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
As preparation for her next concert of many hands on many pianos on 14th July 2012 in Maui, Anne Ku discovers other interpretations on the Internet.
In preparation for my next concert in mid-July on Maui, I decided to check out performances of the selected works on the Internet. The interpretations are much faster, crisper, and cleaner. It’s really hard to play fast, crisp, and clean —– that is, with many pianists on many different pianos.
Darius Milhaud’s Paris: Suite for 4 pianos spans different arrondissemont of Paris. I try to remember the Paris I know but I only remember Montmartre, L’ile Saint-Louis, and the Eiffel Tower from the 6 movements. I could not find a video clip of this fantastic work against the different scenes of Paris though the 2 on Youtube are sufficiently interesting. This piece is by far the most demanding of our entire 1.5 hour program.
Next, I looked for Gerald Busby’s Four! a statement for 4 pianos. Instead, I found Plucked — 15 hands on one piano. It’s a most remarkable and funny piece. If you have time to watch it, do enjoy the performance art.
Another 4 piano 8 hand piece is Wallace DePue’s 16 Pawns. It’s a short and fast one page work. No videos on the Internet. No background description. Perhaps we can get our own recording at the concert.
We will be playing two multi-hand pieces by Robert Pollock, founder and artistic director of Ebb & Flow Arts, the non-profit organization that is putting together this concert of Sunday 14th July 2012. The titles reveal just how many pianists and pianos. Five for Four. Three for Six. Answer: Five pianists on 4 pianos. Three pianos for Six hands.
I finally get to play a work of Morton Feldman, a composer I have heard much about but never studied. His “Piece for 4 Pianos” is interesting in that all pianists have the same score. It’s up to each pianist to decide when to play each note. Everything is soft. The result? a kind of rippling, echoey effect. Watch the meditative result below.
John Cage’s “Music for Piano” is another aleatory piece (one which the composer instructs the performer to decide on duration or other aspects of the composition). We each chose two consecutive pages from the album. It’s prepared piano at its best, though it would take about 30 minutes to prepare. We each have a bag of black rubber and white felt objects to insert between the strings of the piano for those notes we need to mute. The result? Texture that we’d otherwise not hear. Again, we decide when and how long to play each note. Last time we had agreed on the piece to last 7 minutes, but some of us were too fast and others too slow. It does take some practice to get 4 pianists to end at the same time.
Below is one interpretation of John Cage’s “Music for Piano”
Sadly there is not enough music for many pianos. Ebb & Flow Arts commissioned composer Thomas Osborne to write one for us. The mp3 version of his “Canyons” for four pianos is very powerful. I will try playing it today.
Luckily there is plenty of fun pieces for two pianos and even two pianists on one piano. As 14th July is Bastille Day, we decided to choose works of French composers. Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite; Faure’s Dolly Suite; and Debussy’s Petite Suite.
I am so glad to be able to participate this time. Last year my multi-hands on one piano work “Three on One” was performed in the Battle of the Pianists concert in Maui while I was in Utrecht. Ironically, rehearsing these multi-hand, multi-piano works with other pianists just makes me miss sightreading chamber music with string and wind players even more!
Free concert – no reservation required. Get there early — last year was standing room only!
Background solo piano music to a yoga session in Maui led one practitioner on a trip down memory lane.
Yesterday afternoon, I attended my first yoga session since returning to Maui. The new instructor put on piano music as background to the 1.5 hour session. At first it was not intrusive, for I did not recognise any of the pieces. They seemed like improvisations or new age music that’s not familiar.
This sort of music was what I had been collecting as background music to play in hotels and social occasions: music that is unfamiliar and not intrusive.
After awhile, the music got repetitive. I could figure out the same pattern of chord progressions. Very tonal. Very predictable.
As I lay there on my back with one leg on one side and my arms on the other in a typical “twist” position, I listened to the music and started wondering who wrote these solo piano pieces. More questions arose.
Who played them?
Where did the yoga instructor get her music?
Would I recognise any piece?
Was it all piano music?
How did the instructor select these pieces? Was it a pre-compiled selection specifically destined for Vinyasa Yoga?
Just when I was about to give up trying to figure out the music, or more importantly, whether I could have played and recorded a selection of my own favourites, I heard a chord that I recognised.
It was Debussy’s Clair de Lune. A hesitant introduction to a scene in the movie “Twilight.” I forgot yoga. I started listening actively. This interpretation was different from mine. What’s next?
Erik Satie. Gnossiennes number 1.
While I was listening and hunting for the correct title – not Gymnopedies but Gnossiennes, I also thought of the composer’s background and life. I was no longer conscious of the yoga moves or the yoga positions but completely absorbed in the classical music world that I had left behind in the Netherlands.
Surprisingly, after Satie, came Brahms. It was one of his many intermezzos that took me through my brief stay this past summer in Holland.
After Brahms, I expected more romantic music but instead it regressed to an early Baroque piece. Perhaps it was Bach. Perhaps it was a reduced version of a work used in film music. I could not pin it down. But it reminded me of the piano solo transcription of the theme from one of his harpsichord concertos that was used in the movie “Hannah and Her Sisters.” I played and recorded it on my Steinway in Utrecht, Netherlands in early August 2011.
When it ended, I came back from my trip down memory lane. What next?
Just two chords and I knew it was Chopin. It was a nocturne I had played before. It was not my favourite but it was definitely familiar. I had once aspired to record an entire CD of Chopin for my mother but I became too critical of myself.
Anne Ku remembers the 1st July 2011 concert of Nathanael May the way she planned it and invites the guests to comment.
Rather than writing a review of the two back-to-back concerts on the first weekend of July 2011 at the Monument House, I would like to invite the guests to LEAVE A REPLY below with their comments. Already I’d like to thank Susan Raddatz for her photos and blog reviews.
What led me to organise solo concerts for two different artists on two consecutive evenings with two different caterers, plus fundraising activities, masterclass, panel discussion, and an opening act? Never at the Monument House, had we undertaken such variety besides the live music. Could it be a desire to reciprocate and replicate all that we learned on our 24-concert coast-to-coast tour of the USA since October 2010? Or simply a desire to share with audiences in the Netherlands?
There was the option to have the two American pianists to share a programme, each giving half a concert, and simply repeat it the next evening. Being a culture vulture, I wanted all of one artist, not twice of two halves. I mistakenly assumed that others could afford the time to indulge in two separate concerts on two consecutive evenings at the beginning of the summer holiday season.
There was no grand plan in organising these concerts. It was rather ad hoc and piecemeal, largely due to the fact that I was on the other side of the world when the planning began. In January 2011, I spoke to Nathanael May about his travel plans for Europe. For the first time since 2005 when he first launched his music festival in Italy, Utrecht was on his way.
Knowing how busy and popular organic wine tasting was, I booked Eveline Scheren immediately. Nathanael told me about Texas-based pianist Brendan Kinsella, who was a guest faculty at the same festival. I reserved 1st and 2nd July 2011 on my calendar. When I returned to the Netherlands on 28th May 2011, I started looking at the details of what Nathanael and Brendan were going to play. The one piece that stood out above others was Dutch composer Jacob ter Veldhuis‘ “Body Of Your Dreams,” which I had first seen performed by Thomas Rosenkranz in Cortona, Italy in 2006.
By mid-June, with less than 3 weeks before the concerts, I considered adding a pre-concert dinner. Where would I get a chef? On Sunday 12th June 2011, just before my outdoor yoga event in the back garden, I attended a house concert of Carol Ruiz Gandia who mentioned that her friend had catered for more than 30 people not long ago. This was just what I needed to attract more people to come. Chef Alberto prepared an authentic Andalucian meal for 20 people on 1st July 2011.
As I wanted to try some of the fundraising techniques I learned in the USA, I decided to include a Raffle Draw, Silent Auction, and CD sales. Not everything translated culturally I soon discovered. Local merchants, unlike those in the USA, were not used to being asked to donate items for auction or raffle. I managed to get my fitness club on the other side of the canal, BodySports, to donate several summer passes (unlimited group lessons for 2 consecutive weeks) and Ton van den Ijssel, the bicycle shop behind our home, to donate several 100% T-shirts. The closest word in Dutch to “raffle” was “lotterij” or “lottery,” and the concept was strange in the context of a classical concert. Silent auction was even more foreign. Nonetheless, we did manage to encourage several risk-taking guests to put their bids for a barbecue dinner with us, guitar lesson, sightreading workshop, our 3-CDs produced in Maui, a set of speakers and amplifier, and Paul Richards “Fables, Forms, and Fears” CD (with Nathanael May’s Strung Out Trio).
Thankfully wine tasting was popular, and organic wine even more intriguing. By asking Ms Scheren to provide the wines, we hosts freed ourselves to attend to the artists and the guests. In the past when we purchased the wines ourselves and allowed the guests to pour their own, we risked certain guests drinking too much, staying too late, and causing problems with other guests. Verdict: wines should be served and not self-served.
Quite late in the planning, I suddenly remembered that we had offered master class and workshop at two previous house concerts. Would anyone be interested in participating? The Dutch are fond of master classes, but the inclusion in the publicity was too late. Tom Rose, who recently launched his own blog for learning to play the piano as an adult, was the lucky recipient of the coaching of both pianists on 1st July 2011 from 5 to 6 pm. He played Haydn: Sonata in F Hob XVI No. 23 1st and 2nd Movements and Martinu: Etude in F. Last piece in Book 3 of Etudes and Polkas.
The changing weather in the Netherlands was kind on 1st July 2011. We were able to hold the Andalucian dinner outdoors in the back garden. The highlight of Chef Alberto’s menu was the Pisto Cordobes acompanado con pan en aceite de la tierra: vegetables cooked for hours with tender loving care, resulting in irresistible mouth-watering heavenly goodness.
In the back of my mind, I wanted to hold a panel discussion, much like the one I facilitated at the house concert in San Francisco last November after a pre-concert dinner and sightreading workshop. Given the budget cuts in the arts and the negative impact of global recession, I was very much interested in the survival of classically trained musicians. Clearly our conservatory education had not prepared us for this. Could we learn from successful musical entrepreneurs? I invited Amsterdam-based mezzo soprano Carla Regina to talk about her foundation Voice Actually and pianist Nathanael May to talk about the contemporary music festival he founded in Italy. Both musicians went beyond the usual career path of performance to establish new vehicles that served others.
5 pm Master class
6 pm Doors open for pre-concert dinner
7 pm – 7:45 pm Panel discussion
8:15 pm Opening Act: Robert Bekkers, guitar
Andante Religioso from El CATHEDRAL, Preludio A. Barrios Mangore
Allegro from BWV 998 Prelude J.S. Bach
CAPPRICHO DIABOLICO M. Castelnuovo-Tedesco
8:40 pm Concert: Nathanael May, piano
by George Antheil (1900-1959)
Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)
George Gershwin (1898-1937)
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
John Carollo (b.1954)
In a Landscape (1948) by John Cage (1912-1992)
Any Resemblance is Purely Coincidental (1980) “for piano and tape” by Charles Dodge (b. 1942)
Preludio (2011) by Ada Gentile (b. 1947)
Rain Tree Sketch II (1992) by Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996)
The Body of Your Dreams (2004) for piano and boombox” by Jacob Ter Veldhuis (b. 1951)
Classical musicians are trained to perform not entertain. However, increasingly audiences want entertainment. Is there a compromise?
At conservatory, we’re taught to perform not entertain. Yet the world of performance is being crowded out by demand for entertainment.
Famous classical pieces take on new meaning after they have been chosen as themes for movies. Chopin’s posthumous Nocturne in C sharp minor reminds us of the movie “The Pianist.” Whenever I play it, I think of that tragic atmosphere of loss and hopelessness.
Debussy’s Clair de Lune accompanies that delicate moment when Bella visits Edward for the first time. My friend in Denver wants me to play it exactly the way it sounds in the Twilight movie.
Or is simply that classical music takes on a new context when used in situations that bear meaning to us?
Would it be a compromise on our training and eternal quest for beauty and perfection to abdicate performance and embrace entertainment?
Or should we pay attention to what our listeners want? They want to hear those tunes that remind them of the good times in their lives, the movies they love, the weddings they attended (or perhaps their own). We as musicians can easily execute that.
To us, Pachelbel’s Canon in D may be a performance. To them, it’s entertainment — reminding them of the theme from “Ordinary People.”
My friend in DC sent me the following clip of the most popular string quartet in Poland. They are popular because they are entertaining. But more importantly, they are virtuosic, creative, and fun! Mozart would be laughing at this. Click on Mozart Group.
In short, a performance can be entertaining. But to differentiate ourselves and to draw audiences, we as performing artists may need to do more than interpret the music the way we think the composers expect their works to be played.