Funen house concert in Amsterdam

The summer periods are the most difficult to get a full house for indoor concerts. The weather makes the decisions for them. It’s that painful “nobody knows” principle of concerts —- the demand is uncertain.

The summer periods are the most difficult to get a full house for indoor concerts. The weather makes the decisions for them. It was a cloudy about-to-rain-any-moment day on Sunday 25th July 2010. Maybe people would suspend their plans for the beach and come to our concert in Amsterdam —- that was our hope.

Three days before the concert, I called the owners and producers of Funen Concerts Art Productions. No one had e-mailed or called to reserve. A year ago July half of the composers we had invited for our contemporary music concert were on holiday. This year was no different. July is a difficult month for house concerts, we concluded. [Elderly homes and hospitals are another story.]

Inside the bedroom where we waited for the clock to strike 3 pm, Robert and I looked at each other with similar thoughts. We didn’t hear a stampede of people nor a queue for tickets. We did not tell our friends they had to reserve in advance. It’s that painful “nobody knows” principle of concerts —- the demand is uncertain.

One of our friends had bought train tickets from Nijmegen to come to the concert but discovered there were no trains to Arnhem for the entire month. He had called to tell us that he could not get there on time. Much later, we learned that two other friends living in Amsterdam had started their journey 45 minutes early but could not find the location. We had not heard a yes from anybody else that we had invited.

The thought of walking to an empty room was terrifying.

Empty chairs before a concert
Empty chairs before a concert

At 3:10 pm, the co-owner and co-producer Erik tapped on the door to signal us to begin the concert.

To our surprise, the house was full. 22 paid guests, we learned. Excited to see four familiar faces, I welcomed the guests.

“We begin with Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. I was looking for a good arrangement for piano duet for my trip to Helsinki last November. What’s that? Robert asked. It sounded exciting, he said. But I didn’t have an arrangement for piano and guitar. No problem, he said. I’ll have it arranged by the time you come back.”

True to his word, this arrangement was waiting for me. It’s from the third act in Handel’s oratorio Solomon.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo ends their one-hour concert at Funen Park, 25 July 2010
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo ends their one-hour concert at Funen Park, 25 July 2010

After the one-hour concert, we mingled with the guests. One couple said they spotted in the newspaper there was a concert today, so they came from Noordwijk to see us. Another came from the Hague. Not everyone was local, it seemed.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo with audience after a concert in Funen Park
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo with audience after a concert in Funen Park

What I love most about house concerts is the opportunity to talk to the guests afterwards. With an intimate crowd such as this, it was possible to chat with nearly everyone. I recognised a couple from last year’s concert. We didn’t have CDs to sell or sign then.

Robert Bekkers leaves Funen park with bouquets and fond memories
Robert Bekkers leaves Funen park with bouquets and fond memories

Turn your home into an art gallery and concert hall

“I bet everyone who goes to your house concerts want to have one in his/her home. Then they probably dismiss the idea because they think their homes are too small or too inadequate.” It didn’t occur to me that my house was too small. Neither did Erik and Bart of Funen Park 125.

One of the guests at one of our Monument House concerts remarked “I bet everyone who goes to your house concerts want to have one in his/her home. Then they probably dismiss the idea because they think their homes are too small or too inadequate.”

When I first attended a house concert in Houston, Texas, I didn’t think that. Instead I remember thinking — wow! How can I get invited to another house concert? How can I perform in one?

The answer was to organise a concert in my own home.

The grand piano that is no longer there in the Victorian Cottage in London
The grand piano that is no longer there in the Victorian Cottage in London

It didn’t occur to me that my 2-bedroom Victorian cottage in London was too small. A mere 72 square metres (775 square feet), it even accommodated a grand piano in the living room. People sat on the steep stairs. Many sat on the floor or stood near the door. In the summer time, I organised outdoor concerts in my tiny garden. Where there is a will, there is a way. I wanted to play music. I wanted to share.

Funen Park 125, Amsterdam
Funen Park 125, Amsterdam

Erik and Bart probably thought the same. They renovated their 1-bedroom ground floor apartment in Funen Park in Amsterdam to accommodate their passion for the arts. They got rid of their garage and enlarged their living room. If you visit Funen Park 125, you would not think it’s a home for it feels more like a boutique art gallery and concert salon than a living space. They have cleverly managed their space such that they can book musicians a year into the future for their fortnightly Sunday afternoon concert series.

Glass display at Funen Concerts Art Productions, Amsterdam
Glass display at Funen Concerts Art Productions, Amsterdam

Yesterday we gave our second concert at Funen Concerts Art Productions. The colour booklet contained programme notes Erik and Bart had translated into Dutch from the English text we provided. The entire experience of working with these concert producers was very pleasant.

Robert Bekkers at Funen Park 125, Amsterdam
Robert Bekkers at Funen Park 125, Amsterdam

House concerts for parents with children

Concerts shouldn’t be exclusive to those who have the time and freedom to travel. But they are. People with children, especially young children, cannot afford to bring them to big concert halls. House concerts could be a solution.

Concerts shouldn’t be exclusive to those who have the time and freedom to travel. But they are. People with children, especially young children, cannot afford to bring them to big concert halls. They need a creche or a quick escape if the children act up.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo at Funen Concerts Art Productions, Amsterdam, 25 July 2010
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo at Funen Concerts Art Productions, Amsterdam, 25 July 2010

The mother of the youngest member of our audience said, “This (afternoon concert) is a good time for us. Our 6-month baby takes a nap then. This location (Funen Park, Amsterdam) is a mere 25 minute drive for us. If he cries, we can get up and take him outside quickly. Sorry, he missed the last 10 minutes of your concert.”

Several years ago, in London, I had proposed that a creche or babysitting facility be offered so that single parents could afford to come to concerts. The application for a local council grant never went through because I was moving to the Netherlands.

As a house concert producer, I often get asked if parents could bring their children. My reaction is often tainted by my concern for the other paying listeners. Would they mind? Suppose all guests are parents with children. They would understand. You want your children to grow up acquainted with classical music — live classical music. You want to share your cultural upbringing with your kids. How else will they discover the joy of live classical music?

Indeed, house concerts could be a solution.

The young mother was elated that she and her husband could bring their son to our house concert at Funen Concerts Art Productions in Amsterdam. “I want to go to all your concerts. Tell me when and where they are. Utrecht is not far from us. How can I find out about house concerts?”

Organic wine tasting at house concert in Funen Park, Amsterdam

House concerts are a great way to combine music with other interesting activities. As a concert producer, I realise that wine is both an attraction and detriment, the latter if not controlled can be a runaway cost. I invited Eveline Scheren, who started her own organic wine business recently, to offer her wines after our piano guitar duo concert at Funen Park, Amsterdam.

House concerts are a great way to combine music with other interesting activities. As a concert producer, I realise that wine is both an attraction and detriment, the latter if not controlled can be a runaway cost. New house concert producers often fret over where to obtain affordable but good wine and ample supply of wine glasses. One way to deal with this is to invite a wine connoisseur or a wine merchant to provide the wines, i.e. outsource the entire “wine” department.

Anne Ku and Robert Bekkers at Funen Park, Amsterdam
Anne Ku and Robert Bekkers at Funen Park, Amsterdam

I invited Eveline Scheren, who started her own organic wine business recently, to offer her wines after our piano guitar duo concert at Funen Park, Amsterdam on Sunday 25th July 2010. I had met Eveline at a sister Rotary Club meeting in Utrecht a year ago. We stayed in touch via e-mail though she had never been to any of our concerts, until yesterday.

Organic wine tasting display at Funen Park 125, Amsterdam
Organic wine tasting display at Funen Park 125, Amsterdam

“How is organic wine different from normal, non-organic wines?” I asked.

Eveline, who has both an MSc in Wine Management and an MBA, explained that organic (also known as biological) refers to a way of farming which does not use pesticides, fungicides, or other harmful chemicals that cause the soil to lose all life. Acquiring this certification poses considerable uncertainty and risk to the farmer because crops could fail. As a result, organic wines tend to be more expensive.

She gave some rough statistics. About 3% of the agricultural land in France is used for vineyards. But 30 to 50% of all pesticide, fungicide, and other chemicals used in farming is used by the wine industry. That is a shocking amount. No wonder the soil dies after a few years. Organic farming, on the other hand, uses natural means to fight the bugs and aims to create a new equilibrium in the vineyard so that the soil comes back to life. In other words, it’s more creative, takes more time, but ultimately results in sustainable practices that are less harmful to the earth.

Eveline's organic wine tasting at Funen Park, Amsterdam
Eveline's organic wine tasting at Funen Park, Amsterdam

After our one hour duo concert, the 22 guests gathered around Eveline’s table of organic wines for tasting. I asked for the single French rosé wine to taste but discovered that the Italian white was just as refreshing.

There is a simple analogy between music and wine. Our concert was a taste of our music. Those that liked it wanted more — and bought our CDs. Those that enjoyed the taste of the organic wines bought bottles home. We bought three.

Immediately after our concert, one gentleman thanked us and bought our CD. I asked if he would stay for the organic wine tasting. He replied,”No. I have my own wines at home.” Perplexed by his reaction, I told Eveline who remarked knowingly,”He was probably afraid that he would end up buying wines. This happens. Once you taste something you like, you want to buy it.”

“Ah! He did not want to be led into temptation,” I concluded.

It was a most pleasant way to finish our concert experience: to learn about organic wines and to taste the 7 different wines on sale: 3 whites (Italian Fasoli Garganega IGT 2009, Spanish Menade Verdejo Rueda 2009, Portuguese Air Dao White), the Rosé 2009 from France, and 3 reds (Elemental Carmenere 2009 from Chili, Domaine Bassac Cabernet Sauvignon from France, and the red Hospice Catalaans.

I am now drinking the rosé as I type this blog: Domaine Emile & Rose 2009 from France. [Earlier this evening, I had the Domaine Hospice Catalans Grande Reserve 2008 to accompany a delicious venison dinner that Robert cooked.]

Erik, co-owner of Funen Concerts Art Productions, helps Eveline after concert
Erik, co-owner of Funen Concerts Art Productions, helps Eveline after concert