Tag Archives: composers

Halloween Piano Concert: music from horror films

In the spirit of themed piano concerts, I decided to do one for Halloween, after my previous one for Earth Day in April 2014. Because Halloween is so popular in the USA, rather than run away and hide from trick-or-treaters as I usually do, I thought I’d face the music and celebrate with an audience that may appreciate a journey down memory lane.

The word Halloween originates from “All Hallows’ Even” or “the eve of All Hallows’ Day.”  All Hallows’ Day is simply another name for All Saints’ Day, the day the Catholics commemorate all the saints.

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Chinese New Year Concert

Friday January 31st, 2014 was a triple whammy day for me:
– end of the electric vehicle project that had consumed me for two years
– Chinese New Year of the Horse
– two concerts: morning in Kahului and evening in Kula

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Introducing new piano solos

As a sightreader, I am always looking for new challenges, that is, to play new music I have not seen before.  Before I entered the world of composers, I would search for published music of dead composers.

In my musical journey, I discover that the new music (of living composers) is just as interesting if not more. These days, if I come across music of a composer I like, whether it’s ensemble music or piano guitar duo, I’d ask if he or she had written anything for piano solo or piano duet. Similarly — vice versa.

Below is a catalogue of the piano solo works I have reviewed and introduced on Concertblog. I will continue to add to this list, arranged alphabetically by the composer’s last name.


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Piano duets from Hawaii to Holland

Call for Scores of Multi-hand Piano Duets

This was an experimental project to get living composers to submit interesting duets for pianists to play and to get feedback from the pianists on readability, playability, and more.

The first round of sightreading took place in Maui: over 3 separate sessions, Karyn Sarring and Anne Ku sightread the 42 duets accepted. This set was short-listed and some sent to Chong Kee Tan, organiser of the mid-May event in San Francisco to get interest. As a result of feedback, it was decided not to have a sightreading competition but a sightreading workshop with piano soiree instead. The event was not publicised to composers because some pianists expressed reservation in sightreading new works in front of them. In spite of this, two Bay Area composers attended.

To get more pianists to play, Anne Ku took the printed PDF sheet music to the Netherlands to interest pianists to try the music with her. The following pianists (by first name only) in chronological order attempted the duets: Tom, Thera, Brendan, Ahti, Huub, Liesbeth, Carol, and Bart. Anne Ku recorded several extracts of sightreading with Texas-based Brendan Kinsella in early July and 3 studied pieces with Utrecht-based Carol Ruiz Gandia in early August 2011.

Chronology from 31st January 2011 onwards:

REVIEWS OF SELECTED DUETS ## = sample score ** = mp3 or video recording

Steinway Grand used in recordings of multi-hand piano duets

Steinway Grand Model A 188 (1909 New York) at the Monument House, Utrecht, Netherlands used in recording of multi-hand piano duets

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In Maui, what next?

My fellow blogger Susan introduced the idea of placeholder blog posts to manage her readers’ expectations. Here’s a to-do list for myself and a preview of what is to come.

The last 2.5 months in Holland have been spent on house concerts, duo performances, video and audio recordings, piano sightreading sessions in Utrecht and Den Haag, yoga, hosting & entertaining visitors, dinner invitations, and getting the Monument House rented out so that I can be free of worry in Maui while Robert pursues his graduate diploma with full force and focus in Boston. There is still some outstanding to follow up, such as uploading pianist Nathanael May‘s programme to the Monument House Concert Series website and blogging / uploading of the home recordings of piano duets and piano solos.

On Saturday 13th August 2011, I left the Netherlands by way of a 5-hour layover in Chicago where I met the conductor and composer Kim Diehnelt. We had corresponded briefly via Facebook. I performed her Impromptu for solo piano and liked it. I will write something about my recording of it in an upcoming blog.

Next stop was overnight in San Francisco Airport where I met two composers who had submitted duets to my Call for Scores. I had earlier blogged about Loren Jones’ The Secret Door but had not yet met him in person. I will also write about Phil Freihofner and two other composers whose duets I’ve recorded with Utrecht-based Spanish pianist Carol Ruiz Gandia.

It has been a week since I arrived on Maui. The tropical climate agrees with me: no hayfever, no long sleeves, no jackets or gloves or socks. This Pacific island reminds me of my childhood in Asia. Without the need to prepare and anticipate for uncertain weather, I have more time at my disposal. I am free to go indoors and out without having to consider what to wear. And definitely I prefer papaya, pineapple, mango, and guava to apples and bananas.

I have much to write (blogs, abstracts for upcoming conferences, courses, etc) and read (Julia Cameron’s “The Vein of Gold” and Angela Beeching’s “Beyond Talent,” to name a few). Most importantly, I want to quickly get settled and equipped so that my life can continue as smoothly as before.

I am literally on the other side of the world from where I was a week ago. Whether I turn east or west, Holland is on the other side. So are my friends.

Ladies Night in Utrecht: seafood dinner with rose wine. Photo: Susan Raddatz

Ladies Night in Utrecht, 4 August 2011: seafood dinner with rose wine. Photo: Susan Raddatz

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Sightreading new multi-hand duets for one piano

I am blogging the experience of trying to get pianists to sightread, choose, and commit to studying the new piano duets I collected from the 30 living composers who answered my CALL FOR SCORES. In Maui, I had gone through all 42 new works with Karyn Sarring, an excellent sightreader at University of Hawaii Maui College. On electronic keyboards however, the duets didn’t sound quite the same as on real pianos as I later experienced with Chong Kee Tan in San Francisco.

This afternoon in Utrecht, Netherlands, the first in a series of small get-togethers in my CALL FOR PIANISTS, we three pianists gather in the home of Tom who had just bought a new Yamaha grand piano.

After coffee and a green bean coconut soup dessert, we approached the black piano with a few pieces I shortlisted to try. I showed them pieces that worked in San Francisco — they were easy to read. I showed the pieces that no one dared to try — the notes were too small. But there were other reasons why some pieces were not attempted.

“What happened to tonality?” cried Thera after trying to figure out the beats and pitches of a few duets that required rigorous counting.

“There’s so much wonderful literature of romantic piano music that I have yet to play! Why would I spend time trying to read new music?” exclaimed Tom.

After several attempts to read and decide who was better at the secondo or primo parts, we gravitated to showing off solo works we had studied individually and memorised. Thera played a moving work by Mendelssohn.

“I like to close my eyes and play — much easier than reading,” said Thera.

As soon as it was over, Tom gently pushed her aside and said, “It’s my turn now.” He played a virtuosic work of Haydn followed by Scarlatti Opus 11 no. 11.

How many hours of music have these two pianists got memorised in their heads? How long have they spent studying these pieces?

How can living composers compete with the dead ones who have a head start? Whose music are heard and published and readily available?

On 15th May 2011 in San Francisco, when I tried to get pianists to sightread these duets, one pianist reasoned as follows:

“Composers have to try much harder to get us to play their music. There is so much beautiful music we want to play — music we have heard of. To play music we haven’t heard of, it better be good and worthwhile.”

Perhaps such pianists prefer to play music they have committed themselves to. People, in general, for that matter, prefer the known, certain, and familiar. It’s far more comfortable to play something you’re competent at than try something that shows your incompetence (which can simply be due to lack of acquaintance or familiarity).

My attempt at getting these two pianists to try the remaining 40 duets has failed. They are now (as I write) churning out grandiose sounds of Katchaturian (Toccata), Rachmaninoff (Prelude op. 32 no. 5 in G), and Franck (Prelude, Fugue & Variations).

“It’s not that they are familiar,” protested Tom. “These old works go straight to the heart. Modern music appeals to the intellect.”

Thera added, “Yes, music IS emotional. I see in many modern compositions, the brain comes first.”

Surely there is modern music that appeals to the soul and the heart! But where is it?

“I like Martinu,” suggested Tom as he overlooked my typing. “His is mid-20th century. But he is dead now.”

Would my CALL FOR SCORES be more successful (in the sense of getting works to be played) if I had specified the music to appeal to the emotions?

We end with Liszt’s Consolation number 3. I have not given up trying the remaining multi-hand duets in the few hours left of the afternoon.

I am sure there are pianists who are eager to discover new sounds, new music that has yet to circulate or become familiar. These pianists like to sightread, try new things, work with other musicians, get to know the composers who write the music, and eventually get the composers to write music they want to play. How can I find other pianists like me?

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Call for pianists: new multi-hand duets on one piano

Several months ago, I posted a “Call for Scores” to composers to submit multi-hand duets that could be sightread on one piano. My blog was picked up by several composition newsletters and websites. Even Google was keen to let the world know about this quest. [Just google “multi-hand duets” and you’ll get the drift.]

Unfortunately, several things happened that prevented a full-scale sightreading competition.

  1. Most of the scores I accepted because they looked interesting to play turned out to be not easily sightreadable.
  2. The pianists that liked to play in a soiree preferred to play pieces they have studied for performance. Few such pianists would like to attend a sightreading event, much less be judged in a sightreading competition.
  3. Listening to work that is being sightread is not as enjoyable as listening to work that has been studied, rehearsed, and perfected for performance.

The sightreading competition of Sunday 15th May 2011 in San Francisco was rebranded as a sightreading workshop and piano soiree. Still, the rumour that some composers may come deterred some pianists to participate. As much as I wanted to broadcast to invite the 30 composers (and they in turn to extend the invitation to their friends, family, and fans), I had to refrain from doing so. In the end, just two composers who lived near the venue came to the event. [Visit the webpage for details about the 15th May piano soiree and feedback.]

Most of the duets did not get played. I still intend to write about those that did.

I carried the heavy binder from Hawaii to Holland, and along with it, the responsibility of getting pianists to look at the new works by living composers and try them.

At the end of June, two American pianists, Nathanael May and Brendan Kinsella, will come to the Netherlands to give concerts from our Monument House in Utrecht. Besides organising the house concerts of 1st July and 2nd July, I am calling pianists to look through my collection and choose pieces to study and perform for 3rd of July.

Details of the Sunday 3rd July 2011 concert is given on High Note Live, a new concert and audience management web application.

Gardens of the famous Dome Church in Utrecht, The Netherlands

Gardens of the famous Dome Church in Utrecht, The Netherlands

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