Concert reviews Maui Arts and Cultural Center

Every semester I require all my music students to attend an approved concert and write a review. The review must demonstrate they actually attended the concert. They can write about the concert-going experience, their impressions, feelings, thoughts, and anything else that resonated with them and for which they wanted to share. I then select the most relevant passages from their written reviews and write a so-called “Review of reviews” on this blog.

At the beginning of each semester at University of Hawaii Maui College, I usually see just one concert on the calendar of Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC) that I could approve. I tell all my students to mark the date on their diaries. As time goes on, other concerts get announced. Not everyone is able to attend the concert. I cross my fingers and hope other concerts get organized. Meanwhile, I invite the performers to come to our class. Violinist Martin Beaver and pianist Kevin Fitz-Gerald did just that, the evening before their concert. Meanwhile the Boom Booms from Vancouver participated in our Earth Day Jam and other festivities a few days AFTER their concert at the MACC.

All the concerts reviewed here took place between February and April 2014 at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC) which consists of the 1,200-seat Castle Theatre and the smaller McCoy Studio.

What is universal in all the reviews I’ve read is the following observations:

  1. It’s their first time attending a classical concert. My second semester students would say it’s their second time.
  2. The concert is not what they expected. It’s different from other live performances they’ve attended.
  3. They are impressed by the dedication of the performers.
  4. They are intimidated by the environment — majority of the audience being much older than themselves, the posh venue of the MACC, the formality of the occasion.

This is actually my first time going to a classical concert or any kind of concert. I feel so lost actually once I enter the stadium. – Macy

As I entered the hall I couldn’t help but notice the huge age difference.  I must admit it was very intimidating.  Everyone was very well dressed and amongst all the noise I managed to decipher that the audience was very familiar with the “subject matter”.    - Dayton

I noticed that the audience were generally of caucasian race and a much more older and mature crowd. I felt that I stood out greatly as I was dressed more casually compared to some of the other people in the audience and I was definitely one of the younger ones. along with the other of my classmates that came out to watch as well. I also noticed that it was a very quiet crowd. I felt that it was best appropriate that way anyway as the type of music being played didn’t call for a loud vibrant audience, but a more quiet and observant vibe. I realized that we didn’t need to clap after every performance, but knowing Maui, of course we would. – Byron

Going to the concert was an interesting experience for me because I had never been to a classical music performance before. It was different to see everyone dressed up and silent during the show. In the concerts that I am used to attending, everyone is loud and definitely not in button-up shirts like most were in this concert. I appreciated how respectful everyone at this performance was and there were no outbursts or interruptions. – Levi

February 9th, 2014
Hawaii Youth Symphony

I was blown away by what I heard. The Hawaii Youth Symphony is the only statewide youth music education program. Their mission is to create critical and positive links. They serve about 650 students from all over the Hawaiian Islands. Conductor Henry Miyamura has been conducting for nearly three decades and joined the HYS in the early eighties and has been a conductor ever since. I am honored to have been able to experience their art through the form of music. – Kisha

Thursday March 6, 2014 @7:30 PM
Kevin Fitz-Gerald, piano and Martin Beaver, violin

I liked their trance-like state when they played. I also liked how Mr Fitz-Gerald swayed with the measures as he played. – Pope

The pianist, Kevin Fitz-Gerald, had told our class that he started playing piano at the age of 10; I started playing at the age of 6 which should put me at an advantage if I had stuck with piano from the start. It helped me to realize that if I put my mind to it and work really hard, I, too, could be a great pianist one day, maybe not professionally as my career, but for fun.  - Richel

I like the way that the music does all the talking for the performers, they do not need to hype up the crowd or do too much interacting other than play the pieces and let the music do all the talking. They obviously played together a lot, they did not need to make eye contact with each other, they knew when to come in and out of each piece and the transition was smooth and seamless. – Josh

They played all of the music equally beautiful. But, there was something in Mozart’s Sonata K. 526 in A Major first movement and Grieg’s Sonata #3 Op. 45 in C Minor second movement that made me want to listen to them again. Sonata K. 526 in A Major first movement is a lively piece not like the others. It has the power to make me smile. Sonata #3 Op. 45 in C Minor second movement is a peaceful one. It could have made me sleep there if I just let myself. Somehow the beginning of the piece reminds me of my childhood days with my mother’s love.  - Mary Ann

Martin plays a 1789 Nicolo Bergonzi violin. Beautiful instrument! It’s amazing to see an instrument that continues to pass the test of time, as it is some 225 years old to date. I was honored to hold it as he offered. – Anna

I heard the audiences’ breath catch when the strings of his violin snapped. I lost track of time listening their music. When the concert was done, it was already 9:30pm. – Misako

There were only two instrumentals, Piano and Violin, but I could imagine an orchestra around them. The tempo of the melody was smoothly moderate, and changed to fast as song changes. There was a break time however I actually didn’t notice it was already break time.  - Hide

By carefully listening to the sounds their instruments made I felt like I was taken to a completely different world. I was moved by the music and the atmosphere of the concert hall. This concert was the second I’ve ever been to in my life and I had a blast even though I’m not a big fan of classical music. While I was listening to the music I had remembered something an old teacher of mine had told me “To be an expert in music you must experience music in all of its forms.” A piece of wisdom I still hold on to whenever I experience a different form of music. – Eric

As soon as FitzGerald placed his fingers on the keyboard, Beaver was armed with his bow, and at that moment I knew they would be taking their audience on a journey with them. Magic began to flow. With every enthusiastic stroke, I felt their vision, their passion for the music they were creating. It was as if they were pouring their very soul on the stage and we watched them, exposed. – Vanessa

Fire and water, their chemistry can only be described by the relationship between fire and water.  Two conflicting elements working together to create something beautiful. FitzGerald was the water.  His fingers danced across the keyboard with each note falling like droplets of rain.  He created the perfect backdrop.  He remained consistent throughout, never overpowering nor faintly drizzling behind.  Beaver was the flame, the fire burning brightly amongst the rain.  It was as if he drew a spark as soon as his bow hit the strings.  Each slide only caused the flames to to grow.  He was the lead, the melody, the soul to FitzGeralds beating heart.  Existing together in perfect harmony.  Never did I feel like the two were disconnected.  Here water did not douse the flames nor did the flames evaporate the water.  - Dayton

Pianist Kevin Fitz-Gerald and violinist Martin Beaver after their concert, Maui, March 6, 2014

Pianist Kevin Fitz-Gerald and violinist Martin Beaver after their concert, Maui, March 6, 2014

I noticed how Kevin would nod to the page turner when he was ready for the next page, and this made me realize he was reading a bit ahead of what he was playing. I was worried each time she was about to turn the page that she would accidently (sic) turn two pages instead of one. I cringed at the thought of that happening and the resulting disaster that might have occurred. Like with Kevin, there were moments when watching Martin caused me to fret. The hairs that snapped from his bow at one point landed on his left hand, and I feared they would get tanled in his fingers. He responded quickly by snapping them off and dropping them to the stage floor. – Saxon

One thing that got me all worked up is that the man that was playing the violin. When I saw the horse hair got loosed, I was like all worried, thinking the concert might be over because of it. I almost stand up from my seat. If I see something that makes me nervous, I can’t keep still at all.    - Macy

Saturday April 5, 2014 @ 7:30 PM
Hawaii Pacific University Symphony with Makana

They introduced Streetlight Cadence which is a group formed by four young men. They are composed of UH Manoa and Hawai’i Pacific University students. They began four years ago as a sidewalk group in Waikiki. I never expected these four men to have played how they did. They blew the crowd away and even got an encore at the end of their performance. This concert was not what I expected. The people were talking during the performances and babies were crying. I could not enjoy the whole concert with all the distractions and aromas. I would love to attend one concert on the mainland just to get the real feel of a great concert. – Sunny

When Makana and the HPU Symphony Orchestra played together, the room was full of musical vibrations that anyone in their right mind would appreciate because they were so magical. I definitely wish I could play guitar like Makana! That was great. He had a good voice too. I feel like I’m constantly learning when I am listening to music like this because I saw all of the different techniques, postures, and attitudes on the stage that effect each and every part of the music. It was a fun experience to get to see the Symphony Orchestra, and the first concert was great too! – Ben

Intermission at the Makana HPU Symphony Concert in Castle Theatre, Maui, April 2014

Intermission at the Makana HPU Symphony Concert in Castle Theatre, Maui, April 5, 2014

Saturday April 19th, 2014
The Boom Booms

What is so great about this band is that they started out with an environmental friendly goal which was planting trees and then used their music (sic) talents to help further their cause. The Boom Booms also got the audience involved, which was superb. They had us clapping our hands to the beat. Singing along with vocals that we were hearing for the first time. Their energy made everything flow smoothly. They also incorporated some nice choreography in a song as well which caught me by surprise. By the end of the night, there were people dancing right below the stage, mainly consisting of women showing off their impeccable dance moves all through the night. – Aurthur

The Boom Booms Band in McCoy Studio at MACC, April 2014

The Boom Booms Band in McCoy Studio at MACC, April 2014


Leave a comment

Filed under audience, communication, composer, composition, concert, culture, instrument, personality, photos, review, travel, venues

Star Spangled Banner for not so easy piano

The National Anthem of the United States is neither easy to sing nor play. It’s not easy to sing because of the wide octave range. It’s not easy to play because the melody and bass move all over the place. What motivated me to arrange the American anthem for piano? Fourth of July?

In truth, it was a combination of things. Robert’s landlady left a book on the dining table. While having breakfast one morning, I read the sleeve and became curious why she was reading a book about World War II. She had already read it, but she mentioned that it was written by the husband of the friend who lent me a bicycle a few years ago.

It didn’t take me long to read “No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love” because it was well-written and full of moving love letters — real love letters between the author’s father and mother.

As soon as I finished it, I immediately requested to meet the author Walter Ford Carter.

In the meantime, I visited the aircraft carrier USS York Town at Patriot Point, just outside Charleston, South Carolina, a week before we eventually met in Newton Center, Massachusetts.

I had a million questions why an economist would spend years researching a book about his father who died when he was four. His mother wouldn’t speak about it. Some fifty publishers rejected his manuscript. Yet he persisted. He wanted the story to be told.

As I began to research the American national anthem, I suddenly had the urge to arrange it for flute and trombone with chords for an optional piano or guitar or both. I was not only inspired by meeting the author and his wife but also that they play the trombone and the flute, respectively. Needless to say, I got distracted trying to imagine how the two would sound. I guess I’d have to hear it.

Extract from

Extract from “Star Spangled Banner arranged for flute and trombone”

As for the piano version, it’s not so easy because both hands are moving all the time with no predictable pattern. I have thus marked optimal fingerings for both hands in the score. Click on the sample score (image) below for the two-page PDF. As usual, I have also indicated chords to allow the more advanced student to improvise on the skeletal structure.

Star Spangled Banner for not so easy piano arranged by Anne Ku

Star Spangled Banner for not so easy piano arranged by Anne Ku

For those readers who are curious about the book by WF Carter, please watch the short movie “Letters” shown at the Normandy Visitor Center, available online. Listen to the haunting cello melody by the composer Michael Bacon. I had the privilege of hearing Mr and Mrs Carter play the duet arranged for trombone and flute yesterday. There are also letters, photos, and links available from the website of  No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love.

Leave a comment

Filed under arrangement, personality, piano, research, sight reading, travel, writing

Free concerts in Boston and Newton

Search for “free concerts in Boston” and you will find a list on the calendar of However, this is only a partial list. Browse the websites of the New England Conservatory, Berklee College of Music, Longy School of Music, Boston Public Library, to name a few, and you will find free concerts nearly every day in this part of New England.

What’s the catch, you say? Why are concerts free?

It’s a question of supply and demand and motivation. If the supply of eager musicians is greater than the demand for them, you would expect musicians to play for free. Not so. Don’t forget there is a need for a venue to be used. Free concerts is one of the best ways to get people to come and stay.

The Newton Philharmonic rehearses in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Newton, Massachusetts

The Newton Philharmonic rehearses in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Newton, Massachusetts

There is a cost to administering ticket sales. Educational institutions, churches, and libraries have a tradition of offering free concerts. Educational institutions such as conservatories and universities exist primarily to educate. Their students need to perform. And in the process, they open their doors to the public.

The church exists to serve the community. If you’re not already a member of the congregation, how else will you feel “invited” to enter its space? A free concert is a great way to attract people to enter a space otherwise used for worship. I was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming the First Baptist Church in Newton was to toddlers, preschool kids, and mothers who were still nursing their babies. I felt connected to a real community — not just those who could afford to leave their children with babysitters.

If the venue itself is not enough to attract musicians, they have a budget to pay the musicians. And then there’s effort required to get people to come to the concerts.

Whether or not the concert is free has no bearing on the quality of the performance. However, the audience is somewhat correlated with the venue.

The free Sunday afternoon concert at Newton Free Library was completely packed with local residents when I arrived on my bicycle on June 8th. After the ten minute intermission, at least two-thirds of the audience had disappeared. I didn’t mind. It meant less rustling of papers and fidgeting in chairs. I was delighted to be sitting in the front row with no distractions in front or on the sides. Afterwards, I introduced myself to the pianist and flutist who were on the faculty of Boston University.  As usual, I discovered we knew someone in common.

Newton Free Library offers free concerts each Sunday afternoon

Newton Free Library offers free concerts each Sunday afternoon

People attend concerts for different reasons. With ample publicity, performance halls can be filled. Sometimes it requires a regularity and a sufficiently long tradition to build a following. The competition for people’s attention is fierce. It’s not just against other events but also the weather. On a sunny day, it’s hard to sit inside for long periods. Perhaps that’s why people leave after the intermission. And that is also why it’s hard to go into the basement for a free concert of Ginastera and Villa Lobos string quartet at the Boston Public Library, one that was introduced in English and Spanish.

Audience reasons for attending free concerts:

  • venue is nearby (convenient)
  • love the music
  • know the performers
  • fan of the performers
  • know the music
  • free time
  • no better way to spend the free time
  • someone else is going
  • want to go with a group or be part of the social group
  • want to learn or be exposed to the music
  • want to get to know the performers
  • want to check out the venue
  • curious about the venue, the concert, the musicians, the music, etc.
  • want to support the venue, concert series, artists, etc.
  • want to introduce music to others — hence bring others to the concert
  • want to be seen
  • want to be intellectually challenged by the music
  • want to be moved by the music

Can you think of other reasons?



Leave a comment

Filed under audience, composer, composition, concert, culture, economics, instrument, photos, planning, rehearsal, research, review, travel, venues

Ostinatrio electronified minimalist music

What a delight it was to receive a request through Twitter to share a variation of my music!

I wrote Ostinatrio for three recorders and revised it for oboe after its premiere in Utrecht, Netherlands. Like most of my music, I forgot about it until I heard the electronic version which is a lot more, hmmm, what shall I say, relevant? for film music? exciting to play? for my piano ensemble?

It’s definitely worth re-arranging for different players. The enthusiastic arranger who goes by the unusual name of ferrie = differentieel quickly sent me another version with bass for review.

The electronic version heard here is now under the Creative Common License which means anyone can use it for non commercial purposes without charge but with attribution to me as composer and Ferrie as arranger.

Many pianos, many hands - one of many piano classes at UH Maui College, 2014

Many pianos, many hands – one of many piano classes at UH Maui College, 2014

Ostinatrio is made up of two words: ostinato and trio. An ostinato is a a continuously repeated musical phrase or rhythm. A trio refers to three instruments that play together. Minimal or minimalist music refers to a style of composition called minimalism in which little material is used and changes are gradual, a result of which takes a long duration. Minimal music makes use of repeating patterns such as ostinato.

About two weeks after this exchange of emails, I attended a concert  at the First Baptist Church in Newton, Massachusetts, a short cycle ride from where I am staying this June. The free lunchtime concert featured two chamber groups, mainly graduates of Longy School of Music. Emilia Salazar of Iris Winds, a young trio of oboe, flute, and clarinet, mentioned that there was very little written for their trio. It then occurred to me that maybe it was time for ostinatrio to receive its next makeover.

Score for soprano, alto, and tenor recorders – PDF

Score for two oboes and English horn – PDF

1 Comment

Filed under arrangement, composer, composition, photos, piano, recording, research, review, sheet music, sight reading, trio

Class songs of Kubasaki High School

In anticipation of attending my first “official” high school reunion, I asked one of the organizers if there would be a piano at the venue. It was an innocent question. If there’s a piano, then I’d play.Image

When I later learned that the organizers would be willing to rent a digital piano for the occasion, I thought to myself, “You know what? I’d rather chit chat, eat, and dance than play the piano.”

Nonetheless, a list of class songs got compiled through Facebook. It would be a project to dig out the sheet music to these songs and play them, or at least to complete the list.

Dragon Class Songs for Williamsburg Dragon Reunion

1966- Moments to Remember
1967- To Dream the Impossible Dream
1968- For Once in My Life by Stevie Wonder
1969- There’s a Place for Us
1970- We Gotta Get Outta This Place
1971- A Time for Us from Romeo and Juliet
1972- We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters
1973 – ?
1974- Teach Your Children
1975- We May Never Pass This Way Again by Seals and Crofts
1976- I Wish You Peace
1977- Theme from Mahogany
1978 – ??
1979 – Free Bird
1980 – If Ever I See Your Face by Roberta Flack
1981 –  “A Touch of Class”
1982- Original by Anne Ku called: “Of the Class of 82″
1983 – Ever Since the World Began, Survivors
1984 –Cool Change, Little River Band

RELATED POST: Reunion Madness, June 13, 2014

1 Comment

Filed under arrangement, photos, piano, planning, research, sheet music, sight reading, travel, venues

Guitar Concerto Aranjuez

Those of you who contributed to Robert Bekkers’ crowd-funding campaign to raise cash for his second doctoral music of arts concert in Boston probably wondered how it went.

If you’re as lucky as I was to attend this concert on Sunday May 11th, 2014, you’d know that it was an incredible feat. My friends Alice and Stuart and I sat in the right front row with our smart phones and cameras, wishing the concert could be repeated.

Most orchestral performances are instigated by the orchestra, the conductor, or the institution. In this case, it was put together by the soloist who found the musicians to create a bespoke orchestra to play a one-off concert.

This was no small task for it required not only finding a conductor and musicians but also raising money to rent the sheet music. Once the orchestra was formed, it would be easier to arrange future concerts with orchestra or subsets (ensembles) within. I foresee this happening.

If you are unfamiliar with the piece de resistance of the concert, look no further than watch the video recording of the live performance of Robert Bekkers with orchestra conducted by Kristo Kondakci.

Read Bob Knox’s review of this concerto to glean further into the interpretation.

The three movement masterpiece of the blind Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo is not only his most famous work but often considered the most famous of all guitar concertos. The original name “Concierto de Aranjuez” is also known as “Concierto Aranjuez” or “Concerto de Aranjuez” or “Aranjuez Guitar Concerto.” The second movement, in particular, has been transcribed for choir and other instruments. Rodrigo also wrote a version of this concerto for harp and orchestra.

My first encounter with this concerto came in Cartagena, Colombia, while on vacation in June 1998. I sightread it with a Cuban classical guitarist. The first movement was the hardest. Later Robert and I worked it into our repertoire and discovered that the third movement was the hardest. For most people, it’s the second movement they remember.

I knew the piano part and anticipated the different motifs but wasn’t quite sure which instruments played what. You could say that I was replaced by an orchestra for this concerto. There in Williams Hall at the New England Conservatory on Mother’s Day Sunday 2014, I heard the music come to life.

Note: the guitar was NOT amplified in this performance. There was no need, for the guitar was custom-built for the duo of piano and guitar, hence a “concert guitar” – by Amsterdam-based luthier Jeroen Hilhorst.


Filed under audience, composer, composition, concert, guitar, piano, recording, review, sheet music, travel, video

Music for the earth piano concert

In tandem with arranging music for the Earth Day Jam, a free one-hour piano workshop to get people to experience making music together, I decided to end the week with a tribute to the earth. As in previous two concerts this year, my most advanced students opened the concert for me, this time with more confidence and conviction than ever before.

As I explained to the audience on Friday April 25th, 2014, I chose works that had titles or nicknames to do with the sun, moon, rain, fire, rainbows, meadows, etc. These words are also symbolic of moods and emotions.

As usual, I began with a simple piece to warm-up. The Theme from the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” was such a short piece, relatively unknown, thus safe for my fingers to warm up as well as find the keys that don’t work on the piano.

Next, I played something I’ve played many times before – “Le Onde” by Ludivico Einaudi. “Le Onde” means “The Waves” in Italian. It is said that Einaudi was reading or thinking of the novel of the same title by Virginia Woolf when he composed it. It’s also the name of the album that shot him to international fame. When I first discovered it early last decade and played it for the international passengers transiting through Heathrow Airport at the hotel nearby, people would stop and ask what it was. The music is mesmerizing.

Another Italian composer, Dario Marianelli, wrote Dawn, the theme to Pride and Prejudice (2005) starring Kiera Knightly. It’s simple and soothing, with plenty of room for interpretation.

For an elderly audience, the first three pieces were probably foreign. It was time to introduce something familiar.

Chopin’s Prelude in Db Major, Opus 28 Number 15, is better known as the “Raindrop” a name given by his lover George Sand. Apparently Chopin didn’t like the name. But it’s said that he heard the rain in Majorca where he was recuperating from tuberculosis. The A-flat (or G-sharp) below the middle C is heard through out the piece, constant like the raindrop. This is the piece played in the movie “Margin Call.”

Rain isn’t always desirable as expressed in James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” and Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain.”  The latter’s referral to fire and rain is particularly intense:

I set fire to the rain
Watched it pour as I touched your face
Let it burn while I cried
‘Cause I heard it screaming out your name, your name

I set fire to the rain
And I threw us into the flames
Where I felt something die
‘Cause I knew that that was the last time, the last time, ….

 Sting’s “Deep in the Meadow” from the movie Hunger Games is not intense but quite the contrary. Here is a free version for easy piano.

I chose “Over the Rainbow” the pièce de résistance for the concert simply because there are so many interpretations of it. There’s the original, which is analyzed brilliantly in an NPR documentary. I explained to my audience that the initial octave leap from “Some” to “where” is not an accident. Dorothy wants to get from the low point of Kansas to the highpoint of Oz. Every time you hear the low note, it’s Kansas. Keith Jarrett’s piano transcription is no longer available on his website, but you can use web archives to back track it to mid-2007 or earlier and download the delightful PDF version. George Shearing’s arrangement is equally interesting. I didn’t have time to include Dan Coates’ version, however.

Another song that begins with an octave leap is “When You Wish Upon a Star” from the Disney movie Pinocchio. There are descending scale patterns similar to “Over the Rainbow.”

When You Wish Upon A Star

When You Wish Upon A Star

When I gave the assignment to my colleague’s design class to create a poster for the “Earth Day Jam” one of the students asked if we would be playing Beatle’s “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Although the song was not mentioned again in the subsequent Piano Ensemble Poster Exhibition, I had already mentally registered to play this piece. I improvised upon a jazz waltz arrangement of this popular piece of the flower children. Like “Penny Lane” the title “Strawberry Field” is the name of a place in Liverpool where the Beatles were formed.

It was just about eleven AM and time to conclude the concert with a favorite of my father’s — Barbara Streisand’s Evergreen from the movie “A Star is Born.”

Music for the Earth

Friday April 25, 2014

Roselani Place, Papa Avenue, Kahului, Maui

piano solos

Theme from “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” music by Jon Brion

“Le Onde” by Ludivico Einaudi

Dawn from the movie “Pride and Prejudice” music by Dario Marianelli

Prelude in D-flat major, Opus 28 Number 15 by F. Chopin

“Fire and Rain” by James Taylor

“Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele

“Deep in the Meadow” from the movie “Hunger Games” music by Sting

“Over the Rainbow” from the movie “Wizard of Oz”  music by Harold Arlen; transcribed by Keith Jarrett, George Shearing

“When You Wish Upon A Star” from the movie Pinocchio, music by Leigh Harline

“Strawberry Fields Forever” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney

“Evergreen” from the movie “A Star is Born” by Barbara Streisand

1 Comment

Filed under arrangement, audience, composer, composition, concert, culture, piano, research, review, sheet music, venues