Competing against the weather in La Coruña, Spain

The Museum of Contemporary Arts in La Coruña (MACUF) is a spacious place housed within the compound of the electricity company Union Fenosa. Our new programme of 21st century music for piano guitar duo contains two world premieres, Gijs van Dijk’s Abstract and Dance and Heleen Verleur’s Fire from the Five Elements.

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The weather in La Coruña, our host and pianist friend David Lopez, is typically windy, cold, wet, and grey — the kind that makes you want to stay indoors instead of braving the elements. Much to our surprise, it was sunny when we landed on 2nd May 2009, a public holiday weekend in Spain.

Our first view of La Coruna, from the taxi ride from the airport
Our first view of La Coruna, from the taxi ride from the airport

These two factors alone, sunny weather and public holiday, would prove risky, if not deadly, for audience development. In other words, don’t count on getting as many people as you’d normally expect to come to a live classical concert.

The third factor, I learned later, is that contemporary music, i.e. works of live composers, are not readily received in this part of Spain. For that reason, Ruben Somesa, the Spanish composer who proposed this series (in its 3rd year) deliberately made it a didactic one — i.e. to educate the public.

Our new programme of 21st century music for piano guitar duo contains two world premieres, Gijs van Dijk’s Abstract and Dance and Heleen Verleur’s Fire from the Five Elements. Both composers had come to our “Duo for Export” benefit concert in Utrecht to support our first trip to the USA in 2007. While it’s always exciting to have the composers at our premieres, it wasn’t possible on this occasion. We have thus planned on a repeat of this programme in Amsterdam, on Sunday 12 July 2009 (4-page PDF). Hopefully all the composers will be there.

The Museum of Contemporary Arts in La Coruña (MACUF) is a spacious place housed within the compound of the electricity company Union Fenosa. I would have liked to have met the employees, if not to reminisce those good ol’ days in the dawn of electricity deregulation when I was frantically completing my thesis and later interviewing energy executives about competition. Piano was a companion but not the focus in those days. Now, it’s the reverse with energy just a distant memory.

As with all concerts, we needed to test the acoustics beforehand. The modern building of MACUF has high ceilings and a lot more echo than we’re used to. I tried to warm up with a relatively unknown piece that sounds like Chopin (in the video below).

To prepare for Lan Chee Lam‘s “Drizzle” I labelled a few notes on scrap pieces of paper to put on the strings inside the piano so that I could easily find them the next day. Without the usual plastic guitar picks, I would have to pluck the high C, E, A, B, D, and highest E strings with my short fingernails.

Preparing the grand piano for Lan Chee Lams Drizzle
Preparing the grand piano for Lan Chee Lam's "Drizzle

After our rehearsal, I asked Robert Bekkers to play a solo piece while I experimented with the video function of my mobile telephone. The rainbow colours of the setting sun danced upon the white walls through the suspended crystal ball, creating a magical effect on this mystical work of Barrios.

By the time we finished rehearsing, it was well past 8 pm. Time to leave, return to the hotel, and rest for the big day. We were not hungry after a late lunch of authentic mouth-watering Galician octopus, prawns, and clams. Instead, we looked forward to an early night, in spite of the big game of Madrid vs Barcelona.

Encore: I just wanted to hear one of my favourite pieces, or rather, the tremolos in Tarrega’s Requerdos de Alhambra.

Note: coincidentally my article (5 page pdf) “Betting on the Weather” had nothing to do with risk management of weather and concerts. Perhaps there ought to be some way to hedge the effect of good weather on audience development! Nearly five years ago, I wrote an article of the same title, “Competing against the weather,” but in Den Haag!

Falling on lobsters in the dark

Falling on Lobsters in the Dark” (yep! that’s the name of the piece!) is a brilliant exploration of fear through three instruments violin, guitar, and piano. The American composer Paul Richards made every use of the exciting combination and effects of each instrument to create a piece that rocks….

Commissioned and premiered by the Strung Out Trio, “Falling on Lobsters in the Dark” is a brilliant exploration of fear through three instruments: violin, guitar, and piano. The title is borrowed from a speech before a Rotary Club that we’re all afraid of falling, lobsters, and the dark. The American composer Paul Richards made every use of the exciting combination and effects of each instrument to create a piece that rocks.

Our piano guitar duo plus Korean violinist Naeon Kim teamed up in Fall 2007 to study this piece, our raison d’etre….

Here is the first half of the piece, as rehearsed in in room K206 at the Utrecht Conservatory, minutes before our final master class in May 2008.

Second half of the piece, recorded in the master class with Dutch pianist/musicologist Ralph van Raat:

and watch this space for background info and analysis.

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.

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.