christ in Iowa City for an Earthquake Benefit Concert for Turkey and Syria on Saturday Feb 25, 2023. The Benefit was put on by Orhon, a University of Iowa Professor.

Emma Gaughan, Arts Reporter

As the sun reflected the colors of stained-glass windows across the walls of the church, University of Iowa School of Music professors and other musicians gave emotional performances at a benefit concert for those affected by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.

The performance at the Congregational United Church of Christ on Saturday afternoon presented themes of both devastation and hope in light of recent events. As of Feb. 24, the earthquake death toll reached almost 50,000, according to the Associated Press.

The concert was organized by professor Volkan Orhon from the UI School of Music. Orhon started an online donation campaign that collected money for Doctors Without Borders.

Orhon plays and teaches the bass. He has won multiple awards and played with notable musicians and groups like the Emerson String Quartet.

“It was a little hectic, but I figured we should do something earlier than later because it’s still fresh in people’s minds,” Orhon said.

He plans to travel to Turkey in late March to perform and wanted to do something in Iowa City before he left. With the tragedy gaining national attention, Orhon said he wanted to bring awareness of the earthquake to those in Iowa City and offer an opportunity for the community to get involved and help where they could.

“This is not going to bring lives back,” Orhon said. “Somehow, maybe we’ll help them get their families together or their homes together, the cities they lived in together, back to normal — whatever that means.”

Orhon said he was willing to do anything he could. Other performers shared his sentiment and said music is something they could do to bring people together.

Many of the other performers are from the UI School of Music, such as professors Nicole Esposito, Benjamin Coelho, and Courtney Miller. Esposito is a flutist, Coelho is a bassoonist, and Miller is an oboist, and all three were invited by Orhon to perform.

Once the church’s doors opened, its pews filled with attendees who were still looking for seats up until the moment music from Esposito’s flute filled the room.

“The piece is called ‘Kumru,’ which means dove, which obviously is the bird of peace,” Esposito said. “We’re hoping for much peace in this difficult time for the Turkish and Syrian people.”

The piece reflected the hopeful nature of its name, with a peaceful melody and strong performance by Esposito.

“We were ready to do what we needed to do for this concert,” Esposito said.

Esposito’s sentiment was shared by the other performers. Coelho said the benefit was a great opportunity to bring together musicians who often do not perform together.

“We are always ready to perform,” Coelho said. “It’s such a wonderful thing to bring the faculty of the school of music together to perform for a great cause.”

Coelho said he chose to perform the piece “Three Waltzes for Solo Bassoon” by Franciso Mignone because of its message. The first two waltzes represent sorrow and longing, but the third displays a more hopeful outlook.

The concert displayed a diversity of music, some of which featured vocal performances while others were carried by the instrumentals. Each piece shared a different tone and theme, many along the lines of grief, hope, or sadness.

Miller played a piece on her oboe that she initially composed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The piece reflected on the devastation of the time and hoped to connect the emotions to this context.

“I chose a piece that I thought had really beautiful melodies that were uplifting but also dealt with some emotional turbulence,” Miller said.

The concert concluded with a dazzling piece by Orhon that reflected both the mastery of his instrument and the high emotions of the room.