Impromptu barbecue and concert for Ayyub Malik’s 75th birthday

A successful barbecue depends on the weather. An art exhibition doesn’t. Neither does a solo guitar concert. I invited everyone to walk to the back garden to give a toast. This was how I remembered Ayyub’s birthday parties: highly diverse group of interesting people from all walks of life.

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Having experienced house concerts and art exhibitions in private spaces, I wanted to organise an art exhibition and a concert in my London home. I wanted to do a lot during a short period of time in which too much had to be done.

A successful barbecue depends on the weather. An art exhibition doesn’t. Neither does a solo guitar concert.

I reserved Friday the 13th of August just to tempt fate. I didn’t invite anybody in case I had no time to prepare for this event.

When it came close to the 13th, I checked with the London Ealing-based artist Yousif Naser if he was still game to participate. I checked with Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers if he wanted to give a short concert. I checked the weather forecast.

We moved the date to Saturday 14th August for more barbecue-friendly weather. I then invited my friends by phone, e-mail, skype, and facebook.

It rained all morning and what-looked-like all afternoon. Jetlagged travelers from outside of London would surely be dissuaded from venturing into town.

Set-up in back garden of Victorian cottage London for barbecue
Set-up in back garden of Victorian cottage London for barbecue

First to arrive were Ian and Julie who landed from New York and Boston the same morning. Next were my Colombian friends who were still recovering from their trip to China. By the time my German professor friend showed up, complaining of jet lag from Montreal, the diversity index had soared: Scots, American, Colombian, German, English, French, Iraqi, Dutch, and me. Total 13 people.

I invited everyone to walk to the back garden to give a toast. This was how I remembered Ayyub’s birthday parties: highly diverse group of interesting people from all walks of life. He was the leader and the centre of attention. “I would like to give a toast to Ayyub Malik, who would have been 75 today.”

Painting by Ayyub Malik, 2005
Painting by Ayyub Malik, 2005

Completing the trio: music, barbecue, and acrobatics

I called it “Completing the trio.” I just needed a violinist to complete my duo with French horn and my duo with cellist. The Dutch violinist who opened the music gates for us in Taiwan was returning to the Netherlands for a short vacation. I decided to make an event of it.

Some of the best memories I have are not recorded on photo, audio, or video. For this reason, I blog as a kind of bookmark — to trigger the memories and to never forget. How could I forget sitting at the piano, playing the Brahms horn trio, the Mendelssohn piano trios, and Piazzolla piano trio versions of his Four Seasons?

That afternoon of Thursday 15th July 2010 was a special one for me.

I called it “Completing the trio.” I just needed a violinist to complete my duo with French horn and my duo with cellist. The Dutch violinist who opened the music gates for us in Taiwan was returning to the Netherlands for a short vacation. I decided to make an event of it.

Once we started playing the trios, I realised that it was the most wonderful thing to play and experience chamber music. The sound was overwhelming and all encompassing. Had I discovered chamber music earlier, I would majored in music instead of engineering. Chamber music didn’t exist in my childhood on Okinawa. The closest thing was quatre main — piano duets. I played the keyboard in various bands, but that was not chamber music.

To entice the musicians to come to this “Completing the Trio” event, I organised a barbecue. I marinated spareribs in a special spicy Asian mix. I defrosted several dozen giant tiger prawns. I prepared Chinese cold noodles in the fridge. It was just a get-together for my indulgence in music — not a concert by any means.

I wanted to keep it small, intimate, and manageable. Just the 3 musicians plus me and Robert, that way I could focus on the music.

I tried to resist inviting others to this indulgent day of music and barbecue. I failed.

In the end, I invited my friend Kristen from Atlanta whom I hadn’t seen in 2 years. I invited a Hawaiian artist and his Dutch partner, both of whom I had never met but was very curious after reading his art catalogue.

The phone rang unexpectedly that afternoon. “I heard you’re having a rehearsal. We’d like to come to hear you. There are five of us. May we come to hear you?” News leaked of our musical gathering. “It’s a rehearsal,” I said. “Not a concert. Bring some chicken for the barbecue.”

The guest list of 3 expanded to 12. There were 14 of us that day enjoying the music, the barbecue, and the acrobatics.

Anne balancing on Robert's knee with help of Emile and Annelies on 15 July 2010
Anne balancing on Robert's knee with help of Emile and Annelies on 15 July 2010

Organic beer, barbecue, and Beethoven

One of the things I do, as a concert producer, is to explore themes that will make a successful concert. A single, unifying theme is powerful. How can we deliver classical music in a way that feels like beer tasting?

One of the things I do, as a concert producer, is to explore themes that will make a successful concert. I talk to people with ideas, musicians with music they want to play, and guests that support our monument concerts. A single, unifying theme is powerful.

In London, I felt the effect on the community at the “Purple Piano Party” where everyone had to wear purple, bring something purple (or that which started with the letter P) to eat or drink, and play music with the word purple in it.

What do beer and live classical music have in common?

Nothing.

I know two classical guitarists that love the kind of high alcohol-content beer that is brewed on this side of the Atlantic. I’ve gone with them to Belgium this past summer on an insane quest for the best abbey beer. We trekked to Ghent for abbey ales and back to Holland to scoop up the remaining 6 euro bottles stocked in the few exclusive shops their guitar builder knew of. It was an arduous journey to learn about beer and why one guitarist wanted 46 bottles to take back to America. The other just wanted to brew better beer from home.

Until this three-day trip, I associated beer with a bubbly cold drink one drank at fraternity parties at college. It was the cheaper choice, between wine and beer. It was the safe choice, if you didn’t want to show your ignorance of wine. It was for men. I preferred cocktails, kir royale, rose, champagne, and Irish coffee.

My views changed further this afternoon when I joined seven others on a tour of a local brewery near my home in Utrecht, Netherlands. I had hoped to see beers being made and beers being bottled. Instead, the most interesting part of the tour was the tasting — at the end.

The Dutch brewery, native to Utrecht, makes 10 different kinds of organic and biological beers. Each one has an interesting story. The strong wheat beer “Paulus” was named after the abbey in which an ancient, secret recipe was discovered. Another beer was named after the one and only Dutch pope who died in office.

Our guide told us that people used to drink beer when tap water was not safe or available to drink. Even pregnant women drank the low-alcohol beer. The difference between the beers brewed today and back then was the water. Back then, breweries used water from the canals and rivers.

In those two hours, I learned about beer. I also observed how relaxed the atmosphere was. The stories were fascinating. I had a thousand questions.

Isn’t this the kind of atmosphere I want at our concerts? How can we deliver classical music in a way that feels like beer tasting?

Beer goes well with barbecue. I wonder what kind of beer Beethoven drank? I invited the brewery to set up a biological beer bar at our next house concert when the hot weather returns. Few people in Utrecht are aware that these local beers are marketed to the rest of the world. The brewery is only a cycle ride away — not a car journey to another country.