Making private space public

Eight years ago, I gave a paper on “house concerts for art music” to economists in love with music in Copenhagen. Today, Groupmuse is one of the grassroot initiatives that intermediates between artists and venue owners to realise such a concept. On Maui, I know of a clarinettist who produces these concerts from his home — always sold out. In and around Utrecht, I know of at least two. What are the issues that confront turning your private space into a concert venue for the public?

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Art and music improvisation: an observation and reflection

Watching an art and music improvisation session reminded me of the various collaborations I’ve had with artists in London, Utrecht, Crete, and Brugges. It’s about the process.

As a finishing touch to my recent application for an innovation grant, I asked the Maui-based artist Mike Takemoto if he would consider having his students collaborate with mine. I was thinking along the lines of an exhibit of paintings of musicians, music instruments, or music notes. It would be an extension of the piano ensemble poster exhibit that I “curated” and organized with the photography teacher Harvey Reed and his photo and design students last spring. Such interdisciplinary collaboration raised awareness of the activities we wanted to promote.

Continue reading “Art and music improvisation: an observation and reflection”

Reasons for attending a concert in Maui

In Maui, where classical concerts are few and far between, the place to meet other classical music aficionados is at such events.

Today, Haydn’s The Creation is being performed at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC). The MACC is to Maui as the Concertgebouw is to Amsterdam and Carnegie Hall to New York.

The soloists, a large choir, and an orchestra were put together specifically for this grand work. It is happening right now —- as I type. Why am I not on stage or in the audience?

For someone as keen on music as I am, I should be at every such event at the MACC or elsewhere on Maui. To find myself writing this blog instead of attending this concert is baffling.

I had toyed with the thought of going there. I was asked to substitute as accompanist for a few sessions but my workload prevented a resounding “yes, I’d love to do it.” I next heard of it when several singers mentioned the performance. Eventually I brought up the subject in conversation.

It would be a simple $25 to secure a seat. I had asked my mother if she wanted to go. She wasn’t sure. Someone else invited me to go with her family. My initial yes changed to a no later in the week. The thought of going with others to an event was very appealing. I could even make a date of it with any number of other “single” music lovers.

Why this vacillation? Why not a definite commitment?

As this is the only concert in town —- the only remotely classical work on the island of Maui for a month, it seems obvious for all who appreciate classical music to attend it.

If I were hungry for classical music, I would go to this one-off event — Sunday 19th August 3:30 pm at the Castle Theatre at the MACC. As the theatre seats 1,200 people, there is little risk of selling out.

There I would meet other musicians, classical music connoisseurs, on stage or in the audience. It would be the world I belong to and the one I have been accustomed to.

There lies the rub.

I am not hungry enough for classical music to give up my Sunday afternoon. Now I am beginning to understand why it is so hard to get people to come to a concert. If it’s not a free concert, one weighs all these other activities that are equally or even more compelling. For me, sitting outside, typing on my iPad keyboard, with a cold glass of homemade iced tea is far more relaxing and worthwhile than sitting indoors among strangers in a cold, air-conditioned hall for 2 hours. How often during the week do I get to sit outside? None.

Concert before a private viewing in Wailuku

A solo guitar concert before dinner, before a private viewing of a new commission in a one bedroom apartment in Wailuku on the island of Maui.

There is a grassroots movement of turning one’s home into an art gallery and concert hall. I sincerely believe it. Live music is not confined to grandiose concert halls for 2,000 people. Similarly art, especially contemporary art, that is works of living artists, is not destined for museums, waiting to be curated and valued.

Living composers and artists are creating new works every day.

There are not enough concert halls to hear their works or museums to view their works.

Hospitals, schools, hotels, and restaurants have unleashed their walls for art exhibitions. Similarly concerts are being staged in alternative locations. Venues can serve more than one purpose.

What about one’s home? A home is your castle. Home is where the heart is. It’s the last place of safety and tranquility. Why should you turn it into a concert hall or art gallery? Because you turn a concert and an art exhibition into a very special event —- one with a personal touch that is unique only to you, the host.

Last evening, we hosted a small intimate guitar solo concert in our one bedroom apartment in Maui. Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers gave a half-hour performance of four pieces he will play in Boston next month. We were privileged to sit so close to hear this private performance.

Robert Bekkers guitarist in private house concert in Wailuku
Robert Bekkers guitarist in private house concert in Wailuku. Photo: Tommy Nahulu

After dinner, Maui-based artist Frances Ku revealed her latest work — yet untitled piece in watercolour.  I had asked her to paint one for our piano guitar duo for years. We are always looking for new original artwork or photographs for our concert invitations, posters, publicity, and CDs.

“Wow!” was the unanimous and simultaneous reaction. She had neither signed or framed it yet — literally hot off the press, still drying.

Could we have invited more people to this private event? Yes and No.

We wanted to. But we did not have enough chairs, wine glasses, and plates.

Next time, we should just ask our guests to bring their own.

It goes to show that a concert and/or an art exhibition can take place whenever there is a will to make it happen. Even in one bedroom apartments — as we have experienced in Amsterdam and now, Maui!

Note: Robert took photos of this painting and immediately made a CD cover for the new CD Live at Duke 2010, pictured below.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo Live at Duke 2010 CD album
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo Live at Duke 2010 CD album

2010: a year in reflection

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo traveled and performed in three continents: Europe, Asia, and North America in 2010. Among the highlights were house concerts, concerts in churches, collaboration with other artists, and showing others how to produce concerts.

As the last blog post in 2010, we would like to thank all readers for reading, referring, commenting, and supporting this blog. 2010 has been an incredible year for our piano guitar duo. We have never traveled as extensively in any year as this one. We have never collaborated with so many people as this year. We have never had such a variety of gigs.

Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands
Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands

We began the year in the Netherlands with our usual concerts.

In February, we made a weekend trip to Belgium to open a new exhibition with a selection of solo, duo, and improvisation in beautiful historic Brugge. It was one of several collaborations with other artists.

In April, we made a whirlwind tour of Taiwan, introducing ourselves to the Taipei Rotary Club and a string quartet in Taipei.

From January to April, we coached new house concert hosts on how to produce concerts from their homes, culminating in our debut of the 30-minute long Grand Potpourri National to open a new concert series and the release of our first CD Summer in the home of an artist.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo CD Summer
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo CD Summer

In May, we organised our biggest house concert yet: a dozen musicians in 4 different concerts in one day! The Glass Vase Concert was free entry with cover art commissioned for auction. The bonus was the chef-catered Egyptian dinner for 50 people, who queued for seconds.

All the insights from our experience of producing house concerts and interviews with others were presented in a paper to economists at an international conference in Copenhagen in June.

Besides performing as a duo, we also worked with other musicians such as French horn player Emile Kaper and American cellist Stephanie Hunt. We found that piano and guitar worked well with other instruments and the audiences love the idea. We programmed one house concert in Amsterdam with our duo, Robert’s solo guitar of Bach Chaconne, piano and cello, and finally piano, guitar, and cello.

In September, we traveled to Zeeland in the southwest coast of the Netherlands to give 5 concerts in 3 days. It was a busy month, made busier by our reluctance to cancel any concerts including those that took us by surprise and decided upon last minute (impromptu).

The highlight of the year was undoubtedly the coast-to-coast America Tour, from Boston to Sacramento in 5.5 weeks. We thank our hosts, guests, and everyone who made this tour happen. We had no idea it would be so empowering and fantastic.

What next? Who knows? We bought ourselves one way tickets to paradise and started a new blog to lure our friends to come visit us. We look forward to seeing our friends from Davis, Houston, Seattle, and Nebraska in the first few months of 2011.

Hope you have enjoyed these blog posts. 2011 promises to be an entirely different year.



Piano and guitar in the Monument House Utrecht, Netherlands
Piano and guitar in the Monument House Utrecht, Netherlands

Passion and patronage for the arts

Arts patronage is necessary for the arts to thrive and flourish. There are many ways to support the arts. One example is someone who connects artists to opportunities. Linda Marroquin supports the arts by doing not only that but also turning her home into a venue and gallery called the Audley Society in Houston.

When you’re passionate about something, you do it. You tell people about it, and you share it. You support it by doing it and sharing it.

What if you’re a connoisseur of the arts? You may not necessarily engage in it as in drawing, painting, designing, composing, performing, or live as an artist, musician, writer, or any of those activities that are considered creative or artistic. However, you may very well attend gallery openings and concerts or be a regular museum visitor. There’s nothing wrong with that. But you can do more.

You can be a patron for the arts.

These are people who have the passion but who also support the arts through any of the following activities:

  • connect people by introducing artists to patrons, consumers, and others who provide opportunities
  • engage or hire artists such as concert producers, venue owners, and gallery owners
  • sponsor artists or events that employ artists
  • collaborate with artists or those that employ artists to make the events possible or affordable
  • create opportunities for artists
  • provide material for artists: photographs, video, transportation, accommodation, publicity, etc.

Our 5 week concert tour in the USA would not have been possible without these patrons. They may not even know they are patrons. Arts patronage is not a job or a recognised label but it is a necessary function for the arts to thrive.

One of the aims of this CONCERTBLOG is to explore the what it takes to allow the arts to flourish in our society. There will be another blog post on what economists call transaction costs — the cost of doing or making something happen. In the arts, such as producing a concert, the transaction costs are very high. As a result, not everyone involved in the arts are paid what they’re worth (or paid at all).

Arts patrons volunteer their time, service, intellect, contacts, and other resources to support the arts.

One example of an arts patron who has helped us greatly is a lady I met on the plane from Baltimore to Houston in July 2000. She is one of those people who exudes a presence without saying anything. She is a connector — someone who sees similarities, opportunities, and connects people to one another.

She made it possible for us to stopover in Houston to give two house concerts in December 2007. She introduced us to Jeff Abrams who hosted our last concert in Houston. She introduced us to Michael Woodson who interviewed us on KPFT Houston radio station. Through her connections, she found the right person to invite us to fly to Houston for a private concert.

She turned her beautiful home into a gallery and concert venue to support the arts. She is not an artist or a musician. But she loves the arts. She loves to support the arts.

She is Linda Marroquin. Her next event of the Audley Society is on Political Art, beginning on 19th December 2010.

Upstairs in the venue of Audley Society, Houston, Texas
Upstairs in the venue of Audley Society, Houston, Texas

Join the Audley Society and proprietor Linda Marroquin as they embark on a political journey; an adventure undertaken to celebrate the victorious artistic endeavors of 9 Texas Artists; an exhibition of individual theories and ideologies that shape the way in which these artist speak out about issues very dear to their hearts, and how these unique perspectives change the way they see the world and produce their artwork. The show is curated by Janet Hassinger.

Reveal the Lies: An Artistic Call to Action includes the works of Amita Bhatt, Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak, George Bowes, Gabriel Diego Delgado, Janet Hassinger, Maria Cristina Jadick, Bert Long, Keith J. R. Hollingsworth, and Mary Jenewein.

The Exhibition is on display from December 19, 2010 – January 31, 2011, with an artist reception on December 19, 2010 from 1 pm – 6 pm. The closing events with dates to be announced will include a salon style discussion with Renowned News Anchors.

Rotary visit to Galerie Utrecht a.k.a Morren Galleries

What do art galleries have to do with music? Scanning the 16-page “Galerie Utrecht Journal” issue June – August 2010, I see the world of contemporary art in Utrecht and elsewhere. How nice it would be to have my own equivalent for music — a Monument House Music Journal and a big mailing list. Would it also take 18 years to build?

In the summer months, the attendance at my International Rotary Club in Utrecht dwindles because people go on holiday. The regular fortnightly dinner meetings are suspended in July and August, making way for special excursions that individual members propose.

One such event, organised by our youngest club member Sophie from New Zealand, was a private tour of the largest contemporary art gallery in Utrecht. She even brought nice wines for an elegant gathering on a warm summer’s eve.

What do art galleries have to do with music? Our experience of giving a small concert in the art gallery in Brugge, Belgium made us curious — can music attract people to come to an exhibition? It’s less formal than a concert hall.

Strategically situated in a corner building on the south end of the famous Oudegracht, Galerie Utrecht spans two floors – the ground floor and the lower ground (or canal level). The owner Eric Morren told us that it would soon be renamed with his surname for Galerie Utrecht has locations in Amsterdam on the prestigious Prinsengracht and elsewhere.

Morren led us through the gallery, introducing various paintings and sculptures on display. I truly value a guided tour by someone who knows the artists so intimately. I could see why the sale prices ranged from 500 to 10,000 euros. By telling us the reputation of the artists and the techniques they used, he educated us about art. He explained that the prices displayed were the minimum prices. I didn’t understand that — no haggling?

18 years ago Morren started the gallery with an exhibition in his one-room art studio downstairs. Over time, he gradually acquired more space and expanded to the two floors and beyond. He has a huge mailing list and his own publication. There is even a state-of-the-art kitchen downstairs for culinary events via FoodJazz&DJS.

Anne Ku outside Gallerie Utrecht in the Netherlands, 13 July 2010
Anne Ku outside Gallerie Utrecht in the Netherlands, 13 July 2010

Every single item in Morren’s art gallery has personal meaning to him, because he has gone through the process of obtaining the artwork for exhibition. He has developed relationships with the artists. In a similar vein, every single item in our homes bears meaning to ourselves in the same way. Perhaps that’s why it’s difficult to part with them.

I spotted a huge painting on the way to the toilet. It was nearly hidden in the small hallway where there was hardly any space to view the large painting. The price tag was €34,000. I asked him if that was the most expensive item on sale. Morren replied,”No. That’s not for sale. I own it. I just didn’t have anywhere in my house to put it.”

Scanning the 16-page “Galerie Utrecht Journal” issue June – August 2010, I see the world of contemporary art in Utrecht and elsewhere. How nice it would be to have my own equivalent for music — a Monument House Music Journal and a big mailing list. Would it also take 18 years to build? It’s already our 5th year of Monument House Concert productions.

Jim Collier: American painter in Amsterdam

In the case of Jim Collier, I met him before I saw his paintings. I confessed that I was not aware that Jim’s paintings were for sale until I came to Galerie Strous.

An exhibition for a painter is like a concert for a musician. We are for hire. Our CDs are for sale. For the artist, an exhibition also brings opportunities for future commissions.

At the “Muziek en Amuses” house concert of 17th April 2010, I was invited to the opening of a new solo exhibition of Jim Collier, an American artist based in Amsterdam. The invitation postcard was a beautiful reproduction of Jim Collier‘s “Twelve Houses, Amsterdam 50 x 105 cm” on one side. I posted it onto my refrigerator, as a reminder to visit the Galerie Strous on the Prinsengracht in the month of May.

As much as we wanted to, neither Robert nor I could make it to the opening on Sunday 25th April, for Robert was giving a solo performance in Voorschoten.

A gallery opening such as this was bound to attract interesting people, as I discovered from the photos on Facebook the next day.

By “interesting,” I mean people with interesting lives and perspectives — people I find fascinating to engage in conversation — people I could admire and learn from. I have met some of my most interesting friends at gallery openings and private viewings: the artist Yousif Naser and the late architect/ceramist Ayyub Malik, to name a few. What these people have in common is originality of thought. They are creators with their own philosophies and opinions. I like the buzz I get from talking to them.

In the case of Jim Collier, I met him before I saw his paintings. Only upon my second visit to his apartment in Amsterdam, did I realise that the huge close-ups of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Duomo of Florence were not photographs but oil paintings. Jim’s art is so real that one can’t help but wonder where the brush stroke begins and ends.

Jim Collier exhibition in Amsterdam
Jim Collier exhibition in Amsterdam

Inside Jim’s art studio in an 17th century canal house on Amsterdam’s famous Keizersgracht is a grand piano. How often do you find a grand piano in an art studio? Or an artist who can play the piano? Below, I believe, is a self-portrait of the artist (born on Halloween) at the piano. As a musician, I would love to see more paintings of musical instruments.

Painting by Jim Collier
Painting by Jim Collier

On Friday 28th May, I finally got the chance to visit Galerie Strous to see Jim Collier’s paintings of Italy, Amsterdam, and flying elephants.

It is quite a different experience to see an artist’s work previously seen in his home in the public space of a gallery. In Jim’s home, the paintings were part of the interior decoration. It was a seamless path from the front door to the kitchen — not a gallery where you would pause at each painting. At the gallery on Prinsengracht, the paintings were featured on white space with the occasional scupture by the gallery owner Leon Strous. The environment changes the context of the viewing experience.

Although the gallery was a public space, the presence of the owner offering a glass of rosé to the visitors made it personal. I should say that Galerie Strous is a private gallery, but the space was publically available to those that entered it on days that it’s open or by appointment.

I toasted a glass of cold and crisp rosé wine to Leon. “Won’t you join us?”

“I can’t,” he declined. “I am on duty.”

“You enjoy meeting people who come here, don’t you?” I asked Leon.

Leon Strous, sculptor and gallery owner
Leon Strous, sculptor and gallery owner

I can’t imagine all visitors receiving VIP treatment like me and Carole Anne. We sat across from Leon at his desk and discussed cultural economics. What kind of people buy art? What motivates people to own art? Can live music attract people to visit an art gallery?

I confessed that I was not aware that Jim’s paintings were for sale until I came to Galerie Strous. An exhibition for a painter is like a concert for a musician. We are for hire. Our CDs are for sale. For the artist, an exhibition also brings opportunities for future commissions.

I was hoping to meet the artist. Perhaps this blog post will take me there.

Anne Ku and artist Jim Collier in Amsterdam
Anne Ku and artist Jim Collier in Keizersgracht, Amsterdam

From caricature to watercolour

My sister, Frances Ku, became famous in Taiwan for her political cartoons. Since moving to Hawaii, she has reinvented herself as a watercolour artist and lately the pioneer of “Creative Healing” workshops. One day I hope to organise a joint concert and exhibition with Frances.

My sister, Frances Ku, became famous in Taiwan for her political cartoons which culminated in a book entitled “Memoirs of a Love Hate Relationship with Taiwan.” She became so good at drawing caricatures that she even made one of me (below).

Oil painting by Frances Ku
Oil painting by Frances Ku

In 1999, I flew half-way around the world to sit for this painting to remind me of paradise. When the giant canvas arrived in London a few months later, I was speechless. She definitely could have covered my legs.

Frances Ku is multi-lingual and multi-talented. She performed Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto with orchestra while studying philosophy and classics at SUNY Albany. She won a scholarship to do her MA in International Relations at University of Chicago after which she worked briefly at a law office. But none of these credentials do justice to her ability to create, both in imagery and verbiage.

Since moving to Hawaii, she has reinvented herself as a watercolour artist and lately the pioneer of “Creative Healing” workshops. One day I hope to organise a joint concert and exhibition with Frances.

In the mean time, the closest I can get to collaborating with this talented sister of mine, is to commission a new work for our forthcoming house concert on 23 May 2010. Her watercolour collage represents a synthesis of music on different instruments in a festive environment.

The work itself was produced in Hawaii. How do we get it to the Netherlands?

We will hold a silent auction, patterned after the one I witnessed recently at the 80th anniversary gala dinner of the American Women’s Club of the Hague. The reserve (lowest) price is 60 euros for a single print. Each bid is in increments of 5 euros. It will be anonymous. At the end of the evening, we will close the auction. The highest bidder will be announced and the print will be delivered from Hawaii to the chosen destination.

Silent auction at the American Women's Club of the Hague 80th Anniversary
Silent auction at the American Women's Club of the Hague 80th Anniversary

If Frances Ku were in the Netherlands, I can think of many ways to share her creativity. Last month in Taiwan (early April 2010), my father wanted to see her draw. We ripped out blank hotel stationery and gave to Frances. In no time at all, she sketched out our portraits in pencil.

There are still traces of her cartoonist days though.

Pencil caricature of Robert Bekkers by Frances Ku, April 2010
Pencil caricature of Robert Bekkers by Frances Ku, April 2010

To be continued….