Pre-concert dinners and post-concert cookies

The bells and whistles of a concert are the pre-concert dinner and post-concert luxury organic cookies. Anne Ku explains why.

I had originally intended to blog about the experience of planning the upcoming two consecutive piano house concerts (1st and 2nd July 2011) so that I can share what I’ve learned with others. Much of this will have to be written in hindsight when, hopefully, I will find the time to do so.

Planning these events has turned out to be incremental and evolutionary. In other words, I did not have a grand plan from the beginning. The add-ons, almost an afterthought, are the bells and whistles that differentiate these concerts from any other.

Outdoor tables laid out for an outdoor meal at the Monument House
Outdoor tables laid out for an outdoor meal at the Monument House

Just the performer and the music should be enough to lure anyone to a concert. Not so in culturally rich Utrecht, also known as the creative capital of the Netherlands, home of the largest university and oldest conservatory in the country. Often considered the centre of the Netherlands for public transport (30 minutes by train or car to Amsterdam and 2 to 3 hours to Brussels or the German border), many people come to Utrecht for cultural events, as mentioned in a previous blog post.

Thus there are many competing events on a summer weekend evening, not just classical music but staying home or going out elsewhere. For the Dutch, birthdays and summer holidays are not to be cancelled for a house concert. The Dutch celebrate their birthdays every year. Their annual six week vacations entitle them to take several consecutive weeks off at a time. This is nearly unheard of in the USA.

July 1st is such a day — the beginning of their summer holidays. One Rotarian is driving to Italy with his family. Another has already flown to Turkey. My original plan to have an all American 4th of July weekend with American pianists, American philanthropy, and American-style barbecue has fallen victim to the Dutch way of life — no compromise on holidays or birthdays or competing events.

How else can I to lure people to come to a concert? In a previous blog post on this very subject, I suggested that the concert (performer + music) is not the only reason people will come to a concert. Some come for the social aspect. Others for the venue itself. Here is where I add the bells and whistles.

As early as January 2011, I booked wine expert Eveline Scheren to give organic wine tasting after experiencing it at another house concert in 2010. For those who don’t take wine or alcohol, I made elderflower drink as soon as I returned to the Netherlands a month ago — picking elderflowers from the trees that lined the canal around the Monument House in late May. There are bottles in the basement waiting to be consumed. Very organic.

In the Netherlands, going out to eat is a big deal. Kitchens (in restaurants) close at 10 pm, sometimes earlier if they run out of food. Service is slow. Expect 4-hours for a sit-down meal. It’s not cheap to eat out. How do you entertain visitors? Cook at home. It’s not Spain where you can go to a bar and get tapas at all hours of the day. It’s not the USA, where service is fast and choices are plentiful.

How to lure people to come to a house concert? Arrange a chef to cook a meal before or after the concert. Chef Alberto from Cordoba has already sourced the ingredients for his Andalucian feast for our 1st July Body of Your Dreams piano concert by Nathanael May. I will  need to give the headcount to Chef Hong first thing tomorrow morning for the Vietnamese dinner on 2nd July — the piano concert of Brendan Kinsella.

On Saturday 2nd July, after dinner, there’s the added bonus of luxury organic cookies from Utrecht-based American entrepreneur Katie Miller who will donate a box for the silent auction. I have yet to meet her but I’ve already fallen in love with her cookies. These are tiny cookies of various flavours that melt in your mouth and disappear quickly if you’re not disciplined. According to her advocate, Susan of Susan Scribes Blog, the ingredients are organic and carefully selected. I love the website and presentation of cookies as a luxury yet personal product — the perfect gift for a Dutch birthday. I can’t wait to meet Katie in person!

Concert poster speaks a thousand words

Compare text to image to get people to come to a concert — a colour poster is needed to summarise all relevant information at a glance!

In my vain attempt to describe the upcoming house concerts we are organising for pianists Nathanael May and Brendan Kinsella, I completely underestimated the power of a single page image that says it all.

Here are the various e-mails and texts I sent out. Compare these words to a single image which speaks a thousand words. Thanks, Thera for asking yesterday, “Do you have a poster or something I can include in my invitations?” I persuaded Robert Bekkers to drop everything, stop practising, stop arranging music, and create a colourful image that contains all the information at a glance.

Summer greetings!

Robert and I have returned from our coast-to-coast concert tour & sabbatical in the USA for just a few months before we travel again in August. In our adventures through 9 states in 7 months, we learned much about American philanthropy and fundraising and successful approaches to house concerts. We would like to try them here, in our home, in welcoming two American pianists who are traveling to Italy for a festival, using the opportunity to fundraise for Robert’s graduate studies with Eliot Fisk in the Fall.

What is so very special about house concerts for art music (see 14-page PDF of my paper on this subject) is not just the live music in an intimate setting but also the community-building, networking, sharing of great food and conversation. We commit to organising 2 concerts from our home each year to revive that special 19th century European salon tradition.

Hope you will join us for these festivities of the first weekend of July 2011, each of them completely different except for the organic wine tasting, raffle, and silent auction.

Friday 1st July 2011 7:30 pm doors open for 8:15 pm
Body of Your Dreams Concert by Nathanael May, founder and artistic director of the Soundscape Contemporary Music Festival in Italy, since 2005. Optional Andalucian dinner at 6 pm.

Saturday 2nd July 2011 7:30 pm doors open for 8:15 pm
Kinsella Concert from Beethoven to Rzewski by Brendan Kinsella. Optional Vietnamese dinner at 6 pm.

The concerts of 1st and 2nd July are 12 euros (prepaid) – including a glass of wine. Optional dinners at 6 pm are 18 euros (prepaid, reservations).

We will have a raffle draw (lotterij) for prizes such as CDs, Monument House Glass Mugs, sportsclub passes, and more.

Please feel free to forward this email to others who may be interested. We are also accepting donations of items or services for the Silent Auction of value over 150 euros each.

Hope to see you & catch up!

Warmest regards,


Body of Your Dreams Concert Weekend at the Monument House, Utrecht
Body of Your Dreams Concert Weekend at the Monument House, Utrecht

Question is – how do I reduce the 1 page PDF to a file size below 1.7MB — perhaps to a manageable 300 kB?

Breaking news! Here is the reduced one page PDF with links (just 340 kB).

Next wish: if only I have a budget to print these posters in colour and the manpower to put them up at various locations in Utrecht! We will never say no to sponsorship!

Viva Mozart!

Mozart sells itself just as Hawaii sells itself. The new all Mozart programme of the Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo includes Bekkers arrangement of the Overture to the Magic Flute and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Viva Mozart! Voila!

During the two months Robert and I lived on opposite ends of the earth, he in the Netherlands and I in Hawaii, literally 12 time zones apart, I got involved in the local classical music scene in Maui. My blog “Maui Tips for Newcomers by a Newcomer” documents some of these activities but leaves out several important events that lead to where I am at today.

Barely a week after I returned to Holland at the end of May 2011, we had to prepare to give a concert in Warnsveld. We had not practised together for months. We had to come up with a new programme. What was possible and do-able in the short space of 5 days?

Mozart came to the rescue.

Just a month earlier I had turned pages for Katherine Collier, the pianist and developer of “Amadeus-The Magical Life and Music of Mozart” the opening concert of the 30th Anniversary of the Maui Classical Music Festival. The previous time I had visited the venue of the Makawao Union Church, I was the pianist. In fact, it was the very place where Robert and I gave our first public concert in the USA (not counting Houston Public Radio and the two house concerts in Houston that same month in 2007).

Collier’s Mozart was a brilliant programme, narrated by the Hawaii Public Radio announcer Howard Dicus. Ms Collier wore a white wig and dressed as Mozart. Each string instrument had a motif representing the main characters in Mozart’s life — his dad, his mom, his sister, his wife. The story of the child prodigy was told through music and narration. The audience got to sample a variety of his music: piano solo, string quartet, opera extracts, aria, etc.

Several weeks later while visiting friends in Colorado, I watched the director’s cut of the movie Amadeus. I was once more reminded of the ephemeral popularity of Mozart.

Mozart sells itself just as Hawaii sells itself. People will attend a concert of Mozart’s music, just as people will visit Hawaii (if they can afford the time and airfare). There is no need for embellishment or hard sell.

Our duo has more than enough Mozart for a full concert (45 minutes + intermission + 30 minutes). For the one hour programme without intermission, we have to choose what to leave out. We left out Carulli’s Variazione Sopra un Tema del Flauto magico di Mozart by Beethoven, op. 169 which we played extensively in 2007-2008. Hot off the press is Robert’s new arrangement of the Overture to the Magic Flute and the rest of the Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

The audience at the 3rd June concert in Warnsveld loved our programme. It was not difficult to do. Why did it take us 10 years to figure it out? We had been varying our programme as often as once every month, including difficult pieces such as the 30-minute long Grand Potpourri National which took months to get ready.

The page programme (PDF) of Viva Mozart! is ready to rock and roll. Our next concerts in the Netherlands are Sunday 26 June 2011 in Zeist, Thursday 7th July in Utrecht, and Sunday 17th July in Amsterdam.

Bekkers arrangement of Mozart's Overture to the Magic Flute for piano and guitar
Bekkers arrangement of Mozart's Overture to the Magic Flute for piano and guitar

Sightreading new multi-hand duets for one piano

First attempt at getting pianists in Utrecht, Netherlands to sightread new multi-hand piano duets has ended in showing off solo works of dead composers. Why?

I am blogging the experience of trying to get pianists to sightread, choose, and commit to studying the new piano duets I collected from the 30 living composers who answered my CALL FOR SCORES. In Maui, I had gone through all 42 new works with Karyn Sarring, an excellent sightreader at University of Hawaii Maui College. On electronic keyboards however, the duets didn’t sound quite the same as on real pianos as I later experienced with Chong Kee Tan in San Francisco.

This afternoon in Utrecht, Netherlands, the first in a series of small get-togethers in my CALL FOR PIANISTS, we three pianists gather in the home of Tom who had just bought a new Yamaha grand piano.

After coffee and a green bean coconut soup dessert, we approached the black piano with a few pieces I shortlisted to try. I showed them pieces that worked in San Francisco — they were easy to read. I showed the pieces that no one dared to try — the notes were too small. But there were other reasons why some pieces were not attempted.

“What happened to tonality?” cried Thera after trying to figure out the beats and pitches of a few duets that required rigorous counting.

“There’s so much wonderful literature of romantic piano music that I have yet to play! Why would I spend time trying to read new music?” exclaimed Tom.

After several attempts to read and decide who was better at the secondo or primo parts, we gravitated to showing off solo works we had studied individually and memorised. Thera played a moving work by Mendelssohn.

“I like to close my eyes and play — much easier than reading,” said Thera.

As soon as it was over, Tom gently pushed her aside and said, “It’s my turn now.” He played a virtuosic work of Haydn followed by Scarlatti Opus 11 no. 11.

How many hours of music have these two pianists got memorised in their heads? How long have they spent studying these pieces?

How can living composers compete with the dead ones who have a head start? Whose music are heard and published and readily available?

On 15th May 2011 in San Francisco, when I tried to get pianists to sightread these duets, one pianist reasoned as follows:

“Composers have to try much harder to get us to play their music. There is so much beautiful music we want to play — music we have heard of. To play music we haven’t heard of, it better be good and worthwhile.”

Perhaps such pianists prefer to play music they have committed themselves to. People, in general, for that matter, prefer the known, certain, and familiar. It’s far more comfortable to play something you’re competent at than try something that shows your incompetence (which can simply be due to lack of acquaintance or familiarity).

My attempt at getting these two pianists to try the remaining 40 duets has failed. They are now (as I write) churning out grandiose sounds of Katchaturian (Toccata), Rachmaninoff (Prelude op. 32 no. 5 in G), and Franck (Prelude, Fugue & Variations).

“It’s not that they are familiar,” protested Tom. “These old works go straight to the heart. Modern music appeals to the intellect.”

Thera added, “Yes, music IS emotional. I see in many modern compositions, the brain comes first.”

Surely there is modern music that appeals to the soul and the heart! But where is it?

“I like Martinu,” suggested Tom as he overlooked my typing. “His is mid-20th century. But he is dead now.”

Would my CALL FOR SCORES be more successful (in the sense of getting works to be played) if I had specified the music to appeal to the emotions?

We end with Liszt’s Consolation number 3. I have not given up trying the remaining multi-hand duets in the few hours left of the afternoon.

I am sure there are pianists who are eager to discover new sounds, new music that has yet to circulate or become familiar. These pianists like to sightread, try new things, work with other musicians, get to know the composers who write the music, and eventually get the composers to write music they want to play. How can I find other pianists like me?

Afternoon Tea Trio and Duets

The final day of the July house concert festival at the Monument House Utrecht, Netherlands is dedicated to exploring the future for classical musicians. Egyptian dinner for those who stay (reservations required) to discuss.

Also known as Trio Afternoon Tea and Piano Duets

subtitled: Musicians Open Day

What do we want to do after hosting two consecutive concerts from our home? Chill out.

I want to hear the brand new trio of French horn, concert harp, and soprano — an unusual combination.

Trio Afternoon Tea: Emile Kaper, Kitty de Geus, Maria Pozdynakova
Trio Afternoon Tea: Emile Kaper, Kitty de Geus, Maria Pozdynakova

I want to play and hear the new multi-hand piano duets that did not get performed in San Francisco.

But most of all, I’d like to get the two pianists Nathanael May and Brendan Kinsella to share their views on the future for professional classically-trained musicians and conduct a career workshop. To lure musicians to participate in the discussions on topics close to their hearts, I am inviting a professional photographer and videographer to make press photographs and videos. I am inviting Chef Hany to once again provide an Egyptian feast for all. We will have workshops on how to launch a concert tour, writing professional biographies, and advanced networking skills.

Like the two previous events in this weekend of house concerts at the Monument House, there will be organic wine tasting, raffle draw, and silent auction. What’s different is that the performances are FREE to the public. The dinner is again 18 euros (but including a glass of organic wine).

Musicians get a discount of 10 euros if they recruit 1 dinner guest; 5 euros if they recruit 2 dinner guests; and a free dinner if they recruit 3 dinner guests. Otherwise, they pay 15 euros (not including wine, which is 2 euros per glass). In other words, musicians (performer, composer, conductor, teacher) pay nothing if they get 3 guests to reserve/pay dinners, 5 euros if 2 guests, 10 euros if 1 guest.

Discussion panels topics:

  • future of classical musicians’ career (given budget cuts), i.e. how to survive as a musician after budget cuts
  • work life balance: how to have a career in music and have a family
  • concert touring: how to do this, costs and benefits, contacts
  • house concerts: variety of approaches, audience development
  • music for a cause: fundraising, publicity, and the new revenue model
  • what do you need to have a career in music? website? photographs? social media networking?

To reserve, visit the High Note Live website.

The concert itself is FREE — or rather, by donations only — similar to the Glass Vase Concert of 2011 concept.

"Blue and White Vases"  24x36 acrylic on hard board by Rob Judkins (2011)
"Blue and White Vases" 24x36 acrylic on hard board by Rob Judkins (2011)

Kinsella Concert 2nd July 2011

The second concert of the first weekend in July 2011 in the Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands features American pianist Brendan Kinsella, organic wine tasting, and authentic Vietnamese cuisine.

Wines painted for Columbus Symphony Orchestra fundraiser, 16x20 acrylic on canvas, Rob Judkins (2011)
Wine and Strawberries, 16x20 acrylic on canvas, Rob Judkins (2011)

As I blog, I plan the details of upcoming concerts which could easily comprise a festival. These events are more than concerts. They have elements of music, drink, food, conversation, and fundraising. Dare I call it a festival? Or just a concert series?

Alternative names for the second concert in this series:

  • organic wine concert
  • Kinsella plays Rzewski
  • Vietnamese dinner concert
  • Beethoven, Poulenc, Liszt, Rzewski

Which came first? The idea of introducing organic wine to guests of the Monument House to accompany live music.

Next, pianist Nathanael May introduced the American pianist Brendan Kinsella who will travel with him to the Soundscape Music Festival in the Italian Alps the following week.

I contacted my Vietnamese friend to take up on her suggestion an authentic Vietnamese dinner after she experienced the Egyptian dinner at last year’s Glass Vase Concert. She then contacted Chef Hong who is available to cater for Saturday 2nd July 2011.

Kinsella is giving a virtuosic programme of the late works of Franz Liszt, the famous Waldstein Sonata of Beethoven, Poulenc’s Aubade, and the very American feel of Rzewski’s version of American popular ballad “Down by the Riverside.”

As with the previous evening (Body of Your Dreams Concert), there will be organic wines served by Eveline Scheren and fundraising for an artist-in-residence fellowship through a silent auction of items from the Monument House and other donations.

Saturday 2nd July 2011

6 pm Doors open for authentic Vietnamese dinner

7:30 pm Doors open for concert

Silent auction, pre-bidding online

8:15 pm Concert (no intermission)

9:30 pm Raffle draw for door prizes

9:45 pm Results of silent auction.

For details and reservations, visit High Note Live.

Body of Your Dreams Concert

The Body of Your Dreams Concert by American pianist Nathanael May takes place on Friday 1st July 2011 at the Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands. Organic wine will be served. Limited seating by reservation only through High Note Live.

Acryllic by Rob Judkins
"Rings" 24"x48" acrylic on board by Rob Judkins (2009)

Everyone wants to have the body of your dreams. It requires conscious regular exercise and attention to a balanced diet. Without concerted effort, the body of your dreams remains in your dreams.

Dutch composer  Jacob ter Veldhuis (affectionately known in the USA as Jacob TV) wrote a piano solo work in which the pianist needs to listen to a click track tape of his remixed American television advertisement of a slimming weight-loss belt. The so-named “Body of Your Dreams” for piano and boom box has made its way into the concert repertoire of a new generation of pianists, further made popular by the body-builder pianist Andrew Russo.

The tape, CD, and now video broadcasts: “It’s one of the ea­siest ways ever to get your bo­dy in the sha­pe you want it. It helps to to­ne and tigh­ten your up­per abs, lo­wer abs, arms and legs with no sweat at all!. It’s one of the simplest, smal­lest and most com­for­ta­ble to­ning de­vi­ces ever. You can use it whi­le wat­ching te­le­vi­si­on, do­ing the dis­hes, mo­wing the lawn.”

In short, Jacob TV’s “Body of Your Dreams” is a clever take on the American finesse in marketing and obsession with fitness.

When American pianist  Nathanael May told me he had included “Body of Your Dreams” in his programme for the house concert we are organising for him on Friday 1st July 2011, I just had to give the concert this name. I met Nathanael in 2003 when he invited me to give a sightreading workshop in North Cyprus. Since then, he has invited our duo to Italy where he founded an annual festival of contemporary music, first in Cortona and now in its third location in the alps. The Soundscape Contemporary Music Festival has now expanded to offer scholarships for composers and performers each year.

The concert will take place in the Monument House, in the multi-cultural neighbourhood of Lombok in Utrecht, the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, and also known as the creative capital and home of the oldest Dutch university.

Along with the theme of “Body of Your Dreams,” we have booked Eveline Scheren to provide tasting of organic wines she has carefully selected from Italy, Spain, France, and Chile. I met Eveline at a Rotary club meeting, before she started her own business of introducing organic wines to the Netherlands.

Each ticket will be entered into a raffle draw after the concert for prizes such as CDs, the limited edition of Monument House Glass Beer Mugs, and more. There will be also be a Silent Auction (to be linked to a blog yet to be posted) to raise funding for an artist-in-residence fellowship. Besides items from the Monument House, we are happy to receive donations for this cause.

** Breaking news: We are pleased to have Chef Alberto, who was born in a small village in Cordoba, to cater for a pre-concert dinner at 6 pm. He will be serving canapes, tapas, and a main course from the traditional Andalucian cuisine at 6 pm. This optional dinner before the concert can be reserved by indicating it in your email.

For more information and to reserve a seat, visit High Note Live, a web-based concert management and audience development website I am testing for use outside of the USA. Thus all $$ are actually in Euros for this concert.

This is the first of several concerts at the Monument House featuring music of American pianists and composers. The next one is on 2nd July 2011. [Watch this space.]

Friday 1st July 2011

6:00 pm: doors open – Traditional Andalucian dinner (optional) **

7:30 pm: doors open

organic wine tasting, view of silent auction items & bidding

 New! Panel discussions

New! Robert Bekkers, guitar, support act

8:15 pm concert starts (no intermission)

9:30 pm raffle draw (prizes include CDs, Monument House beer mug, and more)

9:45 pm silent auction results

The above painting by Rob Judkins, my classmate from Kubasaki High School in Okinawa, comes from his private collection. I will display more of his work in forthcoming posts of this Concertblog.

Parking until 9 pm is euro 2.29 per hour. But I expect most people will cycle or walk along the canal.