Houston Public Radio KUHF

Today I read that the new CEO Shumate laid off key personnel at Houston Public Radio KUHF.

I was shocked.

The Front Row interviewed our duo twice – the first time in 2007, our first performance in Houston; the second in 2010, almost exactly 3 years ago.

It was a novel experience to go on radio, not just to be interviewed but to play on radio. To play meant playing on a magnificent concert grand — a Steinway — in the radio’s recording studio.

I wish we had taken photos of ourselves in the studio. This was before smartphones. It was before we knew how to behave on radio. At least we blogged about it.

Listening to the radio clips reminds me there’s more work to be done. We have recorded Summer and Winter of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and then our lives got hugely interrupted. We need to do Spring and Autumn. When will that be?

There are many interesting stories surrounding the compositions and even more that we could relate to regarding our re-discovery and revival of these compositions for our two instruments.

Reading the latest news about KUHF’s layoffs distresses me. Bob Stevenson, who had interviewed us, has been laid off. Couldn’t the CEO’s salary be halved and save a few positions?

Here on Maui, I almost exclusively listen to the Hawaii Public Radio in my car. I tell my music literature students to give up what they usually listen to and, at least for the current semester, listen only to public radio. It’s a good way to absorb classical music by immersing yourself in it.

What do we do now? Download the mp3 clips and save them before everything disappears!

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Real-time crisis management of concert performers

Giving concert is all about real-time crisis management. There are many surprises: venue, instruments, acoustics, staff, audience, traffic.

Recently I found myself describing the busiest period of our duo’s life as that of real-time crisis management. Each concert was real-time. Each concert held surprises. We could never fully anticipate  what might go wrong. It took a lot of practice (giving concerts) to get good at dealing with the unexpected.

Continue reading “Real-time crisis management of concert performers”

Musicians exchange CDs

Musicians exchange CDs when they meet each other. CDs convey more than business cards. Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo exchanged many CDs on their USA tour.

The practice of exchanging business cards is translated into the exchange of CDs when musicians meet.

A CD says more about your music than your business card.

The first CD we received on our 5-week USA tour in 2010 was the solo guitar compositions played by Frank Wallace, the composer himself. The second was Duo Live Oak, the duo with his wife Nancy Knowles whom we’ve yet to meet. Frank organised our second concert in Boston, in the home of Karen Parsons in Newton, Massachusetts. That CD marked the beginning of our journey in discovering remarkable individuals who took time from their passionate pursuit of music making to help us with ours.

Frank Wallace, composer and guitarist
Frank Wallace, composer and guitarist

In fact, our first three concerts were organised by musicians: Peter Terry of JP Concerts in Boston, Frank Wallace, and Mark and Beverly Davis of Hampton, Connecticut. We listened to the CDs of Frank Wallace and “Ayres and Dances” CD of the guitar duo of Mark and Beverly during our drive through Massachusetts and Connecticut: autumn in New England.

In Durham, North Carolina, we exchanged CDs with Elaine Funaro, master harpischordist and executive director of the Aliénor Harpsichord Competition. The Aliénor Sampler is a demo CD of live recordings of selected pieces from the competition, recorded in 2008 and 2009. Elaine also gave us “Incantations & Inspirations Duo d’amore” a nicely wrapped CD of new music for baroque oboe and harpsichord.

By the time we ended our mainland USA tour and arrived in Maui, we had exchanged many CDs with our “Summer CD” — our first album. Only then, after we had found a place to live and produce the next 3 albums, did we have time to listen to the CDs that we collected. Only then did we put the music to the names and faces of those musicians we met on tour.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo first album: Summer
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo first album: Summer

Live recording for radio Houston

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo returned to Houston in 2010 and appeared on Houston Public Radio KUHF Front Row Programme for the second time with previews of their forthcoming second CD Winter!

What a surprise to discover  Houston Public Radio KUHF chose us for their final programme of the Front Row in 2010! We had pre-recorded it on Friday 12th November 2010, a busy day that began at 6:30 am with interview at another Houston radio station, followed by a free public concert at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The nearly one hour programme is on the KUHF webpage. “Husband-and-wife musicians, guitarist Robert Bekkers and pianist Anne Ku treat us to a salon concert from the Geary Performance Studio! Based in The Netherlands, …” more

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo in Warmond, Netherlands Photo: Humphrey Daniels
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo in Warmond, Netherlands Photo: Humphrey Daniels

The program previews our forthcoming CD Winter — which follows our first CD Summer! The producer Bob Stevenson asked us to play the first and last (skipping the slow second) movement of Vivaldi’s Winter from his Four Seasons. We gave this programme during 2010 in the Netherlands and on our 5-week USA tour.

Included on this show was a short guitar solo cadenza of the Dutch national anthem which Robert invented for the lengthy Grand Potpourri National. The other original work for piano and guitar was the second half of Amsterdam-based composer Gijs van Dijk’s “Abstract and Dance.” Robert Bekkers had arranged Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (first piece on the KUHF programme and played in its entirety). Another arranged piece for our duo was Fritz Kreisler’s version of Manuel de Falla’s Spanish Dance from La Vida Breve which we both adapted for piano and guitar (also the entire piece).

Order of works on the Front Row Program:

first part: (mp3)

  • Arrival of the Queen of Sheba Handel, arr. Bekkers
  • Spanish Dance from La Vida Breve, de Falla, arr. Kreisler, Bekkers, Ku

second part: (mp3)

  • Winter, Vivaldi, arr. Bekkers (1st and 3rd movement only)

third part: (mp3)

What’s interesting about this recording session was that we were playing to an invisible and unknown audience that would listen in the future — an unknown date in the future on which it would be broadcasted and an unknown date on which people would listen online. There was no applause in the recording studio of the radio station. You could say we had only two people in the audience in the studio: the producer Bob Stevenson interviewing us, and sound engineer Todd Hulslander on the other side of the glass window.

Some corrections: I didn’t graduate from Utrecht University but Utrecht Conservatory in 2008, two completely different institutions both located in Utrecht, Netherlands. Robert mentioned he had to bring down “Winter” one whole note — what he meant was whole tone — a Dutchism.

The radio programmers chose a photo of us taken by the Dutch photographer Humphrey Daniels in a monastic church in Warmond, Netherlands where we had recorded a concert towards the end of 2008. One of those pieces (recorded by Dutch sound engineer Boy Griffioen) found its way to our first CD Summer — Romance from Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nacht Musik, arranged for our duo by Robert Bekkers.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo at Utrecht Conservatory K108 Photo: Olaf Hornes
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo at Utrecht Conservatory K108 Photo: Olaf Hornes

We noticed a huge difference between our second recording at KUHF in 2010 and the first in 2007! The first live recording and interview in December 2007 was also the first time Robert and I had ever appeared on radio. We thought we would pre-record it and thus arrived an hour early. Little did we know that it was going to be a LIVE broadcast! We were less talkative and less knowledgeable about being interviewed in 2007.

Build a relationship before you meet

Planning an event with people you have not met offers the unique opportunity to build new relationships. Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo shares their experience with collaborating with musicians, concert producers, and music lovers in planning their 40-day USA concert tour in 2010.

Half of our 40-day concert tour through the USA was a trip down memory lane. I was reconnecting with high school and college classmates as well as friends I had not seen for years.

The other half of the tour felt like online dating. Robert Bekkers and I were building relationships with people we had never met or known through e-mail, skype, Facebook, and phone calls BEFORE the actual concerts took place.

How does this work when you organise a concert tour without an agent?

We did not have all 20 concerts and 2 radio interviews arranged before we left the Netherlands. In fact, only a handful were definite. The first three and last four concerts were organised by people we had never met before. We continued e-mailing each other to fine-tune the concert arrangements, e.g. date, time, duration, seating capacity, publicity, invitations, announcements, payment, etc.

How do you build a relationship before you meet?

How do relationships get formed?

Through transactions, through communication, opinions get formed. Expectations are managed. Anticipation is built in the run up to an event. When you’re working towards the same goal, that is, to make an event happen successfully, you become partners in collaboration. How you work, how your communicate and react tells the other person something about you and vice versa.

There are no drawn out theses or lengthy biographies about each other. How do we trust someone we’ve never met?

The first person was introduced to us from someone we respect — a doctor in the community. His reputation was validated by someone who knew someone who knew him. We asked if he knew someone else who could arrange a concert for us. The person he suggested turned out to be someone that somebody else we knew also knew of. This triangulation is important for trust-building. A kind of validation, if you will.

The next concert producer came about through the introduction of someone we never met before but had contacted through a google search.

I guess what I’m trying to say in this blog is this:

You don’t have to know the person who helps you make a concert happen. You don’t have to hire the person. The music business is about collaborations. We all have something to gain from working with each other.

The concert producer gets musicians to play for his audience. Musicians get a chance to perform in a concert. The venue gets used. The audience gets to hear and meet the musicians.

The single benefit of not using an agent is that you get to build relationships directly with the people involved in making your concert happen. The drawback is that you have to spend a lot of time online, on the phone, and ensuring everything is agreed and put together, all down to the last detail. This means managing uncertainty and stress on top of the performing and traveling. As time-consuming as it may be, you get to learn about the other person and the process.

During our tour, we met and got to know the following individuals who love music as much as we do. There were many more we met in the audience. How marvelous that planning the concerts gave us the opportunity to meet and build new relationships!

New England

  • Peter Terry, concert producer of JP Concert Series in Boston and Yakov Zamir, countertenor
  • Linda Kernohan, pianist, composer, music director, St John Episcopal Church, and blogger
  • Karen Parsons, Suzuki piano teacher
  • Jonathan Parsons, music connoisseur
  • Frank Wallace, guitarist, baritone, composer
  • Mark Davis, guitarist and mandolin player & conductor, producer of North Meadows House Concert Series
  • Beverly Davis, guitarist

Durham, North Carolina

Phoenix, Arizona

Houston, Texas

Denver, Colorado

San Francisco, CA

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo house concert in Carmichael, CA Photo: Daniel Roest
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo house concert in Carmichael, CA Photo: Daniel Roest

Bekkers Duo America Tour: no agents

Reflecting back on the concert tour while sightseeing in San Francisco, California. A do it yourself concert tour without help of agents.

The only regret I have in planning this concert tour is not including enough slack to sightsee. It has been solid work: practising, rehearsing, performing, networking, and traveling. We specifically tell our friends that this is not a vacation. Our goal is to break even and survive as classical musicians. So far we have not been disappointed. However, it has taken a lot of work to make it happen.

Over a year ago in Den Bosch, a city south of Eindhoven in the Netherlands, I had asked the director of a vocal competition what it took to go on an international tour as a performing musician. She replied, “Get an agent.”

I did not believe her. Getting an agent is catch-22. You have to be good enough for an agent to want you. And to be good enough, you need an agent. Could we prove otherwise?

I decided to do it ourselves. Instead of hiring an agent to help us plan a concert tour of the USA, I figured out what agents did. Booking concerts requires finding venues and concert producers. The established ones are those that everyone else knows about and compete for. Competition means long lead times. We did not have time. We had six months to use our US visas before they would expire worthless.

Where would we start? What happens first — book the plane tickets before the fares go up or get a concert first?

Apply for funding? That is wishful thinking. We did not have enough time.

As I reflect back, I am amazed that we managed to give more than a dozen concerts as a duo and several as soloists.

On the 33rd day of our tour, we finally gave in. We decided to treat ourselves to an afternoon of sightseeing in San Francisco. The weather was not so conducive — it hovered in the 40’s (Fahrenheit) – barely 10 degrees Celsius with rain and grey skies. On the F tram from Market Street and Civic Center to the Fisherman’s Wharf, we decided to interview each other.

Bekkers America Tour: a documentary

Starting a documentary of the Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo America Tour including an interview with Robert Bekkers and the Duo on KPFT Houston radio station

“You should make your tour into a documentary,” advised Marc Parella of the international artist management agency Price, Rubins and Partners.

We have heard this before. Graphics animator Andrea Love, who created an 8 minute animated documentary film of the birth of a harpsichord, had suggested that we video and interview the people we meet along the way.

I have interviewed and taken hand-written notes of house concert producers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. We have taken photos and videos. But it has not been systematic.

Perhaps there’s a way to interview everyone else by telephone or ask someone local to film them? We have packed a tight schedule of 23 places in 9 states in 40 days before settling down in Maui to escape the Dutch winter.

We have to start somewhere. Why not now?

Below: a first attempt to interview Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers while he is waiting for his gourmet burger lunch at Flippers Restaurant on Hayes Street in San Francisco, after a visit to the San Francisco Conservatory.

The previous Friday, we were interviewed on KPFT Houston, a Pacifica Radio Station. After the first 5 minutes, the announcer Michael Woodson asked us about house concerts, cocooning, and social media networking. “Welcome to LivingArt. It’s Friday November the 12th. Today on LivingArt, we are going to talk to two musicians who are from Europe. A very classy show today.”

KPFT Houston LivingArt radio programme on 12 Nov 2010 (1 hour radio show – mp3 audio)