Halloween Piano Concert: music from horror films

Halloween music can come from horror movies or those with ghosts, vampires, monsters, and other fantasy creatures. Anne Ku gives a piano concert to celebrate this occasion on Maui.

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.

Continue reading “Halloween Piano Concert: music from horror films”

Chinese New Year Concert

How to assemble a concert program for an elderly audience for Chinese New Year?

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

Continue reading “Chinese New Year Concert”

Introducing new piano solos

Anne Ku catalogues new piano solo works by living composers on Concertblog

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.


Piano duets from Hawaii to Holland

Summary of the “Call for Scores: multi-hand piano duets” project from January to September 2011 with links to reviews of selected individual works by living composers.

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

In Maui, what next?

A week after Anne Ku arrived in Maui, for the fourth time in her life, she is taking stock and taking it easy. There is much to do.

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

Sightreading new multi-hand duets for one piano

First attempt at getting pianists in Utrecht, Netherlands to sightread new multi-hand piano duets has ended in showing off solo works of dead composers. Why?

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?

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

A second attempt at getting pianists to sightread and study and perform new piano duets by living composers: 3rd July 2011 in Utrecht, Netherlands.

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

Impasse or interruption?

Classical music can be daunting in terms of how to survive as a musician. Anne Ku has created and produced concerts without a budget. Is it a mountain that cannot be changed or a rock that supports an existence?

Sometimes life feels like a rock in your way, refusing to move no matter how much you push at it.

Pushing against a rock in the Garden of Gods in Colorado Springs. Photo credit: J. Kormanik
Pushing against a rock in the Garden of Gods in Colorado Springs. Photo credit: J. Kormanik

My involvement in classical music appears that way. I have created new events, produced concerts to full-house reception, involved musicians, visual artists, and local businesses —  and continued to experiment with new ideas, new collaborations, while building new communities and relationships — all without a budget.

My last project — call for scores of multi-hand duets from living composers and performance / feedback in San Francisco on 15th May 2011 — is not yet over. I have yet to document the results of the sightreading, the performances, the feedback, and various details that I want to share.

My next project — piano house concerts and career management discussion panel in Utrecht, Netherlands on 1 – 3 July 2011 — needs to begin. I have booked organic wine tasting for that weekend. Two concert pianists are traveling from the USA to Italy, stopping in Utrecht just for this occasion.

Yet right this moment, after 2 weeks of traveling from Hawaii to Holland and a week of getting used to life on the ground again, I feel like doing nothing but play my piano that I’ve left behind since mid-October 2010 when my duo embarked on a concert tour of the United States to end in an experiment on that tropical paradise called Maui.

Could it be that the mountain of classical music is not an impasse but a mere interruption?

Perhaps I should consider music to be the rock that supports me while I tackle the rest of life’s challenges. Certainly I have been looking for a cause to serve — one that is greater than music itself, for music is not an end in itself but a means to a greater end.

Garden of Gods in Colorado Springs. Photo credit: J. Kormanik
Garden of Gods in Colorado Springs. Photo credit: J. Kormanik

Multi-hand piano duets in San Francisco

Forthcoming blog post on sightreading multi-hand piano duets in San Francisco.

I received 42 duets from 30 composers for the CALL FOR SCORES of multi-hand piano duets for a sightreading competition.

On Sunday 15th May 2011, pianists gathered in a beautiful 120-year-old Victorian mansion in Duboce Park in San Francisco to try the new music. Two SF-based composers attended the event and talked about their work. As far as I know, it was the first event of its kind — and largely inspired by the idea that true sightreading can only occur if the performers have never seen or heard the music beforehand — i.e. still in the minds of the composers.

Here is a one-page PDF summary of my piano teaching thesis on sightreading (2008).

I will be writing about the music, the experience, and more on this blog in 2 weeks’ time.

Watch this space.

5 pianists playing The Pischna Polka by Elizabeth Lauer
5 pianists playing The Pischna Polka by Elizabeth Lauer

Call for scores: multi-hand piano duets for sightreading competition

To composers: Call for scores for multi-hand piano duets (many hands on one piano) for a sight-reading competition in San Francisco deadline 5 April 2011.

On Sunday 15th May 2011 at probably the first sightreading competition of its kind, pianists will attempt to read and play multi-hand piano duet music that they have not seen and played before. The location: a loft apartment in San Francisco with a Steinway grand piano.

On Chappell Piano. Photo: Jacqueline Stretton-Chang, London
On Chappell Piano. Photo: Jacqueline Stretton-Chang, London

What is a multi-hand piano duet?

The simplest is two hands. Next is 3 hands. The popular one is 2 pianists on one piano. The challenge is to write music for more than two pianists.

The composition should meet the following criteria:

  • readability & page-turnability
  • playability
  • repeatability: i.e. the pianists want to play it again or share it with others. There should be an element of fun, intrigue, challenge, or something that prevents one from dismissing it and putting it away on the shelf to be forgotten.
  • length: 2 to 5 minutes (this can be extended to 10 minutes at normal tempo indicated)
  • difficulty: allow players of different levels to play together

For an indication of the difficulty level, please visit a piano soiree that was held in the same place previously. This is a piano club that gets together regularly to have fun. We want to introduce music for several pianists to play together. Sight-reading levels of pianists are usually always lower than performance levels, i.e. the difficulty should be lower than the solo performance repertoire.

Deadline: 5 April 2011

Submission format: e-mail PDF

If your piece is selected, you will get the following benefits in kind:

  • interview & write-up on this blog
  • publicity of your music that was selected
  • feedback from the pianists

Please use the following LEAVE A REPLY form to express your intention to submit. You will get a reply with an e-mail address to submit your score to. Your comment will not be published.

PERSONAL NOTE:
I was first introduced to multi-hand piano duets at my Steinway Welcome Party in Bussum, Netherlands. There were many pianists and two pianos. 4 pianists on 2 pianos. 3 pianists on one piano. One can imagine the possibilities.

ADDENDUM @ 3 Feb 2011:

Please include a description of the piece, such as what inspired you, techniques and challenges, or anything unique about the piece. Provide a link to your website or biography. This blog will get updated and refined over time as questions arise.