Review: UKU Soprano Ukulele

Uku Global is a new company established in Massachusetts, specializing in soprano and concert ukuleles. Below is a review of their soprano ukulele.

All in all, I would say this is a decent introductory instrument.

Continue reading “Review: UKU Soprano Ukulele”

Ukulele for Blues Brothers

The 2017 theme for the annual Hanwell Carnival in London is Blues Brothers. I have my sunglasses and just need to borrow a man’s jacket, a thin tie, and a black hat. I can’t wait to join the Hanwell Ukulele Group (HUG) to strum and sing together on a float in the parade.

Continue reading “Ukulele for Blues Brothers”

City of Stars from La La Land

I watched “La La Land” with my high school classmate June and two of her children, one of whom delighted in figuring out the songs on the keyboard — by ear.

The tunes from the movie La La Land are catchy and sticky. I daresay all songs are played on the piano, and as such pianists everywhere will feel emboldened to figure out the notes. I am positively sure that one of the songs will get an Oscar. [Feb 27: in fact, this song did win the 2017 Oscar for best song from a movie!] Continue reading “City of Stars from La La Land”

Piano lessons: individual or group?

Whether to take individual lessons or a group piano class depends on the time and money you’re willing and able to spend to get the results you want.

“Should I take private one-on-one piano lessons or should I take a piano class with other students?”

This is a question I get asked from time to time.

The answer: it depends on the time and money you are willing and committed to spending on lessons and practice. It also depends on the results you want to get. In other words, it depends on your goals. Continue reading “Piano lessons: individual or group?”

Classic FM London in Maui

With internet radio, I can listen to practically any station in the world anywhere.

This morning I’m listening to one of my favourite stations — Classic FM. It’s the station that accompanied those years I lived in London, educated me the composers and their works that laid the foundation for my interest in classical music. I had Classic FM Radio on all the time — first as background music and then as a necessity to my daily life.

Later when I studied music history in Utrecht, Netherlands, I learned to appreciate how accessible the radio programmers made the music to the audience.

Today I am in my home in Maui — a sunny day like any other. The outdoor washing machine is on. I am indecisive about going swimming. The day is young. I switch on to Classic FM at 10 am HST: David Mellor’s special edition of St Patrick’s Day tribute. It ended with an orchestral arrangement of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”

Thereafter John Suchet presented Beethoven: The Man Revealed. His perspective was from that of Beethoven in love. Each time he fell in love, he wrote a piece. The stories behind the Moonlight Sonata, the Appassionata Sonata, and Fur Elise are simply fascinating.

Listening to Classic FM London in Hawaii makes me realise that it’s possible to have the best of both worlds.

I find myself doing my filing and my chores as background to active listening of Classic FM from London.

Wanted: home for a Steinway

Steinway grand piano from 1909 New York model A 188 cm is up for sale, rent, or loan. Resident piano in Keulsekade, Utrecht, Netherlands, Monument House Concert Series performances and chamber music rehearsals. A fine instrument.

My relocation to the Netherlands in 2003/2004 coincided with a refund of monies from Singapore. It was a milestone for change.

Frustrated by the daily challenge of finding a good piano to practise at the conservatory in Utrecht and the inadequate upright piano at home in Bussum, I decided to find a grand piano of my own.

First I visited the local piano shop whose owner led me to a room full of Yamahas. I could not find a piano that was special enough to be different. I abandoned the idea of a Yamaha and went for a Steinway instead. The story of how I found that piano and the piano technician who helped me negotiate the price is an interesting one, perhaps for another blog post. He did request that I visit his atelier after I got back from Taiwan. A month later, the French polished, restrung Steinway grand arrived in Bussum.

It was a glorious moment — to finally have a Steinway Grand Piano in my home. The Steinway was not from Hamburg but from New York. Made in 1909. All 188 CM of it. Model A. Ivory keys. One celebrated concert pianist, Dutch winner of the Liszt Piano Competition who commuted between Vienna and Utrecht, remarked that it was a Rachmaninoff piano for it had that romantic sound.

Here’s how the Steinway sounds: Intermezzo by Allan Segall, performed by Anne Ku, recorded by Robert Bekkers.

I held a Steinway Warming party for my piano friends. With the upright piano, four pianists could play on both pianos. We tried all sorts of duets.

Once I got accustomed to being the proud owner of a Steinway, it was time to let go of my Gerhard Adam, a German mahogany grand piano from the 1920’s which I left behind in London. I wrote a decision making guide to buying a second-hand piano to help sell that piano online. Once again I walked down my memory lane of buying a piano. I wrote an Adieu which used all 88 keys on the piano, a way for me to say goodbye thru the new owner I did not meet.

Here is a recording of my playing on my Steinway. Adieu to a Piano by Anne Ku

Steinway Grand Model A 188cm, 1909 New York, before recording session
Steinway Grand Model A 188cm, 1909 New York, before recording session

In summer 2006, the Steinway moved with me to Utrecht. We launched the Monument House Concert Series with a violin and guitar concert by Duo 46. That December we chose the theme Piano as Orchestra, featuring several concertos (harp, euphonium, guitar). The following year we combined food with music in Chamber Music Tapas Style. Every year we committed to organizing two house concerts. Often we had several mini concerts, including a kitchen concert, garden concert, impromptu concert. Each time we became more adventurous and more professional. We outsourced food and wine to professional chefs and wine sommeliers. We included art exhibitions.

On my last trip back to the Netherlands, I felt compelled to host two concerts back to back. Despite being time-challenged with only 2.5 months to sort out my things, I felt it was important to organize these concerts for two American pianists on their way to the Italian alps. Why? Maybe instinctively I knew it was the last time my grand piano would be heard in a concert setting. Sure enough, 2nd July 2011 became the last house concert.

And the last recordings were that of piano duets I had collected from a Call for Scores from Hawaii to Holland. Here’s Brendan Kinsella and I playing my late composition teacher Henk Alkema’s piece.

APPEAL:

This Steinway Grand, made in New York in 1909, model A – 188 cm – needs a home. SALE. RENT. or LOAN.

Steinway for Sale with new photos and sound clips.

Interested parties please use the LEAVE A REPLY field below.

Steinway Grand at the Monument House, Utrecht
Steinway Grand at the Monument House, Utrecht

Recording our first CD (part 1: location)

It has taken 9 years to finally put together our first CD. Why has it taken so long, you ask. Last autumn, we decided to find a suitable location to record for our first CD.

We have arrived at the final stage of getting our first CD out of the Monument House to the CD printers. It has taken 9 years to put together our first CD.

Why has it taken so long, you ask. Read my blog “the long and winding road towards our first CD” to get an idea.

Last autumn, we decided to find a suitable location to record for our first CD. After a guitar duo concert in August 2009, we did a test recording at Leendert Meeshuis in Bilthoven. Surrounded by a forest, the building is named after a doctor who played piano to his patients. Hummel’s Potpourri was good enough to include on this CD but where?

We tried recording at the church in Bennebroek where we had given a concert in April 2009. I liked the Bechstein, and the proprietor remembered us. After getting it tuned, we discovered that the church had too much reverb. We needed human bodies to bring down the echo.

Next we tried both halls of the new building of the Pier K music school in Nieuw Vennep. The outdoor construction made it impossible to continue without long breaks. Still we managed to get the Polonoise (Polonaise) from the Variations op. 113 (65) of Giuliani recorded.

Concert hall in Pier K music school, Nieuw Vennep
Concert hall in Pier K music school, Nieuw Vennep

It was September 2009. We had house concerts to organise, a guest from South Africa to welcome, and our own concerts to prepare for. Unlike the previous years when we changed programmes for every concert, we had stuck to one programme in 2009. We wanted to move on. We had to get it recorded.

We decided to go for the sure thing. Hire a studio for recording.

Immediately after the house concerts, we went to the newly built Centrum XXI in Utrecht to record ourselves. We were surprised to find various percussion instruments cluttered around the Bechstein grand.

Big hall of Centrum XXI in Utrecht
Big hall of Centrum XXI in Utrecht

We had given a concert in this hall at the Utrecht Uitfeest in mid-September 2009. Our contemporary music programme “Pull, pluck, strum, bang!” worked well in such a new building. Actually the building was not even officially opened then. Ironically, the previous day we had played our traditional programme (what is on our first CD) in a 600-year old building in Utrecht as part of the Open Monument Day celebrations throughout the Netherlands.

For a week, we dedicated ourselves to recording, listening, and re-recording Vivaldi, Hummel, Giuliani, Torroba, and Rodrigo. We agreed that Robert would edit the recording and I would work on the text.

In mid-October, while I was in Italy, Robert listened to the recordings. Naively I had expected our CD to be ready by the time I returned in November. Even after I got back from Helsinki, it was still not ready. Surely it would be ready by Christmas. No, it wasn’t. Not New Years either.

By Chinese New Year in mid-February 2010, I was getting very impatient. I set a final deadline. It has to be ready by the time we leave for Taiwan where a big family reunion awaits in less than two weeks.

Below, Robert plays Asturias after a long recording day at Centrum XXI in Utrecht.

Choosing a CD cover

Should we choose the first professional photograph of our duo or the last? Or an artist’s impression?

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo, photo credit: Anjam Ahmad, London 2002

While Robert is getting our first CD produced, I’m looking around for a suitable image for the CD cover. Should we use the first official photograph taken of us or the last?

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo at Warmond, photo credit: Humphrey Daniels 2008

Or is it more timeless to use something more abstract? Perhaps a drawing, such as the one below by a young artist after seeing our concert in Oosterkerk, Amsterdam?

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo in Amsterdam, acryllic on wood by Elea Bekkers 2009

Season’s Greetings

We would like to send a different kind of “season’s greetings” this year — unlike the two page newsletter of 2008/2009 that took several days to put together.

On the first day of snow (today 17 December 2009), we rushed outside to take pictures and videos while it was still fresh and clean in the morning. It’s so exciting to see and feel the snow, as though it’s come to wish us a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

We’d like to send a different kind of “season’s greetings” — unlike the two page newsletter that took several days to put together last year. Of course, we could also add hyperlinks to milestones and other important news we’d like to share. And indeed we’d like to tell you about our music, our travels and our guests who visited us.

But here is something spontaneous — a peek into our family life in Utrecht, Netherlands.

We live in a 100-year old Dutch monument house next to a lock that is rarely used. We spend a lot of time making music: practising, rehearsing, performing, singing, analysing, teaching, arranging, composing, attending, reviewing, and producing concerts —- hence this CONCERTBLOG.

When we’re not making music, we do fitness at the sports club on the other side of the canal (pictured in the video clips) or have fun with our friends, many of whom live abroad (hence the need for an electronic, interactive season’s greetings).

Think of this blog as a multiple choice question. Which video is the best to use and why? Please use the LEAVE A REPLY box below.

A – Hark the Herald Angels Sing

B- Ding Dong Merrily on High

C- What can you do with snow? on our way home

D- The front garden of our home under snow

E- All of the above

F- None of the above – why not?

Maria Podznyakova or Pozdnyakova, Russian harpist

I am pleased to invite my friends, colleagues, and contacts to hear Maria Pozdnyakova in a house concert this Sunday 13 December 2009 from 16:30. After the sun sets, as it approaches the shortest day of the year, we will hear and perhaps even feel the gut strings of the concert harp, plucked, strummed, and arpeggiated in Merrenna’s 100-year old row house with wooden floors and high ceilings.

At the end of choir class at Utrecht Conservatory (also known as Utrecht Conservatorium), our teacher Rob Vermeulen would check for attendance. There were two Marias, or rather, two Russian harpists both named Maria. I learned to play the harp from Maria Goudimov, who now lives in Germany. I wrote for the harp as a result of my five month study. The other Maria, whom our teacher called “Maria with the long last name,” performed my compositions that included the harp.

Whenever I e-mailed the 40 musicians in my final exam composition concert for rehearsal schedules, I would always get one e-mail bounced back. For some unknown reason, I could never spell Maria’s long last name properly. The “d” and the “z” were mixed up. I never attempted to pronounce her name either, for fear of making a fool of myself as my choir teacher probably also reasoned.

Apparently “Pozdnyakova” is not an unusual name in Russia, but her enthusiasm for the harp is. She loves to share her music with others. She loves to try new pieces. For that reason, she played in nearly all my composition concerts in 2007 and 2008. And for the same reason, I invited Maria to perform in a midsummer afternoon tea concert in our Monument House. She played three beautiful harp solos on the concert harp in a programme with other classmates of mine.

I am pleased to invite my friends, colleagues, and contacts to hear Maria Pozdnyakova in a house concert this Sunday 13 December 2009 from 16:30. She proposed the idea back in early October at the “spillover” or “extra” house concert of Capetown classical guitarist Derek Gripper, when she experienced the excellent acoustics of this “herenhuis.” It took a few months before Merrenna the host and I had time to get together with her to discuss how to fit it into our busy schedules.

As I write this, we already have about two dozen pre-paid bookings for this house concert. But we’re still accepting new reservations to make it a cozy event, in that old Russian tradition of spiced wine and other warm drinks to fuel these chilly, grey days of winter. After the sun sets, as it approaches the shortest day of the year, we will hear and perhaps even feel the gut strings of the concert harp, plucked, strummed, and arpeggiated in Merrenna’s 100-year old row house of wooden floors and high ceilings. As a special treat, there will be four different kinds of home baked treats: profiteroles with fresh cream, two kinds of sweet breads, and a special chocolate cake that makes you feel naughty when you eat it.

Scroll to the right to 2:41 to see and hear Maria Pozdnakova play the harp outdoors, until 3:00


More information: Monument House Concert Series presents an afternoon of Russian harp

Sunday 13 December 2009 from 16:30
Lombok, Utrecht
The Netherlands