Unlike the Chinese who consider a birthday worth celebrating only if the age ends in a zero after retirement, the Dutch happily celebrate every single birthday. It’s the one day in the year, your family and close friends can turn up at your door uninvited and unannounced. When you arrive, you’d congratulate everyone else — not just “happy birthday” to the one whose birthday it is.
Our first booking for a birthday concert was made by our next-door neighbour as a surprise 50-year birthday gift to his wife who loved classical music. He hired us to give a one hour concert in our own home. Afterwards we were invited to join them in their home for a chef-catered dinner and festivities.
Last month, we were asked by the producers of the Funen Concerts Art Productions in Amsterdam to provide a half-hour programme (1 page PDF) for a private concert for the birthday of an architect. We have given many one-hour performances at Funen Concerts or FCAP for short. Each time there was a different art exhibition, for the owners turned their home into an art gallery.
While it was easy to include the more popular pieces from our 2011 and 2010 concerts, we thought we’d add something entirely new: a movement of a new guitar concerto. Award-winning American composer Mark Francis had written his second guitar concerto for an orchestra in Jackson, Mississippi. Unbeknownst to us, our performance on Sunday 17th July 2011 was the world premiere of the piano and guitar version of the concerto.
There was a buzz not commonly found in our audiences. Because it was a birthday celebration and a gift of the birthday gentleman to his guests, the concert was received as a gift. These were not ticket-holders but recipients of a gift. We, as performers, felt the buzz.
When we announced that we were premiering a new piece, we felt that buzz again. We mentioned that new music was not as well received by general audiences in the USA as it was here in the Netherlands. In other words, we dared to include a new piece by a composer not known in this country at a privately commissioned concert.
To our surprise, the audience smiled. They welcomed such a new work. They felt privileged that we’d select this occasion to premiere a new piece whose orchestral debut was less than two months before. After the 45-minute concert, one lady approached us as we were leaving to tell us that she specifically enjoyed the modern piece.
We did not know enough about the work or the composer to share with the audience. As with good works of art, each time you visit, you enjoy it more than the previous. The first time we played it, we thought there was potential. But we had only rehearsed it three times together before we performed the first movement which we thought was the shortest and easiest of all three. What does the guitar concerto sound like with a real orchestra? We had no idea.