Palladio by Karl Jenkins arranged for piano

Anne Ku arranged a piano solo version of Karl Jenkin’s Palladio – made popular by Escala.

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Have you ever become so obsessed with a tune that the only remedy is to play it on your instrument? When I watched the following clip, I knew I had heard the music before — in London, but not for guitars. Continue reading “Palladio by Karl Jenkins arranged for piano”

Extracts from Reviews: Morgenstern Trio

Extracts from piano students’ reviews of a concert on the theme of death

After the concert, I asked to be led to the back stage to meet the three musicians of the Morgenstern Trio from Germany. I remarked that the program was not one about “destiny” as the cellist indicated in his speech but one on “death.”  I added that it was refreshing to hear serious music — one that was unamplified. Here on Maui, I explained, we hear a lot of “happy” music that’s always amplified. We get a lot of background music, too.

Continue reading “Extracts from Reviews: Morgenstern Trio”

Gerald Schwertberger (1941 – 2014)

Austrian composer Gerald Schwertberger was a prolific composer who passed away on February 8, 2014.

Gerald Schwertberger was one of the earliest 20th/21st century composers we discovered — who had composed for piano and guitar. Robert and I performed his works at our debut concert in London in 2002. The works were easy, fun, and full of humor.

I’ve never been to Vienna. I’ve never met Gerald.

Continue reading “Gerald Schwertberger (1941 – 2014)”

Writing programme notes

After determining the order of pieces in a concert, you can research the programme notes. Here is an example from the cello piano concert in Warnsveld played by Stephanie Hunt and Anne Ku.

Experienced concert programme note writers will have the notes at their fingertips. They just need to copy and paste into a new document. Most of us, however, start from scratch.

Having determined the order of pieces in a concert, it’s time to research the programme notes.

There are many ways to do this.

One way is to find as much as you can about each piece — the composer’s name, birth and death dates, opus numbers, circumstances surrounding the piece, who premiered it, where it was first performed or published, and anything that’s controversial or juicy for the audience to know. Such information puts the work in perspective. Interesting tidbits engrave the piece in the listener’s mind.

While most information is easily found on the Internet (wikipedia for instance), I prefer to “triangulate” — i.e. double check various sources. The opus numbers may be mistyped and propagated. People do fall into the lazy habit of copying instead of reinventing the wheel.

To avoid plagiarism, I would rewrite the sentences and paragraphs so there is no sign that I’ve copied word for word. This takes some practice.

To make the programme consistent, I would ensure that no work gets more attention (word length) than others, unless one piece is deliberately featured. If there is a theme to the concert, the text should fit to the theme.

For the two cello piano concerts in Warnsveld, we weren’t requested to produce programme notes. Yet it was a good exercise to come prepared. Sometimes we learn in hindsight what would have been a better order. In this case, there were several pieces to do with love and marriage — Chanson Triste (the end of a love), La Cinquaintaine (50 years of love and marriage), and Salut d’Amour (the beginning of love). It would have been a nice story to begin with Salut d’Amour instead of Chanson Triste.

Stephanie Hunt, cello; Anne Ku, piano
Stephanie Hunt, cello; Anne Ku, piano

The three page programme notes can be found in a PDF.

Concert programming: order of pieces

How do you select the works you will play in a concert? Should there be a theme? How do you determine the order? The answer is in the audience, maximum time given, what you like to play, what you can play.

How do you select the works you will play in a concert? Should there be a theme? How do you determine the order?

I had researched this topic with a Swedish violinist for a master’s research elective at Utrecht Conservatory in 2008: how to programme live music for elderly audiences (summary 1 page PDF).

This morning Stephanie (cellist) and I (pianist) got together to decide exactly that. For this Friday’s concerts, we needed 30 minutes before the intermission and 15 to 20 minutes afterwards. It’s for an exclusive, affluent, historical house of elderly residents – about 10 to maximum 12 people in a cozy, intimate setting. We will play the programme twice in one day —- i.e. in two homes in the same town.

The piano room in the Monument House Utrecht
The piano room in the Monument House Utrecht

Selecting the pieces

We began with what we had worked on and performed before.

Fantasiestucke by Robert Schumann – 3 movements to be played attaca – virtuoso and exciting – not so well-known – best to end with it, before the intermission. 10 minutes

The rest of the pieces we had not performed but had sight read or practised together. We played each piece once and timed it.

Sicilienne by Faure – well-known, familiar – I had played the piano solo version as a warm-up at a previous concert and noticed the early guests liked it – 4’5″

Intermezzo from the opera Cavalleria Rusticana – well-loved – I had played the piano solo version in concerts with French horn and noticed the audience loved it. The cello-piano arrangement is much easier on the piano than the solo version. 2’56”

Salut d’Amour by Elgar – again, well-loved and well-known. The piano solo version is much more demanding than the cello-piano arrangement, so it’s a relief to hear something more beautiful but easier to play on the piano. 3’21”

Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise – very romantic and beautiful but sad – must be careful not to overdo it. 7’24”

La Cinquantaine by Gabriel Marie – unfamiliar piece but moving – important to have something that’s unfamiliar in a sea of familiarity. 4’56”

We added all the durations and fished for additional pieces to complete the programme.

Minuetto by Boccherini – familiar, light, joyful – a nice break from the more serious pieces – 3’53”

Menuett by Beethoven – similar to the Boccherini – well-known and light-hearted – originally for piano – 2’56”

Barcarolle from Offenbach’s opera Tales of Hoffman – easy but not my favourite – 2’41”

Chanson Triste by Tchaikovsky – 2’24”

Songs My Mother Taught me by Dvorak – the piano plays in 6/8 time while the cello part is in 2/4 time – 1’50”

Ordering the pieces

We put Schumann’s Fantasiestucke just before the intermission because it’s the longest and most virtuosic of all pieces. After the intermission, when everyone is rested we can challenge the audience with something more demanding: Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. This requires something lighter and joyful to follow – Boccherini’s Minuetto.

In deciding upon the sequence of works, we were constantly seeking a balance —-  contrasting long with short, heavy with light, dark with light, and familiar with unfamiliar.

The final programme for cello and piano

Songs My Mother Taught Me – Dvorak

Minuett – Beethoven

Chanson Triste – Tchaikovsky

La Cinquantaine – Gabriel Marie

Salut d’Amour – Elgar

[Barcarolle – Offenbach —- may skip if not enough time]

Fantasiestucke – Schumann

INTERMISSION

Vocalise – Rachmaninoff

Minuetto – Boccherini

Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana – Mascagni

Sicilienne – Faure

Final step: research and write the programme notes so we have something interesting to say about each piece.

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

Piano, guitar, and cello house concert in Amsterdam

These ad hoc house concerts of live music followed by savoury food and great wines are run by a group of close friends in one of several locations. You have to get on their mailing list to be invited. Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo gave a one hour house concert of 21st century works for piano and guitar in the same location. The host, a passionate music lover named Jos, welcomed the guests to her apartment and acknowledged the three Dutch composers before introducing the duo. I had intended to blog about this amazing reception of the composers, 21st century music, and the incredibly tasty food served in the “after party.”

On Saturday 26th June 2010, Robert Bekkers (guitar), Anne Ku (piano), and Stephanie Hunt (cello) gave a one hour house concert in the living room of a walk-up top floor one-bedroom apartment on Realeneisland, adjacent to Westerdok island of Amsterdam. It was the first time Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo collaborated with a cellist. The result was surprisingly refreshing.

For lack of a better name, all the pieces played were not originally written for the three instruments, hence “transcriptions.”

Programme: TRANSCRIPTIONS for cello, guitar, piano

  • Winter from Four Seasons, Vivaldi, arr. R. Bekkers for piano, guitar, cello
  • Sonata Op. 17 for cello and piano, Beethoven
  • Chaconne for solo guitar, JS Bach
  • Fantasiestucke Op. 17 for cello and piano, R. Schumann
  • Concerto de Aranjuez, Rodrigo, arr. R. Bekkers for piano, guitar, cello

Even Bach’s famous Chaconne was not written for the classical guitar but for solo violin.

The “art islands” which includes Westerdok can be reached by bus 18 or 22 in a matter of minutes from Amsterdam Central station. It is an area directly west and north west of the central train station, what used to be a shunting yard for the Dutch railways. Unknown to most tourists, this gem of a central location is being redeveloped (see article).

Less than a year ago, on 26 September 2009 to be precise, the Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo gave a one hour house concert of 21st century works for piano and guitar in the same location. The host, a passionate music lover named Jos, welcomed the guests to her apartment and acknowledged the three Dutch composers before introducing the duo. I had intended to blog about this amazing reception of the composers, 21st century music, and the incredibly tasty food served in the “after party.”

I spoke to the lady who prepared the food. Trudy’s full-time job is not in the catering business but cooking is her hobby and passion. “Food to me is like music to you,” she said. “Give me a theme and I’ll create something to fit.”

I have since tasted her gastronomic creations at the artist Egon’s home and again on 26th June. I shouldn’t say “tasted,” for I actually devoured her home-smoked salmon, juicy pork steak skewers, garlic prawns, chicken liver pâté, spicy mushrooms, savoury chicken drumsticks, and other delights forever ingrained in my memory after the live music.

Recently Trudy sat in a cafe and overheard a conversation. “You know what is special about those house concerts at Egon’s place? The food afterwards.”

These ad hoc house concerts of live music followed by savoury food and great wines are run by a group of close friends in one of several locations. You have to get on their mailing list to be invited. Luckily I am on their mailing list — and I’m even willing to pay with music to enjoy the “after party.”