House concert for an artist

I said on my last visit,”You should have a house concert so people can see your artwork.”

I told her about the house concert series in Amsterdam that was launched by a couple of art lovers. They wanted people to see and buy the art displayed on their walls and home. Live music was a good way to do that. What a concept — to use live music to lure listeners to view new works of art!

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Anne Ku, caricature 1998
Anne Ku, caricature 1998

About three years ago, I spotted a notice on the bulletin board of Utrecht Conservatory. It was a WANTED ad for musicians interested in performing in a house concert. I called the local architect who had posted the ad. She lived very close to me and invited me to try her baby grand piano that sat in the living room. And so began a conversation about doing a house concert in her home.

In those three years, I composed and produced my final exam concert, organised many house concerts, performed in numerous more, graduated from conservatory, and tried to get others to hop on the band wagon of producing live classical music. I invited the architect to most of these events, none of which she was able to attend. She maintained her interest while she went through her own transformation.

She became an artist.

Perhaps she has always been an artist. I don’t know her so well, but on my last visit I saw her latest paintings on her walls. They were remarkable enough to be noticed.

Once again, she could not come to the house concert I was promoting then. In fact, she has never seen us in concert. She has never come to a single concert I produced. Neither have I attended her exhibitions or events. But she has a vision to have a house concert in her home.

I said on my last visit,”You should have a house concert so people can see your artwork.”

I told her about the house concert series in Amsterdam that was launched by a couple of art lovers. They wanted people to see and buy the art displayed on their walls and home. Live music was a good way to do that. And so they turned their one bedroom apartment into a museum and a concert hall. This was their hobby — to support artists and musicians.

I also told her about the importance of a unifying theme. She was excited about the possibility of painting to a theme. She told me about her neighbours who dreamed of opening a restaurant of their own one day. They love to cook and entertain. We could hold the concert in her home, with her artwork on display, and then walk to her neighbours’ house for home-cooked gourmet food afterwards.

We discussed this in early December 2009. She suggested that we think of a theme and allow herself enough time to paint to a theme.

Via two e-mails, we agreed on a date in April. A few days ago, she cycled to our monument house (where we hold our house concerts twice a year) to see my piano guitar duo play the pieces she will paint for the house concert. We agreed on the theme and how we would work together to make it another sold out, full-house concert.

Coincidentally a few months ago, I met another artist in Amsterdam who had thought of turning her studio into a stage. What a concept — to use live music to lure listeners to view new works of art!

Choosing a CD cover

Should we choose the first professional photograph of our duo or the last? Or an artist’s impression?

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo, photo credit: Anjam Ahmad, London 2002

While Robert is getting our first CD produced, I’m looking around for a suitable image for the CD cover. Should we use the first official photograph taken of us or the last?

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo at Warmond, photo credit: Humphrey Daniels 2008

Or is it more timeless to use something more abstract? Perhaps a drawing, such as the one below by a young artist after seeing our concert in Oosterkerk, Amsterdam?

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo in Amsterdam, acryllic on wood by Elea Bekkers 2009

Essential shortcuts in Sibelius

I have always used Sibelius to input notes, transpose and arrange music, make changes, and compose. …I knew the shortcuts by heart. Since graduating in 2008, I’ve been busy not composing. As a result, I’ve forgotten how essential it is to know the shortcuts.

The Sibelius music notation software is one of several tools that arrangers and composers use nowadays. I had the pleasure of visiting the global IT department of Sibelius in London and meeting its director several years ago. There is a big divide between users of Sibelius and its immediate rival Finale. Users of one software stick to it. Rarely are there users of both. Some attribute this tendency to the steep learning curve and its various intricacies.

I have always used Sibelius to input notes, transpose and arrange music, make changes, and compose. When I was actively using it during my four years at conservatory, I knew the shortcuts by heart. Since graduating in 2008, I’ve been busy not composing. As a result, I’ve forgotten how essential it is to know the shortcuts.

Hence this blog — so I won’t forget the shortcuts next time I get distracted by the buzz of practising the piano for hours on end or get overwhelmed by audience development in the concerts I produce. The following shortcuts work on Apple Mac computers. I can’t remember if they are the same on PC’s.

Single letter shortcuts:

<H>: draws a crescendo sign from the beginning to the end of the highlighted passage or just a small crescendo from the cursor if nothing is highlated

<shift><H>: draws a diminuendo sign (as above)

<I>: adds or deletes instruments in the staves

<K>: changes key signature

<L>: opens the LINE menu where you can choose horizontal lines such as trill, 8va, 8vb, etc across the highlighted passage or vertical lines such as arpeggio

<Q>: change clef

<R>: repeat whatever is highlighted. This is extremely useful, for you can repeat the previous note, chord, or passage.

<S>: slur on the highlighted notes, or the highlighted single note and the next note or chord.

<T>: change time signature

<X>: flip the highlighted slur or passage (in which case the stem gets inverted)

Non-letter or combined keystrokes:

<spacebar>: plays the music from the cursor onwards

<alt> and then click: copy whatever’s highlighted onto the area pointed/clicked at.

<apple command> and then <R>: enters a rehearsal mark on the barline highlighted (apple command is the key on the immediate left of the space bar)

<apple command> and then <up arrow>: moves the highlighted note up one octave

<apple command> and then <down arrow>: moves the highlighted note down one octave

I shall return to this blog entry to add more shortcuts and tips.

Arranging Carmen for piano and guitar

At first, I split up a quatre-main (4-hands, one piano) duet into separate parts for a single guitar and piano. Then I noticed that the piano duet left out many wonderful melodies. To do Carmen justice, I opened the orchestra score, found those beloved themes and allocated them as I saw fit. What shall I call my arrangement? How about Carmen Potpourri for piano and guitar?

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo, photo credit: Serge van Empelen, Amsterdam

I borrowed the Dover edition of the orchestral version for Bizet’s Carmen opera months ago. The full score looked intimidating, a reminder of the arduous score reading exercises I had to do during my years at conservatory. And so the hard-back book laid on my piano unopened until I found free sheet music of piano solo and duet transcriptions on the Internet.

Eureka! I found a short cut.

It is possible to reduce orchestral music to piano and fewer instruments. It requires a lot more imagination the other way around.

At first, I split up a quatre-main (4-hands, one piano) duet into separate parts for a single guitar and piano. Then I noticed that the piano duet left out many wonderful melodies. To do Carmen justice, I opened the orchestra score, found those beloved themes and allocated them as I saw fit.

Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers stopped me when he saw that I was giving the exciting parts to the piano. It reminded me of my own protests when he had given himself the interesting, virtuoso passages in his arrangements of Bach’s Badinerie, Chopin’s Piano Concerto in E minor, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and the Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba for our duo.

“I can do that!” he pointed to a chromatic run. “I love scales. Better, let us do it together!”

Now that’s a challenge — to play the fast notes completely in sync with each other! We do that quite a bit in Vivaldi’s Summer from his Four Seasons. I can have the guitar play exactly what I play in the same register or an octave apart. Or we can play a third apart.

“Give me big powerful chords,” he said. He wants to show off, but so do I. We’ll just have to take turns, I decided.

Robert also gave me advice. “To be safe, don’t give the guitar more than two voices at a time.”

Bizet’s opera was set in Seville, Spain where we had visited in April 2009 for a gypsy flamenco project. I remember the flamenco rhythms and the percussive nature of such exotic music. Arranging Carmen brought back memories of that week as well as my visit to the Netherlands Opera production of Carmen at the end of the Holland Festival in Amsterdam.

Technically speaking, the piano and the guitar can replace 16 single-note instruments: 10 fingers on the piano plus 6 strings of the guitar. If we add our feet and elbows, then we can do even more. I love sound of the guitar being used as a percussive instrument. Can I do the same on the piano? Or would I need drumsticks?

What shall I call my arrangement? There are numerous Carmen Suites and Carmen Fantasies on Naxos CD Online and youtube. Mine is not a suite or a fantasy. A suite is structured — mine is a medley of various sticky tunes, and yet it’s more than a medley. A fantasy would require a lot more imagination, dedication, and virtuosity. I want it to be fun and interesting, not like some of the 19th century arrangements of popular opera themes for guitar and piano.

How about Carmen Potpourri for piano and guitar? Coincidentally when I google “Carmen Potpourri” I find our piano guitar duo website and this blog. Maybe that’s what it should be called: Carmen Potpourri for piano and guitar.