Debut concert in Spain: Madrid

How does one move from the online world to the real physical world? From youtube video to live concerts? From blogs to conversations? From twitter to chatter?

First, I need a Spanish dictionary to translate the invitation sent out by the concert producers below.

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Escaping the biggest party in the Netherlands (the Queen’s Birthday on 30th April), we will instead embrace the public holiday of Friday 1st May 2009 in Spain. Will the Spaniards make a dash for the beach or will some be lured to come to our debut concert —- in Madrid? I hear there’s cava and other refreshments to make you stay — but reservations by e-mail are a must!

Why not use this opportunity to finally meet my online contacts face to face, in person, in the real physical world?  Could this be a way to get out of cyberspace and interact in the three dimensional space called LIFE?

Anne Ku and Robert Bekkers after a concert in Tuscany 2007
Anne Ku and Robert Bekkers after a concert in Tuscany 2007

I know only one person in Madrid, a tenor I have accompanied at the conservatory where we had both studied in the Netherlands. He is on Facebook and by that very fact, should be easily reached, but is he available when we’re there 29th April to 2nd May?

On other social networking platforms I should be able to find fellow alumni from the different schools I’ve attended and companies I’ve worked for.  Although I may not know them personally, we share a similar past at some similar place and point in time. But would they have the time or be interested in meeting up or attending a concert on a spring evening? Or perhaps I should look for aficionados of classical music, piano, guitar, ….? How about those who have been following this blog and are tempted to see and hear us live in concert?

How does one move from the online world to the real physical world? From youtube video to live concerts? From blogs and discussion forums to actual conversations? From twitter to chatter?

First, I need a Spanish dictionary to decode the invitation sent out by the concert producers below. Or perhaps someone will kindly translate it for me?

Robert Bekkers, guitarra.
Anne Ku, piano.
Viernes, 1 de may de 2009, 20:30hrs.
Potpourrí de ópera. Hummel.
Fantasía para un gentil hombre. Joaquín Rodrigo.
Sonatina. Moreno Torroba.
========== Copa de cava y bizcochos ==========
Verano de Las cuatro estaciones. Vivaldi.
Fantasía. Castelnuovo Tedesco.
Polonesa de Variaciones op 113. Mauro Giuliani.

En el siglo XIX no existían los auditorios que ahora conocemos, y
las obras de los compositores eran interpretadas en salones de cortes
o casas privadas. Por eso esta música se llama “musica da camera”
que traducido del italiano significa “música de salón”.
Con la intención de recuperar el marco histórico que acompañaba
a esta música recreamos cada viernes, en nuestras reuniones
privadas, el formato de concierto de cámara de la época.
Artistas de reconocido prestigio, que regularmente actúan en los
grandes auditorios, interpretan esta música en un entorno privado,
cálido y cercano, tal y como se hacía siglos atrás.
El Jardín de Belagua es una casa privada, por lo que nuestras
reuniones son estrictamente privadas. No son espectáculos públicos,
no se ofrecen como tales ni están abiertos al público en general.
Si queréis traer a familiares y amigos rogamos nos lo hagáis saber
para poder incluirles en la lista de invitados. Para cubrir los gastos
de la reunión es necesaria la aportación de 12€ adultos / 6€ niños
antes de que empiece el concierto.

Un cordial saludo,
El Jardín de Belagua

Feedback from audiences and readers

How I would like to capture the reaction in real-time rather than trying to recall it after the concert! A few ladies in the audience remembered that we had performed there a year ago and pointed to the chairs where we had sat and conversed well after the concert over wine and cheese.

While live feedback is great, we also get emails from those who have seen our youtube clips and perused our website.

After our concert in Bloemendaal (near Haarlem in the Netherlands), I mentally told myself to remember the reaction of the audience.

The lady who thanked us on behalf of everyone said, “We don’t hear the piano and guitar a lot — an unusual combination. Sometimes it sounds like a real orchestra!” The piano and the guitar, being polyphonic instruments, can sound like multiple instruments, unlike single voiced instruments. But to sound like an orchestra — that’s a compliment indeed!

Our guest, an art history professor from the mid-West (United States), exclaimed, “It was very exciting… intense… and emotional (for me). In the Vivaldi, I heard both of you as one instrument when you were playing together — totally in sync.”

She said that the 90-year old lady sitting adjacent, who was hard of seeing but not hard of hearing, had remarked during the concert that the music was very difficult to play

How I would like to capture the reaction in real-time rather than trying to recall it after the concert! A few ladies in the audience remembered that we had performed there a year ago and pointed to the chairs where we had sat and conversed well after the concert over wine and cheese. I, for one, was grateful for the glass of cool white wine, on such a warm Saturday afternoon in mid-spring.

While live feedback is rewarding due to the immediacy and spontaneity, we also get emails from those who have seen our youtube clips and perused our website. Usually they write to request for sheet music or CD. And I linger a bit before composing an appropriate reply as to why we don’t have sheet music or CD to send.

Here are several recent ones, copied and pasted below, to add to the feedback page.

Hello, I´m writing from Argentina to tell you I´ve seen your page and I liked very much your performances. I also have a guitar & piano duet so we´re interested in your transcriptions we can´t get because of the reduced repertory for guitar and piano (at least comparing with others duets). As we live in Argentina it´s a bit difficult to get that kind of scores. We wanted to ask you if you could send to this e-mail some of the works you play together (original or transcriptions) in PDF format.

Thanks, you´re a great duet.

———–

I have been watching your videos and reading about your duo, and I have to admit, I have had a very hard time finding music for piano and guitar that isn’t something between rock and roll and jazz as well. I don’t mind playing that kind of music, in fact I have a lot of fun playing it, but I’ve been looking for a classical repertoire with my friend for a piano guitar duo for some time now. and so I just wanted to ask you, would there be anyway to know if it is possible for me to acquire some of the sheet music you play? or even ideas for where I should look for it? Thank you very much for you time.

——

My girlfriend and I are finishing our studies at the academy. She is playing piano and I am a guitarist. So, since our final exam is in June, I am begging you to send us some pdf sheet music for piano and guitar duo. We heard how you play Erik Otte’s composition and it was breathtaking! Something like that or Piazzolla maybe woud be perfect. Please, have in mind that we can’t find any sheet music here.

Your followers!
—-

I bought your piano solos cd some years ago, and now, having found your site again, am wondering if you have any recordings of your piano guitar duo available for purchase?

Thank you very much for your attention to this,

South to Sevilla

…a nearly all Dutch crew… Brussels and fly to Seville

I am typing this on an iPhone on our drive to Maastricht where we will rendezvous with a nearly all Dutch crew: a flamenco guitar player, a flamenco dancer, a photographer, a camera man (videographer), and the manager. Together we will leave for Brussels tomorrow and fly to Seville where we will stay in a villa with a pool. We will work with a famous gypsy family to download their brain — the secrets of flamenco.

Future topics

There is plenty to write about, if I have infinite time and energy, on subjects related to music and why it’s important to continue to ask such questions and engage science to find the answers. Or interview people with insight and foresight,…

When I got online tonight (Friday 10th April 2009 at 10:30 pm) I had intended to reflect upon our recent concert in Amsterdam. Then I got sidetracked by interesting articles on benefits of music on children, adults, and the elderly; the importance of programme notes; and various summaries of medical reports and other indepth reportage as discovered and collated by the Unlikely Entrepreneur Cynthia Wunsch.

Her blogs led me to Science Daily, where I quickly searched on the topic of music. There I found “When musicians play along together it isn’t just their instruments that are in time – their brain waves are too” in the article titled “Guitarists’ Brains Swing Together.” Being closely synchronised is a main challenge and requirement in our piano and guitar duo playing. I wonder if our brains are in tune with each other.

A few months ago, just before Christmas 2008, I had bookmarked an article in the Economist, called “Why Music?” Shakespeare’s “if music be the food of love, play on…” sums up the themes of my life: music, food, and love, albeit not necessarily in that order. The article is worth reading again and again. I noticed it because I had simultaneously found another article on music and the mind in the Gramophone magazine (Dec 2008).

There is plenty to write about, if I have infinite time and energy, on subjects related to music and why it’s important to continue to ask such questions and engage science to find the answers. Or interview people with insight and foresight, such as human resource professionals who see skill deficiencies in today’s labour force. They say that “Workers benefit more from art than math and science.Now that’s a welcoming thought — that my return to full-time education to study music, after a left-brained education & employment, was not in vain. Is the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) the new MBA (Master of Business Administration)?

I shall add to this blog entry when I see more topics to write about. Earlier today, I had an idea to arrange music for piano and guitar, compose something that would be interesting for us to play, and …. I need a depository to store my ideas before they vanish or get replaced!

Last stop on earth

Do the residents know this is their last stop on earth? Will our music make any difference?

When we go and shake their hands afterwards, we could sense they’re trying to tell us something with their watery eyes and lingering grips.

We entered the grey building from the back, where we had barely found a spot to park the car.

“Are you sure you want to take this entrance?” asked the Dutch guitarist suspiciously.

“Why not?” I noticed it looked like a door for staff only. “What does it say?”

“It says morgue in Dutch.”

“You mean, dead bodies?”

It suddenly dawned on me why we were invited a second time to give a memorial concert at a large nursing home in Amsterdam a year ago. They held such concerts four times a year. Those were sombre events preceded by dinner with the staff. I had played the piano solo version of my Elegy there. They loved the slow movement of Chopin’s piano concerto in E minor.

Do the residents know this is their last stop on earth? Will our music make any difference?

When we go and shake their hands afterwards, we could sense they’re trying to tell us something with their watery eyes and lingering grips.

In the early days, we’d try very hard to get to know the residents at the smaller elderly homes, some as few as a handful of well-dressed octogenarians. We would greet them and chat with them while sharing tea and snacks together. Those were cozy settings in stately homes a few hundred years old. After a year of driving two hours each way to villages near the German border and appearing at the same homes once a month, we abandoned our futile attempts to bond with these nearly forgotten citizens.

What we could be sure of, from those visits, was that live music did indeed make a difference. It released them from the present. They spoke with their eyes. Conversations didn’t matter. They chose to remember the long ago past, before we were born.

The long and winding road towards our first duo CD

Our first recording was attempted just before our debut in London in May 2003. There was a big problem with balance, not helped by a concert grand and the power trip I had over the guitarist.

Revised from Facebook Notes, Sunday 21 December 2008

“Do you have any CDs of your duo?”

This is a typical question we answer with “No. We are working on one.”

We have been saying this for years.

Our first recording was attempted just before our debut in London in May 2003. There was a big problem with balance, not helped by a concert grand and the power trip I had over the guitarist. If he complained that I was too loud, I’d shrug my shoulders and reply, “tough luck!” It took a lot of recording, listening, and re-recording before I learned to compromise.

Not all pieces from the London session were good enough for a CD, but we managed to extract a few audio clips for our website, such as Fantasia of Swiss composer Haug and the less serious extracts from Happy Hour Sandwich of Austrian composer Schwertberger.

After several more recording sessions, we concluded that it was very difficult to record the piano and the guitar. We needed time to experiment with positioning of the microphone and our instruments. We booked the main hall of the Utrecht Conservatory on many occasions for this very purpose.

We have not played the Sonata of Mexican composer Ponce in quite awhile. Amsterdam-based composer Allan Segall’s When Back, Stravinsky, and the Who Met is a favourite of those who grew up with The Who.

We even tried to record ourselves at home, using a Mac webcam and stereo microphones for youtube.  Bach’s Badinerie arranged by Robert Bekkers for piano and guitar:

Some live recordings yielded surprising results. Lan Chee Lam’s Drizzle (2007) would have been even more exciting to watch because I go into the piano and pluck the strings. The outdoor summer bugs (what do you call them?) in Cortona, Italy provided good percussive effects to Henk Alkema’s Sailor Talk (2007).

The entire Maui concert (December 2007) was audio and video recorded. Below is an extract from the first piece written for us, by the Haarlem -based composer Erik Otte.

Danza de la Vispera from Suite Rio de La Plata (2004) by Erik Otte

We saw what it took to create the perfect close miking environment at the Houston Public Radio last December: a sound-proof recording studio with a grand piano and several good microphones. One result from our live performance was David Harvey’s Floating from Little Suite which we will premiere in its entirety in Spain in early May.

What about an empty church?

The sound engineer Gaston Matthijsse, invited us to Belgium to try an old church in Vaals, famous for being on the Dutch-Belgian-German border. When we arrived in early May 2008, much to our chagrin, the reverberation was too high as most of the furniture had been removed. Still, we spent an entire day recording an entire CD-worth of music, three centuries of music written for piano and guitar. Robert loaded it on his ipod to listen closely and decided that we needed another try. This time, a full church.

It was for this reason that we set up a live recording in a monastic church in Warmond on 30 November 2008.

Summer (3rd movement) from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, arranged by R.A.Bekkers

However long and winding it is to record our first CD, we can at least confidently say that no CD will capture the live concert experience. Having said this, we are keen to try podcasting!

Getting ready for a concert

How do you react if one makes a mistake, such as playing a wrong note, a wrong chord, playing something too early or skipping a beat? There is no “undo button” to correct the situation. It’s all moving too fast. Not only do you have to anticipate the next move and prevent a wrong move, you have to cover up a wrong move if it happens.

Revised from “Getting ready for a concert” Facebook Notes, Monday 8 December 2008

Why is it necessary to be in shape (physically and mentally) to perform in a concert?

A concert is a real-time experience. In a duo situation, a performer not only has to be alert to his/own movements but also that of the other musician. It’s necessary to hear well and anticipate because performing chamber music is not only about making a sound from your instrument but mixing the sound with other(s).

How do you react if one makes a mistake, such as playing a wrong note, a wrong chord, playing something too early or skipping a beat? There is no “undo button” to correct the situation. It’s all moving too fast. Not only do you have to anticipate the next move and prevent a wrong move, you have to cover up a wrong move if it happens.

It’s a dead giveaway to show you have made a mistake by your facial expression. I didn’t know this until a few ladies in the audience told me they enjoyed my performance but felt that perhaps I didn’t because of the way I frowned. I learned afterwards never to show that I made a mistake or that my duo partner made a mistake.

How do you get yourself prepared for such a real-time “battle”? I say battle because it’s like fighting the chance of imperfectly executing your prepared moves. How do you get totally alert and stay focussed when you’re on stage?

A good night’s sleep helps. I have seen the detrimental effects of a late night’s sleep and jetlag. You can only stay 100% focussed for so long, and it becomes extremely hard when you’re fighting a lack of sleep. There is enough to battle on stage without having to fight the desire to fall asleep. It’s happened to me when I’ve “blacked out” in seconds to a dream-like state simply from lack of sleep. That’s toxic for the other performer.

Keeping in shape is another way to be prepared. I take regular exercises in aerobics, weight-lifting, yoga, and pilates. The guitarist is training for a marathon. In the Netherlands where there are safe cycle paths everywhere, cycling is THE way to travel from A to B. Cycling is tough in dark, wet, windy, gloomy winter weather. I still don’t know how the Dutch manage to carry things in the rain on their bicycles without getting wet. But they certainly stay trim and fit.

The relationship between the performers has to be clear and good. Misunderstandings, resentment, and other unspoken disagreement all get in the way of a good performance. Long ago I used to get stressed out before a major performance, and I’d argue with the guitarist and get mad. After awhile, he figured out that I was just nervous. With better preparation, good night’s sleep, physical exercise, better communication, and getting to the venue with plenty of time to spare, we now avoid such stressful confrontations.

Finally, a good diet and regular routine helps. My father always preached the Chinese way of walking the middle road and achieving balance in life. As impetuous a risk-taker as I am, I have learned that “extreme” living requires compensation at some point. If I eat too much, I feel uncomfortable. If I eat the wrong thing, I react. There is comfort in knowing the certainty of routine, as boring and predictable as it may be.

One more thing — a very important one: Don’t overeat before a concert, for digestion takes away concentration. I once cooked and ate a huge meal just before giving a full moon concert in North Wales. Not sure how the guitarist fared, but I will never forget that bloated feeling of fighting to focus on the music and finish before my stomach takes over everything else. Musicians are naturally hungry after a concert. And hungry musicians are eager to play.

Related stories:
Preparing for a concert, March 2004 Bussum

Competing against the weather, June 2004 Den Haag

The second set and Schumann’s Traumerei, June 2004 Bussum