Stray Cat Wanders Onstage To Hear Orchestra at Istanbul Music Festival and Steals the Show

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Cats have been living alongside humans for thousands of years. Many believe they are not so much domesticated as co-evolved to live in harmony with us, primarily due to our habit of stockpiling grain (yay, agriculture!) which in turn draws in their favorite variety of prey. Cats became prized by ancient humans for their pest controlling abilities, and are still utilized in that manner all over the world.

In Turkey, cats have long held a place of honor in the culture, stretching back to Ottoman Constantinople, which set aside cat hospitals for the sick and cat gardens for the feral population. Cats are allowed to come and go as they please from most places in the city, even some mosques. They are especially prized and respected by Muslims, who make up almost the entire population. In Islam, cats are viewed as holy animals who are ritually clean, and legends abound of the animal’s interactions with the prophet.

Which may be why no one at this Istanbul music festival was surprised to see a stray cat wander on stage in the middle of a symphony.

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The Istanbul music festival has been going on for over half a century, but there are still surprises in store for both the audience and performers. Last week, the surprise took the form of a gray tabby cat, who sauntered onstage as if it owned the place. Head held high, tail straight in the air, this cat showed no sign of stage fright as it meandered across the stage, barely flinching when the music—Beethoven’s pastoral Symphony No. 6—swelled, and even pausing to lick its foreleg.

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Even the audience takes it in stride, offering a few chuckles and nothing more

Cats. You can always find them where they shouldn’t be.

Cats in Istanbul

The city has a long and glorious history with its felines. In 1599, Baron Wenceslas Wratislow, a visitor to Constantinople, published his memoirs of his time there, marveling at how the city honored the cats who lived within.

“In Constantinople, there are also large gardens, surrounded with walls, on which cats jump and assemble, waiting for certain people to come and give them alms. For it is customary for Turks to boil and bake paunches, lights, liver and pieces of meat, and carry them in wooden buckets up and down the city, crying out ‘Kedi et, kedi et’ i.e. ‘Cat’s meat!”

That reverence for the animal has changed little in hundreds of years. In 2016, the documentary Kedi showed a literal cat’s-eye view of the ancient city, following the lives of several of the estimated hundred thousand stray cats who call Istanbul home.

A Cat Onstage

So the audience at this music festival may not have been surprised to see the cat wander on stage like he lived there. It was possible he did. Still, we should appreciate the performers, Lucerne Festival Strings, a Swiss chamber orchestra, whose professionalism meant that the appearance of their new, feline guest conductor did not cause them to miss a single note.

After all, they say that music hath charms to soothe the savage beast. Or in the case of this cute kitty, one that’s only a wee bit savage.

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