Audio video to explain economics to an audience

Even The Economist is trying new ways to communicate. As musicians, we cannot rely on our music to do the work. We have to establish a rapport with our audiences. The music doesn’t sell itself. We do.

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After writing about the cultural economics of music tonight in “Just in time collaboration with composers and sound engineers,” I came across a tweet about online video from The Economist.

How long have these audio video presentations been available on the Economist website? How long have I been missing out?

The topics range from the economies of various countries to climate change and world population. I love the moving graphs and the clear explanations. Such video presentations make otherwise tedious reading interesting and bearable — and even entertaining.

There is a lot of good stuff in academic literature. But a lot of it is wrapped in passive tense, lost in long and winding sentences with vocabulary not in your average dictionary. I have read volumes of scholarly journals only with the help of strong coffee and tight deadlines. I have been to musicology seminars where the presenter reads from a sheet of paper on a topic that had lured a full house. The reading put us to sleep.

There is an audience. Engage them!

Do everything you can to reach the audience!

Even the Economist is trying new ways to get the message across. These “talking charts” are music to the readers’ ears.

As musicians, we cannot rely on our music to do the work. We have to establish a rapport with our audiences. The music doesn’t sell itself. We do.

Audience at Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo concert in Vestry Hall, London 30 May 2003
Audience at Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo concert in Vestry Hall, London 30 May 2003

Holland Festival 2010

The 63rd edition of this annual cultural feast will open on 1st June with a homage to the voice of the Arabic world. The three week festival, from 1st to 23rd June 2010, takes place in 12 locations in Amsterdam, featuring 52 productions with 11 performances. There is enough variety to whet anyone’s appetite: theatre, dance, contemporary music, and more. The pocket-sized 287-page programme booklet can be picked up from any location where there is a performance. The tickets range from 10 (student and CJP pass holders) to 85 euros. There are also freebies.

Three years after reviewing concerts in the Holland Festival for Le Bon Journal, I was finally invited to attend their press conference to preview what’s to come in June 2010. The 63rd edition of this annual cultural feast will open on 1st June with a homage to the voice of the Arabic world.

Holland Festival 2010 IN FLUX
Holland Festival 2010 IN FLUX

At the press gathering on 2nd March at the Muziekgebouw aan’t Ij in Amsterdam, I spoke to a broadcast journalist who was looking forward to interviewing the young Egyptian singer. Amal Maher will sing Kalthoum’s classical Arabic songs, accompanied by orchestra on the opening night. Perhaps that was the reason we were served fresh mint tea and Middle Eastern delicacies that afternoon.

Represented by the theme “In Flux,” the leitmotif of the 2010 Festival programme is “tradition as inspiration for innovation.” This conjures up remixes or remakes of traditional plays such as Pygmalion, Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and others. Certainly the idea is that the past offers inspiration for the future (innovation).

For opera lovers, TR Warszawa is performing a theatrical interpretation of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna.

The three week festival, from 1st to 23rd June 2010, takes place in 12 locations in Amsterdam, featuring 52 productions with 11 performances. There is enough variety to whet anyone’s appetite: theatre, dance, contemporary music, and more. The pocket-sized 287-page programme booklet can be picked up from any location where there is a performance.

If you have never been to the Holland Festival but are curious, I would advise to go with a friend. Unless you are an opera buff or someone who enjoys going alone to cultural events, I highly recommend that you consider it a social outing. While I happily went to see Carmen alone last summer, I think I would have enjoyed other non-opera and non-musical productions more if I had someone to talk to and discuss what I didn’t understand.

The tickets range from 10 (student and CJP pass holders) to 85 euros. There are also freebies. The Holland Festival will be broadcasting the opening live from Koninklijk Theater Carré. Other free events are the lunch concerts; guided tours and lectures in the Zaha Hadid Architect’s Pavilion; the film Craneway Event; the public masterclass by pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout; the video installation Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco and lectures in Spui25. Visit Holland Festival website to see the preview video and the schedule (English version available).

Le Bon Journal Reviews of Holland Festival:

Doctor Atomic, 2007

Golijov’s Passion for St Mark, 2008

Messiaen’s opera St Francis of Assisi, 2008

Just in time collaboration with composers and sound engineers

Another example of a recent “just in time collaboration” happened today. I was happily surprised to get the sample recording of La Vida Breve by e-mail this afternoon. I am sure there are other examples of how technology, advanced management practices, and operational research methods can reduce the high transaction costs of the performing arts.

It takes just as much time to rehearse and get a string quartet of Mozart ready for performance today as it did 200 hundred years ago. But labour costs are nondecreasing, rising faster than productivity, as the economists Baumol and Bowen argued in their seminal book “The Performing Arts — the economic dilemma” (1966). Several economists, including Tyler Cowen, have refuted what has become known as the Baumol Cost Disease or the Baumol-Bowen Effect. [Read a good explanation in New Music Box.]

While it’s true that it takes just as much time to rehearse a piece now as when it was first composed or premiered, I believe there are other ways to overcome the cost disease and indeed negate its existence. One of the things I’m trying to do as a pianist is to play the same piece with different instrumentalists. Originally written for klarinet and piano, Schumann’s Fantasiestuck op. 73 works well with bassoon, horn, and cello. It’s like substituting ingredients in cooking. The result is not entirely the same but I don’t have to learn a new score.

Recently I told a composer that I had started working with a cellist. I posed the question, “I wonder how piano, guitar, and cello will sound together.” No sooner said than done, I received a new composition for this combination and shared it with the guitarist and cellist. After a few tries, we decided to record it and send to the composer as an mp3 file. This is what I call “just in time collaboration.”

Without notational software, the composer might have taken longer to compose this trio. He wouldn’t have been able to “publish” it as a PDF document and e-mail it us. Notational software such as Sibelius and Finale have become essential for composing, arranging, and transposing music.

Another example of a recent “just in time collaboration” happened today.

This morning the sound engineer who is mastering our first CD came to our home in Utrecht to set up a test recording. We had told him how difficult it was to find a suitable location for recording. We had gone to a church and found the reverberation too high. We had tried to record at a music school but got interrupted by outdoor construction. In the end, we hired a studio that was beyond our budget. He said that recording from home would save us time and stress and was eager to test our instruments and acoustics.

We played Piazzolla’s Tango number 2, originally for two guitars but arranged by English composer David Harvey for piano and guitar. We used our own Zoom recording device as well as the sound engineer’s professional close miking system. We were able to plug the results into the stereo system and listen right away.

Next we played the Fritz Kreisler version of Manuel de Falla’s Spanish Dance from the opera La Vida Breve. I was happily surprised to get the sample recording by e-mail this afternoon. Click to hear Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo play de Falla’s La Vida Breve on a 2005 Hilhorst concert guitar and 1909 New York Steinway.

I am sure there are other examples of how technology, advanced management practices, and operational research methods can reduce the high transaction costs of the performing arts. I would love to find a way to reduce the amount of administration that engulfs musicians. Please don’t tell me the obvious: hire an agent or an arts administrator!

Video Levka Ori and guitar at Artonivo

Participants of Levka Ori Creative Encounters in 2008 and 2009 finally meet in 2010 to share their experiences and exhibit their work. Watch the video of Dorit Drori and see the photo of Robert Bekkers.

The current exhibition at Artonivo art centre in Bruges (Brugge), Belgium shows several videos on the big screen. I witnessed the making of Robert Bekkers’ wind guitar high above Paleochora, Crete. I hope it will be available soon to share with the world in cyberspace.

During the busy evening of 26th February 2010 when the exhibition opened, I didn’t get to watch closely or hear the accompanying guitar music of Israeli artist/photographer Dorit Drori’s video until now. Dorit had participated in the 2008 Levka Ori Creative Encounters on Crete project, just a year before ours.

Had we gone in August 2008, we might have produced something different for the exhibition. Perhaps Robert might have played the guitar that accompanied her video. Alternatively, Dorit might have filmed Robert playing his guitar in the wind.

There was no overlap between August 2008 and August 2009. We didn’t meet Dorit until Friday 26th February 2010. We could not have collaborated before then.

Interestingly you could say that we are now collaborating in hindsight. Below is a photo Dorit took of Robert Bekkers performing live music on the opening night. And I’m just discovering the works of Dorit Drori through her websites and videos…… and blogging about it now.

Robert Bekkers on guitar at Artonivo in Bruges Belgium
Robert Bekkers on guitar at Artonivo in Bruges Belgium, photo: Dorit Drori