Earth Day ukulele workshop and jam

If we celebrate birthdays, why not one for Mother Earth? Every April 22nd, people all over the world celebrate Earth Day in different ways. While I was living on Maui, I started using music to gather community and raise awareness for sustainability through concerts and jam sessions. It’s a combination of entertainment and education. The last one was my piano class joining forces with the ukulele class (video below). This year, Earth Day falls on Sunday 22nd April 2018, and I’m determined to do something special.

Continue reading “Earth Day ukulele workshop and jam”

Online course about social media for educators

Taking an online course for educators on teaching via social media helps legitimize and make sense of the amount of time spent in it.

I’ve attended webinars. I’ve even organized online conferences and moderated presentations. But I’ve never participated as a student in an online class until yesterday evening. I’ve heard my colleagues talk about the challenges of giving an online class, but as a student, it was dead easy to participate.

…. please visit the new blog about this course at WED628  — as we meet Wednesdays from 6 to 8 pm HST !!

Queen’s Birthday Gift: abdication for the new king

If I weren’t in Maui or connecting flights in Chicago, I’d rather be in Amsterdam right now. It’s the abdication of Queen Beatrix for her son.

If I weren’t in Maui or connecting flights in Chicago, I would definitely rather be in Amsterdam right now.

Only by stumbling upon a friend’s post on Facebook did I learn that the Dutch Queen is abdicating her throne for her son on 30th April 2013. What a historic event it is!

Every year, on 30th April, every one in the Netherlands comes out to play. It’s not the present queen’s birthday but that of her mother’s that she chose to declare a public holiday for the nation. There are street parties from morning till night. You can either choose to host your own party, sell your wares outside your house, on your street, or visit other parties. The next day is probably the smelliest and dirtiest day in the country, for the streets reek of stale beer and urine.

My first encounter of the Queen’s Birthday Party was in 1995 when I decided to visit the Keukenhof, by way of a conference in Rotterdam. My Dutch friend told me about this public holiday and gave me a glimpse.

From that day on, I was hooked. Every 30th April in the Netherlands was a day to enjoy with friends.

Here’s a toast to the Queen and the new King —- and all my friends in the Netherlands.

Rehearsals and work-in-progress as previews (trailers)

Rehearsals and behind-the-scenes work in progress lead viewers to anticipate and expect the real thing.

Watching a rehearsal of a choir or the behind-the-scenes of a film production makes me want to go see the real thing (when it’s ready). Like watching a chef prepare a meal, I start to get hungry.

Not the concert itself, Utrecht Conservatory June 2008. Photo: F. vd Meer
Not the concert itself, Utrecht Conservatory June 2008. Photo: F. vd Meer

Twitter led me to watch the work-in-progress of The Hobbit which will come out next here. The youtube video is not short by any means, but you grow to love the people working on the set and film.

On Facebook, I played a video of the rehearsal of the 88-member student choir of the New England Conservatory. So much goes on in a rehearsal that is not obvious. For the bystander like myself, I see beauty that is being created. I am reminded of my days as a conservatory student, singing in two choirs per year to improve my solfege. For others, it’s the awe of the director — how he manages to get the choir to produce an impressive sound.

The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam offers free lunch concerts each Wednesday. I remember queuing 45 minutes before one such event, shoulder to shoulder in the reception area, standing like sardines in anticipation of a 45 minute concert. When the doors finally opened about 10 minutes before the concert, we rushed in and exclaimed a unison “wow!”  It was the stendhalismo effect of arriving at a historically important place, feeling the special feng shui and grandiose atmosphere, and all of that we normally don’t get to experience in daily life. Once we sat down, I realized that it was just a rehearsal. Not even a dress rehearsal. But it was the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. They were rehearsing a Brahms violin concerto. All musicians were informally dressed, despite being on stage and in front of a full-house of eager listeners. We fell silent when the conductor raised his stick. I closed my eyes. This could easily be the concert itself. The conductor brought the violinist into his solo. After leading the orchestra to join him in a mesmerizing passage, he stopped at a beautiful chord. I opened my eyes to another unison sigh from the audience — an “Ah!”

The free lunch rehearsal concert ended 15 minutes earlier than I had expected. Yet we all felt satisfied — as though we’ve had our lunch.

That was a live trailer of the concert that evening.

All in all, I’d say that rehearsals, work in progress, behind the scenes and pre-production all lead us to anticipate. When we anticipate, we expect. It makes us look forward to the real thing.

Concerts for free or nearly free

Free concerts don’t always get full-house. Publicity is what it takes. And a lot of eager students on standby.

Search for “classical concert etiquette” and you will get guides like this one and numerous others. These articles are well-written. It would be superfluous to write more about this subject. In thinking about advice for first-time concert goers, I recall how I became an avid concert goer. It began with the word FREE.

Continue reading “Concerts for free or nearly free”

Allan Segall, composer, pianist, and playwright

Amsterdam-based American composer Allan Segall goes beyond music to write his first play in Estonia. Anne Ku recaps their friendship.

How do performers meet composers and commission works from them?

I met Allan Segall during the intermission of a concert in Amsterdam in spring of 2004. The encounter left such an impression on me that I wrote an entry in my online journal. A few months later, I invited him to my Steinway welcome party in Bussum. He introduced a simple but sticky solo piano piece that I played and recorded for the event. As with most if not all compositions, Intermezzo comes with a story. I would love to include it in my solo piano project but I would need the score in electronic form.

Allan was intrigued by our piano guitar duo. He said that he enjoyed writing for “neglected ensembles.” By that, he probably meant rare combinations. We invited him to the premiere of the first piano guitar duo written for us. Afterwards, he declared that he would write a duo piece for us.

Allan’s output was a work that required several years of practice to get it right. I’m still not entirely sure that we got it right. “When J.S. Bach, Igor Stravinsky, and the Who met” is a terrifically difficult but exciting piece. It’s like time travel, with Bach counterpoint, Stravinsky harmony, and echoes of Tommy the rock musical. I daresay it’s the first time that the guitar is louder than the piano. We premiered it in Cortona, Italy in 2006. The USA premiere was on Maui in 2007. We finally released the CD of that Maui concert earlier this year. You can hear a short sample on CDBABY.

Cortona Contemporary Music Festival 2006: Anne Ku, Allan Segall, Robert Bekkers
Cortona Contemporary Music Festival 2006: Anne Ku, Allan Segall, Robert Bekkers

Once allowed to flourish, creative people have no boundaries. Allan Segall has now expanded his powers of creation beyond music. He wrote the play “Detox the Dummy” which premiered in Estonia recently. I remember when he was working on it. Our friendship nearly suffered during the period he was going through “detox.”

Watch the TV video below for an interview (in English) with Allan Segall. Don’t let the unsubtitled Estonian language deter you from seeing clips of the play.

Detox the Dummy

Prelude for Anne by Robert Bekkers

Robert Bekkers wrote the solo guitar work “Prelude for Anne” shortly after meeting Anne Ku in Amsterdam in 2001.

When I changed the generic title of the mp3 file to “Prelude in d” while preparing the last blog post, the file list automatically reordered alphabetically in itunes. Just above the newly renamed file was “Prelude for Anne.”

Listening to it brought back memories of my early days with Robert Bekkers, who wrote and played the guitar solo piece for me.

Prelude for Anne by Robert Bekkers (mp3)

It was the first time anyone had composed a work dedicated to me. I am pretty sure of that. I was not only flattered but genuinely taken by it. I suppose it’s like receiving a love letter, a love poem, or a gift that is totally original and unique. Such is the gift of music — a composition written for a person and dedicated to that person.

Robert Bekkers in London, April 2001
Robert Bekkers in London, April 2001

Shortly after I met Robert in Amsterdam, I organized a small house concert in my home in London in April 2001 in which Robert played several solo pieces. I cannot remember for sure if he included this prelude as I did not mention it in my blog. Nor did I list it in the subsequent house concerts.

Somehow I do recall a premiere and several performances. But when and where?

Would this blog post jog his memory? Or inspire him to find the sheet music?

Prelude and Fuga in d minor by H. Verleur

Heleen Verleur’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor for solo piano brought back memories of Anne Ku’s first concert in Bussum, Netherlands. More than 10 years later, she records it on her Steinway in Utrecht, Netherlands while remembering it in Maui.

Before I left the Netherlands, I recorded a CD of three piano duets with Carol Ruiz Gandia for my Call for Scores project followed by several solo pieces that were easy to sightread. Three of the solos came from my collection of music by the Amsterdam-based composer Heleen Verleur.

What a joy it was to find Verleur’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor on my bookshelf! Sightreading the set brought back memories of my first concert in Bussum, Netherlands in March 2002. Back then, I was still working full-time as an energy magazine editor, shuffling between London where I was based to the New York head office and various conference locations. Music was a pastime, a favourite hobby, and an insatiable passion.

If you visit our Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo website, you’ll see that the very first concert is listed in 2002, a year after I met Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers. That “afternoon of diversity” concert in a Lutheran church in the town of Bussum (east of Amsterdam) featured the music of Heleen Verleur for piano solo and piano and violin as well as that of Astor Piazzolla. In preparing for that concert, I wrote of my expectations of that event where the guest of honour was my childhood friend Leslie from Seattle.

More than 10 years after I met Robert Bekkers and Heleen Verleur in Amsterdam, I would like to share my interpretation of the prelude and fugue, recorded on 4th August 2011 on my 1909 New York Steinway in Utrecht, Netherlands.

Prelude in d minor by Heleen Verleur, interpreted by Anne Ku (mp3)

Prelude in d minor by Heleen Verleur
Prelude in d minor by Heleen Verleur

Fuga in d minor by Heleen Verleur, interpreted by Anne Ku (mp3)

Fuga in d minor by Heleen Verleur
Fuga in d minor by Heleen Verleur

When I searched for “Verleur” on my e-mail programme, I discovered several e-mails of mp3 and concert announcements from Heleen. Now that I have more time in Hawaii, I hope to listen to this backlog of gifts of music, including CDs I received from various composers and performers. You could say that forthcoming entries in this Concertblog will introduce the music I have been collecting during the last 10 years of concertizing and arts management in the Netherlands.

Heleen Verleur official website:

Easy to play, nice to listen to: piano music of Heleen Verleur

Music that is easy to play and nice to listen to characterises the solo piano works of Amsterdam-based composer Heleen Verleur. Daniel’s Song is an example, played and recorded by Anne Ku in Utrecht, Netherlands.

During my 2.5 months in Utrecht, Netherlands this past summer, I took out sheet music I had collected for years to choose ones worth taking with me to Maui. Some of these pieces were so enjoyable to play that I decided to record them.

I was searching for music that’s easy to play and nice to listen to.

Contrary to what you may believe, it’s not easy to write music that is easy to play. It’s harder still to write music that’s nice to listen to but not boring after the first time. Good music, I sincerely believe, gets appreciated each time it’s played. It grows on you.

Amsterdam-based composer Heleen Verleur is a pianist and piano teacher who has the benefit of observing how her students read and study her compositions. She has written numerous solo and chamber works that involve the piano. I was fortunate to discover her music quite early in what-I-now-call my Dutch era — a decade of infatuation with the Netherlands.

I performed her Prelude in d minor and fugue at a concert in Bussum, a village east of Amsterdam, in 2002. I had also introduced her Tango for violin, cello, and piano to my house concert in London and her piano duets to the Monument House Concert Series and a sightreading workshop prior to our piano guitar duo concert in San Francisco. Heleen has also written “Fire” for our piano guitar duo, which we premiered in Spain in 2010.

Anne Ku with Heleen Verleur, sightreading duets in Amsterdam, 2001
Anne Ku with Heleen Verleur, sightreading duets in Amsterdam, 2001

In the “V” section of my music library, I discovered yet more short works for solo piano that she had given me.

“Daniel’s Song” met my criteria of easy to play and nice to listen to. I decided to record it on my Steinway.

Daniel’s Song for solo piano by Heleen Verleur (mp3)

Daniel's Song by Heleen Verleur
Daniel's Song by Heleen Verleur

Mark Francis: Second Guitar Concerto, orchestral reduction for piano and guitar

Revisiting Mark Francis second guitar concerto, original version for guitar and orchestra vs orchestral reduction for piano and guitar premiered in Amsterdam on 17th July 2011 at a private birthday concert.

The positive reaction to our premiere of Mark Francis’ new work in Amsterdam led me to revisit the score.

Piano part from 1st movement of 2nd Guitar Concerto by Mark Francis
Piano part from 1st movement of 2nd Guitar Concerto by Mark Francis

Subtitled “In Somnis Verita” which means “in dreams there is truth,” the 2nd guitar concerto contains three movements albeit the composer had originally conceived of five. He wrote in the programme notes for the orchestral premiere in Jackson, Mississippi, “It is my belief that many people refuse to acknowledge what is true when they are conscious, but can’t escape from what they know to be true in their subconscious when sleeping. These things manifest themselves in dreams. Our subconscious will cobble things together in all kinds of strange scenarios. The music tries to depict these cobblings.”

A few days after the concert, I listened to the live recording of the orchestral premiere. I saw the piece come to life —- what the piano could not fully muster.

Guitar Concerto No. 2 by Mark Francis
Guitar Concerto No. 2 by Mark Francis

We had performed the first movement faster than the composer had intended (quarter note = 72). After the concert, we read Mark Francis’ programme notes, “The tempo of the first movement is slow, which sets the stage as our ‘dreamer’ drifts off to sleep and begins to dream. The opening triplet motif represents breathing. These are gentle dreams filled with longing and nostalgia. This movement is set in a kind of arch form.”

Guitar part to 1st movement of 2nd Guitar Concerto by Mark Francis
Guitar part to 1st movement of 2nd Guitar Concerto by Mark Francis

Who is the composer, Mark Francis?  He is a guitarist. He knows how to write music that guitarists like to play. That is very important. He wrote the second concerto specifically for guitarist Jimmy Turner, music director Wayne Linehan and the Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra in Jackson, Mississippi.

How did we discover Mark Francis? None other than my Call for Scores for multi-hand piano duets! He submitted two pieces which I will mention in a future blog post. Noticing that I had a piano guitar duo, he asked if we’d be interested to see his new concerto — reduced for piano and guitar. That’s how it started. Now I am even more curious about his first concerto and other works.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo, birthday concert in Amsterdam. Photo: FCAP
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo, birthday concert in Amsterdam. Photo: FCAP