New concert programme for 2010

We are now preparing a completely new programme for 2010. What sets it apart from previous programmes is that it is full of new transcriptions that are equally fun and exciting for piano and guitar. We open with Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba.

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

We are now preparing a completely new programme for 2010, to debut on 21st January 2010 in Doorn, Netherlands. What sets it apart from previous programmes is that it is full of new transcriptions that are equally fun and exciting for piano and guitar.

We open with Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, whose 4-hand one piano score could easily be read for our piano and guitar combination. While I was visiting Helsinki in mid-November to play the duet with my Finnish friend, Robert Bekkers transcribed it for our duo. It’s a piece that makes me happy every time I play it.

The choice for the second piece is tricky. I’m not sure what to put between the Queen of Sheba and the third piece: Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Perhaps we should choose a lesser known piece, just to break the familiarity of sticky tunes, or as the composer and pianist Daniel Abrams suggested, a solo piano or guitar piece.

Robert arranged Winter for our duo, largely because the Summer concerto worked so well for us. The latter was very exciting and challenging to play in sync. He chose it after spotting a young Korean guitarist playing the fast sections on youtube. Originally written for string orchestra, Winter is much easier to play than Summer. I particularly like the second movement – Largo. How fitting it is to study Winter in the final week of 2009 with snow thawing on the ground. I feel that sweet contentment of being indoors, in the warmth and coziness of a well-insulated Dutch house. Winter has never been like this, where I grew up — in the subtropics.

I first heard Manuel de Falla’s Danse Espagnole from the opera La Vida Breve at a final exam concert at the Utrecht Conservatory in 2008. I was so taken by it that I invited the Spanish violinist Angel Sanchez Marote and the Okinawan pianist Shumpei Tanahara to play it again in our Monument House Concert Series. [A midsummer afternoon tea concert programme PDF] I asked Angel (pronounced An – hul) where to get the music. He said it was one of many popular arrangements by Fritz Kreisler, available at music book stores. Coincidentally, Robert owned an arrangement for two guitars which he rehearsed with his own duo. His guitar part was 80% the same as the violin part in the violin-piano score I found at a second-hand sheet music store in Amsterdam. Needless to say, it was a matter of time before we adjusted the score for our piano guitar duo.

I was delighted to stumble upon a video clip of Angel playing the Spanish Dance, with a different pianist (below).

The only works in our new programme that are original to piano and guitar are the Grand Duo Concertant and Grand Potpourri National which are long enough to fit a concert by themselves. The former was a collaboration between 33 year old Mauro Giuliani and 19 year old Ignaz Moscheles, and the latter between Giuliani and Johann Nepomuk Hummel. The 25-minute Grand Potpourri National is a joy to play. It contains themes of national anthems of the countries in 1815 when it was written. So far we’ve only managed to identify Rule Britannia and Haydn’s Deutschland Uber Alles which became the Austrian national anthem. We’re told there is also Vive Henri IV (French national anthem). What about the others?

When I met the English guitarist and composer David Harvey in London in 2006, he gave me his arrangement of Piazzolla’s Tango Suite no. 2 (from his guitar duos). It’s only now that we have time to include it in our repertoire. We played it recently for my Rotary Club gathering.

We revisit another great Spanish maestro, the blind composer Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999), whose Fantasia para un Gentilhombre took us through all of 2009. This time, we return to his most famous guitar concerto, if not THE most famous of all guitar concertos: the Aranjuez. Robert had arranged the beautiful slow movement for himself as soloist with an ensemble of flute, bassoon, and guitar in an outdoor summer concert which I organised in London (photo below). Since 2002, we’ve considered studying all three movements of the Concierto de Aranjuez, we’ve never been so convinced until now to include it in our program.

Robert Bekkers arrangement of Aranjez Concerto 2nd movement
Robert Bekkers arrangement of Aranjuez Concerto 2nd movement

Ever since I saw Bizet’s Carmen in Amsterdam, I promised and vowed to make an arrangement of my favourite pieces from this delightful opera. The orchestral score has been sitting on my grand piano for months while I searched for interesting piano solo and duet arrangements. Perhaps my own arrangement for piano and guitar will be the missing second piece in our new programme. That’s my way of getting back into the swing of composing again.

Searching for Vivaldi in Venice

As I am particularly fond of reading novels about music and musicians, I took Corona’s “Four Seasons” to consume …. Although it was not live music, I was satisfied that there was finally an installation and acknowledgement of Vivaldi in Venice.

The Four Seasons by Laurel Corona
The Four Seasons by Laurel Corona

When I was preparing the programme notes for our piano guitar duo’s version of “Summer” for our concert in Madrid, I found the new novel entitled “The Four Seasons” on the Web. As it had just been published in late 2008, I contacted the author out of curiosity. San Diego-based Laurel Corona had woven an interesting story around Vivaldi and the Venice that he lived in, largely based on her own research and filling in the gaps where history had recorded none.

As I am particularly fond of reading novels about music and musicians, I took Corona’s “Four Seasons” to consume on holiday in Seville in April 2009. While reading it, I started planning an in-depth tour of Venice with my 70-year old mother, who had never been to Italy before.

I had stopped in Venice briefly when I was 21 and remembered the crowds of tourists at Piazza San Marco. A day later, I hopped on the overnight train to Switzerland.

Venice deserves a second chance.

Armed with “The Rough Guide to Venice and the Veneto” I navigated the 118 islands and 400 bridges of that floating labyrinth which my friends in Amsterdam called “a 17th century time capsule.” The art historian, who rented us the 18th-century palazzo with a stunning view of the Grand Canal, told us about the 53rd Biennale and the various related contemporary art exhibitions. In the ensuing days, we lingered at Peggy Guggenheim‘s extraordinary collection of modern art and sculpture and visited every church that was on our way to the “must-sees” listed in the guidebook.

By the sixth day, I was stomped. The live “classical” music available were limited to 1) various outdoor performances at restaurants in San Marco’s Square (5.50 euros per person if you sit down, and 10 euros for coffee); 2) a free one-off concert of recorder music during Titian’s time at a cultural centre; and 3) evening concerts of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (at 25 euros per ticket).

But Antonio Vivaldi had written more than 500 concertos (including 36 for bassoon), 90 operas, and some 46 operas. Surely there would be music of Vivaldi to grace this timeless treasure chest of culture! Or is the Four Seasons such a blockbuster (with Beethoven’s 9th a distant second place in the classical music world) that it overshadows other Vivaldi works?

When I had nearly exhausted my mother of visual stimulation, I stumbled upon a church not far from San Marco Square. First I heard the sound of a violin concerto. Then I walked into a display of the art of violin making by the Museo Della Musica. Although it was not live music, I was satisfied that there was finally an installation and acknowledgement of Vivaldi in Venice. Like other Vivaldi hunters before me, I had been inadvertently looking for his music.

“Finally,” I said to my mother. “I found Vivaldi. I shall have to come back with Robert.” Then he could fill the silence of the churches and the palazzos with his guitar music —- his Dutch guitar built in Amsterdam, where most of Vivaldi’s music was published. It would complete the circle.

Note to readers:

Vivaldi’s “Concerto in D Major for Guitar” was the first piece that our duo had read and played. Vivaldi’s “Summer” continues to surprise our audiences. We are now arranging “Winter.”

Laurel Corona’s “The Four Seasons” has been translated into French, German, and Spanish. The Dutch version is currently underway. I hope it will be translated into Chinese so that my mother will enjoy it as I have.