If you’re a lover of classical music you’re in for a treat next week…

Now in its sixth year, the Benyamin Sönmez Classical Music Festival returns to Fethiye, welcoming artists from all across Turkey to pay tribute to the late Benyamin Sönmez, one of the greatest musical talents in the contemporary world.

Who arranges the festival?

The festival committee works very hard all year round to arrange the event and organise the musicians. One of the committee members is Mehmet Sönmez, Benyamin’s older brother, also an accomplished musician who plays the double bass.  Other committee members include Benyamin and Mehmet’s mother, Fatma Sönmez, Birol Ganioğlu and Gülşen Yeğen.

Benyamin Sönmez Classical Music Festival - an emotional tribute to a young man's musical genius
The festival committee hard at work planning next weeks festival

Fethiye Times went along to talk to chat with Mehmet Sönmez.

Benyamin Sönmez Classical Music Festival - an emotional tribute to a young man's musical genius
Mehmet Sönmez

Fethiye Times (FT) What is the most important thing you want people to know about the festival?

Mehmet Sönmez (MS) It is not the biggest or the most competitive festival, but it is the most emotional because of my little brother, Benyamin. Musicians travel from all over to take part in memory of Benyamin. They don’t get paid for performing in this concert and there are no tickets or entry fees to the performances, they are free.  I want people to know, especially holidaymakers who may not know much about the festival, that they don’t have to go looking for tickets, just come along and enjoy the music. I hope they will understand the emotion behind the performances.

FT When do the concerts take place?

MS The opening concert is will be on 20th September at Beşkaza (Fethiye Town Square). Just before the main concert, there will be an award ceremony for the winners of the 2nd International Benyamin Sönmez Cello Competition taking place from the 17th to 19th September.

There will be concerts on Babadağ and sunset concerts in Ölüdeniz, Çalış and at D-Marın in Göcek (see concert schedule below)

FT As a musician yourself, will you be performing this year?

MS Yes, I am part of Toker Trio and we will be performing in the opening concert and on Babadağ and in Ölüdeniz.

Benyamin Sönmez Classical Music Festival - an emotional tribute to a young man's musical genius
Toker Trio

MS Every year we try to change the mood of the concerts and this year we have some crazy ideas.

FT I’m intrigued. Can you tell me anything more?

MS For the first time ever we will be taking a piano to the summit of Babadağ for the concert on the 21st. I will be performing with my regular group, Toker Trio, who play the piano, double bass and percussion. After the concert on Babadağ the pianist will take an accordion and paraglide (whilst playing the accordion) to the beach at Ölüdeniz and perform in the evening concert.

He will fly at around 17:30 and land in time for the concert in Ölüdeniz at 18:30. People will be able to go to both concerts and enjoy this.

There is also a violin player from the Presidential Symphony Orchestra in Ankara who will make surprise appearances at the concerts.  You won’t know where or when he will appear until you see his lighted bow that looks like something from Star Wars.

FT Can you tell me a little about Benyamin?

MS Benyamin surprised us because great musicians usually start playing from a very early age but he was 14 when he started with music. He took part in many competitions and his age and ability surprised many people. He was a really amazing musician, full of passion for his music. He was a genius.

Viyolensel Benyamin Sönmez 28 yaşında kalbine… paylaşan: tennarizm

He was a prize winner at just 16 years old when he took first place at the National Cello Contest. His teacher didn’t want him to enter the competition as he thought it was too early. We spent many hours playing together and I said no if you want to enter I will help you. His teacher didn’t help, we did it together and he won.

I can say that Fethiye is the place where his genius was born. We spent our summers here when we were boys and it was and is a very special place to us. It makes me very happy to make this festival here.

I would like to ask the people who live or holiday here, please come to the concerts. You will enjoy something special as our repertoire is very different to classical concerts you may be used to. We have some traditional pieces from Turkish composers and in the closing concert there will be songs from England, Greece and many countries.

FT Thank you for chatting with me today Mehmet.

The Festival Programme

Benyamin Sönmez Classical Music Festival - an emotional tribute to a young man's musical genius

The language of music needs no translation however here is the programme in English.

Beşkaza Meydanı – Fethiye Town Square

Wednesday 20th September – 20:30

Benyamin Sönmez international cello competition award ceremony

Arcardia Festival Orchestra & Hakan Toker symphony

Thursday 21st September – 20:30

Saygun Spring Quartet

Anatolian Woodwind Quintet

Friday 22nd September – 20:30

Berfin Aksu & İbrahim Yazıcı

Mimar Sinan Double Bass Quartet

Saturday 23rd September – 20:30

Muğla Metropolitan Orchestra

Irıs Mavraki

Sunset Concerts

D-Marin Göcek

Wednesday 20th September – 18:30

Mimar Sinan Double Bass Quartet

Thursday 21st September – 18:30


Friday 22nd September – 18:30

Saygun Spring Quartet

Babadağ Zirve

Thursday 21st September – 15:00

Toker Trio

Friday 22nd September – 18:30

Harp & violin duet

Ölüdeniz Beach Band (Paraglider landing area)

Thursday 21st September – 18:30

Toker Trio

Çalış Beach Observation Terrace

Wednesday 20th September – 18:30

Cello duet

Don’t forget – all the concerts are free, and in the most beautiful location you could wish for…

Who is  Benyamin Sönmez?

Young cellist Benyamin Sönmez, who was discovered and sponsored by legendary violinist Anne Sophie Mutter, was recognised as one of the greatest talents in the contemporary world. Born in Bremen in 1983, Benyamin started his training at the Ankara State Conservatory at the age of 14. Three years later he proved his musical genius by coming first in the National Cello Contest. He went on to win an award at the International Cello Festival and Competition in New Zealand, sponsored by M. Rostropovich.

Benyamin Sönmez Classical Music Festival - an emotional tribute to a young man's musical genius
Benyamin Sönmez 1983 – 2011

Benyamin spent five years studying with world-renowned cellist, Natalia Gutman, in Germany and Russia. He was one of the few cellists who had the opportunity to work with this great master and, during these years, had the opportunity to meet other notable musicians, writers and artists.

During his training in Moscow, he played before M. Rostropovich, the greatest cellist of the twentieth century, and attended master classes of many renowned cellists such as David Geringas, Yo-Yo Ma and Anner Bylsma. During his career, Benyamin accumulated a vast repertory, ranging from the works of seventeenth century Marin Marasto Arvo Part, Penderecký, Giya Kancheli, Alfred Schnittke, Durilleus, Schonberg and twentieth century, Benjamin Britten. He was named as “one of the most creative cellists” by music authorities as a result of his unique performances. He was invited to perform at prestigious festivals such as Manchester Cello Festival, Adam Cello Festival, Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, Istanbul Music Festival, Ankara Music Festival and Tivoli Music Festival.

Highly appreciated wherever he played, Benyamin Sönmez was working on various projects with famous maestros such as Valery Gergiev, Sir Andre Previn, Kurt Masur and their orchestras, sponsored by Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation. During his concerts, the cellist played with a Paolo Maggini cello made in 1610 and loaned to him by Maggini Stiftung.

The young cellist died on December 1, 2011, at the age of 28, after suffering a heart attack in Ankara. His body was transferred to Fethiye, where he was laid to rest

Benyamin may no longer be with us, but his legacy lives on.