Hosting our next house concert (part three)

But Thursday is not a Saturday. People have to work on Friday. My friend’s lovely home is not my home. Time and location do matter. Finally, just because the Saturday concert sold out in 3 days (with the invitation sent only 2 weeks before) doesn’t mean that a second concert on a Thursday will sell out or at all.

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Since my previous posting (part two of this topic), I’ve wanted to write about our two concerts in Amsterdam but got snow-balled into audience development for a second concert we decided to host as a result of the sell-out of the first.

Continue reading “Hosting our next house concert (part three)”

Hosting our next house concert (part two)

It’s been barely 3 days since we issued the invitation announcement of our next house concert on 3rd October 2009, we already have a full house.

After sending out the concert invitations, we enter the next phase of hosting a concert: waiting for replies.

It’s both exciting and nerve wracking to immediately get replies like “Yes! Put me down for the concert. I will be there!” and the opposite: “Sorry, I can’t make it.” And then the silence….. did my e-mails fall into their spam box?

Maybe I shouldn’t have blind copied my e-mail and PDF attachment to 100 people. I would much prefer personal e-mails. But there’s no time now. It’s less than 2 weeks before the concert.

It’s been barely 3 days since we issued the invitation announcement of our next house concert on 3rd October 2009, a date that coincides with the Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival and Nieuwe Philharmonie Utrecht concert in the Vredenburg. Rejection e-mails are how I learn of date conflicts.

Saturday 3rd October is a financial advisor’s son’s birthday. It’s the first day of vacation for an IT project manager. There’s a party for dentists that day. There are probably many more reasons why others can’t come, but I won’t know about it because as far as I can see, we have filled up the house.

I keep two lists: one for the paying guests with parentheses for those who expressed any bit of uncertainty about showing up and another for the performers, volunteers, and collaborators.

My co-producer commands,”Stop! Don’t send out anymore invitations. Not everyone has responded Some people may still want to come.”

“But I think we have a full house,” I reply. “If I rule out those who indicated any bit of hesitation or uncertainty, then all our seats are filled. If I include those who expressed some conditionality, then we’d have more. But it’s as good as SOLD OUT.”

Monument House Concert Series Utrecht
Monument House Concert Series Utrecht

Three years ago we didn’t have a problem of getting sold out concerts. I remember having to contact people twice, sometimes begging them to come. I had posted our announcements at the music book store, public library, and the conservatory in hopes of attracting listeners. I had listed our event in the free weekly events guide for Utrecht that comes out every Thursday.

I had touted our house concerts as the perfect place for tourists at the city tourist office. How else do you go inside a stranger’s home uninvited

There’s no need for that now. Those who have come to our previous house concerts know they won’t be disappointed. Our house concerts are more than live music performances. We encourage our guests to come early to get comfortable over tea, coffee, or soft drinks. Doors are open half an hour before the performance.

I try to imagine myself at a house concert. I’d like to be welcomed and introduced as a person not as a mere member of the audience. I don’t like to get caught standing alone, uncomfortably between two people engaged in conversation but ignoring my presence. I don’t want to dash off after a house concert because I see no other option. At our house concerts, the reverse is true. Once Robert fell asleep in the middle of someone’s sentence. It was past 2 am.

I am curious. Is this next house concert so quickly booked because of us? our house concert series? the invitation that caused me three sleepless nights to create? our mailing list and support network? the performer Derek Gripper, whom no one has yet met or heard live in concert? his website and awesome reviews? the right time of the year? the power of social networking media like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter? my article on house concerts?

I will continue to part three: the invitation process.

ADDENDUM: 22 September 2009

I’ve convinced a friend to help me out. She just moved into a “herenhuis” with high ceilings and hard wood floors nearby, not much furniture but plenty of space, ideal for a house concert for Derek. It will be a spillover from our guest list.

Extra date!

Thursday 1st October 2009: extra concert for Derek with South African wine and cheese. Watch this space!

Hosting our next house concert (part one)

As I write this, I am thinking about the next house concert we are hosting. Three years after , I no longer need to personally invite people to come to our concerts. But I still do. Barely two days after I sent out a mass e-mail and announcement on facebook, the concert of 3rd October for South African classical guitarist is already nearly half-full.

I love going to house concerts for the intimate way in which to enjoy live music. I go to really listen to a performance. I get to chat to others in the audience who feel the same way and the host or hostess whose personalities shape the concert. Most of all, I like to talk to the performers who are more accessible than in large commercial venues where you pay for your ticket, sit down among strangers, and leave immediately after the final applause.

Continue reading “Hosting our next house concert (part one)”

The economics of free concerts

I don’t believe in performing without getting paid. There must be some kind of return, whether it be publicity, feedback, collaboration, or future performance opportunity. The best kind of reward, of course, is to be paid handsomely in cash before or just after the concert! And get another gig as a result of it.

For those of you who are used to paying to attend a concert, the idea of a free concert may seem suspicious at first.

Is it free because the quality is not as good?

Is it free because there is a problem getting enough listeners?

Is it free because it takes too much effort to organise the ticket sales and seat reservations?

A concert production is not without cost for the venue owners, organisers, technicians, and performers. A composer friend of mine told me when I embarked on my composition studies that the last person to get paid is the composer, if at all. The pecking order of payments begins with the piano tuner if a piano is needed. It takes time and effort to get an audience, such as through publicity and invitations. The venue has to be cleaned and made ready for the live event. None of these costs are trivial.

At universities and conservatories, often the concerts are free because the focus is on performance. The performers matter more than the listeners. There is no budget or additional personnel assigned to revenue management.

Although having appreciative listeners is important to a performance, performers also need real-time opportunities to perfect their art. The optimal conditions under which we practise and rehearse do not necessarily help us when we go on stage. The concert hall may not be as quiet as our rehearsal room which has no audience to interrupt us. We don’t always get a chance to warm up or test the acoustics or instruments. A performance becomes a case of battling what could go wrong, i.e. what was not present when we were rehearsing.

In other words, musicians need risk-free opportunities to perform, make mistakes, and get trained in live concert situations. By risk-free, I mean, where their reputations do not risk getting tarnished.

Some unpaid concerts could be considered “tryouts” or practice concerts. Before a competition or an important concert, performers need an audience to “try out” their programme. Equally performers may need an audience to “experiment” their repertoire or ideas.

I once brought some colleagues and industry contacts to a full house concert in Houston for an improvisation by various pianists and a violinist. Wine was free flowing afterwards. My guests were overwhelmed and greatly inspired. They wanted to thank the hosts and performers but there was no mention of payment or donation.

I am sure they were all thinking “What a pity! I would have gladly paid to go to that free concert.” I have said that often when I lived in London and chanced upon a free concert which improved my day. At that Houston concert, as I learned later, the organiser wanted to test his ideas about improvisation. He invited me to participate in the performance, and I duly recruited half the audience.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo debut concert in London, May 2003 Photo credit: Nick Kuskin
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo debut concert in London, May 2003Photo credit: Nick Kuskin

Another reason for free concerts could be that tickets sales are not allowed. I was able to book the concert hall at the university in London for free because I taught there. The concerts had to be free.

Shortly afterwards I wrote to those who came to our free concert in London to answer questions about their experience of our concert. They were eager to give us constructive feedback which helped greatly in future performances.

So you could say that people who have enjoyed a free concert (in this case, the London audience were also fed an 8-course oriental gourmet buffet by a local restaurant who sponsored the event) would reciprocate in other ways, such as responding to a survey.

In public festivals like the Utrecht Uitfeest and the Open Monumentendag on 12 and 13 September in Utrecht, all performances were free. We were honoured to be invited to participate. Like others, we didn’t expect to be paid. And if we had asked to be paid, I’m sure the organisers would have found someone else more eager than we to take our place on stage.

What did we get out of playing for free this past weekend in Utrecht? Publicity. Feedback. Opportunity to play at new venues. Involvement in the local community. Sharing our music with people who otherwise wouldn’t come (or won’t pay for a concert).

How then do performers make a living if they play for free?

Good question.

I don’t believe in performing without getting paid. There must be some kind of return, whether it be publicity, feedback, collaboration, or future performance opportunity. The best kind of reward, of course, is to be paid handsomely in cash before or just after the concert! And get another gig as a result of it.

We like those concerts that are free to attend, but we get paid well for it. This Sunday 20th September 2009 at noon, for instance, we will be playing a mixed programme at the Oosterkerk in Amsterdam. The two free (unpaid) concerts we gave in Utrecht last weekend could be considered “tryouts” for Amsterdam. But then, every concert is a tryout for the next one.

Thank you for coming to our concert

We are aware that we’re competing for our audience’s attention and alternatives not limited to live performances. You could have been staying at home or socialising with friends, but you chose to come see us perform.

For that, we thank you.

Here is a blog to those who came to our concerts in Utrecht on 12th and 13th September.

We do notice our audiences’ reaction after each piece. It’s even more meaningful observing the reaction of those we know. We love talking to members of the audience afterwards.

After our Saturday Open Monument Day concert, we and four of our friends (a conservatory student, an astrophysicist, a photographer, and a language teacher) meandered to the Recht Bank Restaurant next to the Utrecht Archives for a hearty afternoon meal under a big tree. It was a jolly way to relax after a performance.

We weren’t so lucky today with the colder weather and our pressing schedule to return home for an early morning recording session tomorrow.

The economist in me rants and raves that free concerts are never truly free. Attending a concert requires a conscious effort and commitment to come to the venues, sit down, and listen, given all other activities you could be doing on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. The transaction costs and opportunity costs are not zero. If it were truly free, we would be performing in your home!

As Internet and mobile telephone technologies make it ever easier to communicate, search, and get things done, the ideal of a seamless, effortless transaction gets redefined. In contrast, the physical logistics of getting from A to B becomes a relatively nontrivial matter. As a time challenged person, I plan around my trips and destinations. I would hope that our concerts added to your day.

We are aware that we’re competing for our audience’s attention and alternatives not limited to live performances. You could have been staying at home or socialising with friends, but you chose to come and see us perform.

For that, we thank you.

After all, it does make a huge difference whether we see familiar faces in the audience or not. Giving a concert is a kind of communication. I often have to resist the urge to “speak” to those I recognise directly.

I had sent an e-mail with links to the previous three blog entries to personal friends and contacts, University of Utrecht International Neighbours Group discussion board, Utrecht Meetup, International Rotary Club of Utrecht, my various Linked-In groups, Facebook, and Twitter.

You could ask, why make the extra effort of sending out e-mails when these two free concerts in Utrecht were already being heavily promoted by the organisers? Why the extra effort? We’re not getting paid for it. Why bother spending time writing programme notes, translating them into Dutch, editing them, and getting them printed when we’ve only got 30 minutes, at most 45 minutes of unpaid airtime?

Other musicians were also performing for free. Did they also spend as much time as we did? We didn’t have any photos or business cards to give out or CDs to sell. Was our concert a free giveaway — with nothing in return?

The conditions under which we performed were far from optimal. In the Aula of the 600-year old Academiegebouw on Saturday, people were freely moving in and out, causing a kind of restlessness and ambient background noise which made it difficult to concentrate and listen well.

Today’s concert in the not-yet-completed new building of Centrum Muziek XXI was delayed by 30 minutes due to an unexpected change in the schedule. Although we had arrived an hour early, we could not warm up or test the extremely dry acoustics because the hall was occupied for a rehearsal. Our changing room was a windowless toilet for the disabled. There was no soap anywhere to wash our hands, so Robert played with sticky fingers. Our programme notes were nowhere to be found.

The above questions are material for another concert blog on the economics of live concert performances. I had previously commented on risks in concert performances and risk management in concert productions but plan to write more about this, if there is interest.

As every performance is unique, we invite you and your friends and family to come to our forthcoming concerts. Thank you for your support! We welcome your feedback, as always.

Forthcoming concerts:

Sunday 20 September 2009 Noon (gratis) Oosterkerk, Amsterdam

Saturday 26 September 2009 Evening, House Concert, Amsterdam (new address)

Saturday 3 October 2009 Monument House Concert Series: introducing Derek Gripper, classical guitarist

Pull, pluck, strum, bang! on 13 September in Utrecht

Yet, unlike contemporary art, new music requires more effort to reach listeners. Could it be that visual appreciation is easier than audio? Or is the time element? That is, one can stand in front of a painting for an indefinite amount of time to familiarise and appreciate. On the other hand, live music is delivered in real-time. Unless there’s a recording, you won’t hear it again. And why would you buy a CD of music you’ve only heard once? ….not even sure that you’d appreciate it?

The brand new building of Muziekhuis Utrecht (Music House Utrecht), called Centrum Muziek XXI, at Loevenhoutsedijk 103 beckons. It’s a new venue for contemporary music, which, like contemporary art, speaks of the age we live in.

Yet, unlike contemporary art, new music requires more effort to reach listeners. Could it be that visual appreciation is easier than audio? Or is the time element? That is, one can stand in front of a painting for an indefinite amount of time to familiarise and appreciate. On the other hand, live music is delivered in real-time. Unless there’s a recording, you won’t hear it again. And why would you buy a CD of music you’ve only heard once? ….not even sure that you’d appreciate it?

There lies the rub.

Who would risk going to a concert of unfamiliar works? You might not enjoy it. When the composers are also unfamiliar, you may wonder why bother at all. In our case, it’s a quadruple whammy because the venue is completely new and our duo isn’t world famous. But if you like our “Mediterranean Summer” programme on the previous day, you will definitely enjoy “Pull, Pluck, Strum, Bang!” on 13th September 2009.

Why would you go to Centrum XXI in Utrecht on a Sunday afternoon in September? 

Curiosity perhaps.

Adventure?

Inspiration?

Education?

New music on a rare combination of instruments (piano and guitar) invites you to new possibilities. Think outside the box as the composers have. What can you do with a piano and a guitar other than play them the way they have always been played in the past three centuries?

I visited the Museum of Modern Art in Paris twice this past August to find out why modern art seems so much more appreciated than modern music. Perhaps I should ask the audience at our contemporary music concert this Sunday afternoon.

Walking through the misty shower on the strand in Paris in August
Walking through the misty shower on the strand in Paris in August

“Pull, pluck, strum bang!” Concert Programme

Abstract and Dance (2007)           
Gijs van Dijk (b. 1954)

When Bach, Stravinsky and The Who Met (2005)           
Allan Segall (b. 1959)

Drizzle (2007)           
Lan-Chee Lam (b. 1982)

Suite Rio de la Plata (2004)           (last two movements only)
Erik Otte (b. 1955)

Danza de la pareja enamorada, lento ma non troppo

Candombe del amor recuperado, allegro giusto

 Programme Notes

Abstract and Dance (2007)             Gijs van Dijk (b. 1954)

Born in Delft, Gijs van Dijk studied composition and music theory with Tristan Keuris at the Hilversum and Utrecht Conservatory. He works as a composer, an improvising musician, a classical & jazz guitar player and teacher in Amsterdam. van Dijk has worked with many leading Dutch musicians, mainly as a composer for chamber music ensembles but also in various improvised music ensembles.

“Abstract and Dance” is a kind of rendered piece. The first movement develops in the direction of twelve tone music which suddenly changes into a stylized Spanish dance in the second part.

When Bach, Stravinsky and The Who Met (2005)            Allan Segall (b. 1959)

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Dutch/American composer Allan Segall grew up in Denver, Colorado, and has most recently served as Concert Director at the Engelse Kerk in Amsterdam where he lives. He received his Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He acquired Dutch citizenship in 2007.

Segall wrote “When JS Bach, Igor Stravinsky and The Who Met” for the Baby Boomer Generation and and those young at heart who love The Who. This amazing work is a synthesis of art music and rock, a work where the guitar actually surpasses the piano in volume as guitarist demonically strums to an exhilarating climax that recalls Segall’s favorite Who album, Tommy.

Drizzle (2007)            Lan-Chee Lam (b. 1982)

Born in Hong Kong, Lan-Chee Lam’s music often combines traditional Chinese and contemporary Western techniques, exploring new dimensions of the sound world. Her works have been performed in Hong Kong, Canada, United States and Italy. She is currently pursuing a DMA at University of Toronto.

Drizzle, as in light rain, makes use of guitar harmonics and the insides of a grand piano. There are pentatonic passages which make the piano sound like a Chinese instrument.  Lam wrote, “The main challenge of writing for guitar and piano is the balance issue. In order to let people hear the guitar part more clearly, the piano can’t always plays too loud or busy figures. Therefore, I try to use more high register from the piano which has a thinner sound. It surprisingly works well with the guitar harmonics, as well as the inside piano plucking. This sounds like the bell. The main idea for writing Drizzle is to reflect the beauty of light rain with its transparent texture, with reference to guitar tremolos.”

Suite Rio de la Plata (2004)            Erik Otte (b. 1955)

Born in Leiden, home to the oldest university in the Netherlands, Erik Otte played the violin as a child but made his final choice for guitar at age 16. After graduating from the Royal Conservatory (The Hague) and the Conservatory of Rotterdam, he followed an international performance career before settling into composing for chamber music in recent years.

Suite Rio de la Plata, which consists of four dance movements about the various stages of love (from heart break to new love), was written for Anne Ku and Robert Bekkers as a present. It is the first work dedicated to the duo.

A Mediterranean Summer on 12 September

The “Mediterranean Summer” programme is part of the larger traditional programme we’ve performed throughout the Netherlands and three times in Spain. This Saturday we will give it away for free in a 600-year old building in central Utrecht: the Academiegebouw at 13:00.

Our Mediterranean Summer began in May with Spain and ended in August with Crete. It was a summer full of sunshine, beaches, fresh octopus and shellfish, new friendship, and cross-cultural collaborations. 

The “Mediterranean Summer” programme is part of the larger traditional programme we’ve performed throughout the Netherlands and three times in Spain. This Saturday we will give it away for free in a 600-year old building in central Utrecht: the Academiegebouw at 13:00. 

Dare we conclude our summer in Paleochora, Crete, the last week of August? I certainly hope not, for I have already booked a flight to Italy for mid-October, to stretch the summer in the Mediterranean just a wee bit longer.

The last sunset in Paleochora, Crete, August 2009
The last sunset in Paleochora, Crete, August 2009

“A Mediterranean Summer” concert programme

Sonatina
Federico Moreno Torroba (1891 – 1982)
Allegretto
Andante
Allegro

Fantasia para un Gentilhombre (1954) (complete guitar concerto!)
Joaquín Rodrigo (1901 – 1999)
Villano y Ricercare
Españoleta y Fanfare de la Caballería de Nápoles
Danza de las Hachas
Canario


Asturias (Leyenda)

Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909)
guitar solo

Summer from The Four Seasons
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741)
Allegro non molto arr. R. Bekkers (2008)
Adagio e piano – Presto e forte
Presto

Walking through a misty shower on the strand in Paris, August 2009
Walking through a misty shower on the strand in Paris, August 2009

In between Spain and Crete, we ventured into Paris for some inspiration. The modern art exhibition at the Pompidou Centre got us thinking about contemporary music. Why doesn’t the music of live composers attract the large crowds that pour into contemporary art galleries?