Glass works on water at the Monument House Utrecht

Music after concerts at the Monument House in Utrecht by pianist Brendan Kinsella and art exhibition of Liz Miller.

After the thirty black chairs have been folded and removed from the ground floor, the Monument House is once again spacious and full of potential. Two days after the last concert of 2nd July 2011, I asked Brendan Kinsella to play something on the piano so I could capture that feeling of peace and freedom. That afternoon before he left for the Hague, we were sightreading the multi-hand piano duets I had collected — and thus the sheet music scattered on the floor. Earlier that morning, pianist Nathanael May, who gave the previous concert on 1st July, had left for Milan, Italy to open the annual contemporary music festival he founded in 2005 and still directs.

Continue reading “Glass works on water at the Monument House Utrecht”

Live piano music for new art exhibition

The experience of a pianist playing background music at an artist reception of new works shows that people do listen. Live music does make a difference.

How do you attract people to come to a new exhibit of artworks?

  1. Announce it in the papers. Send out personal invitations. E-mail those on the mailing list. Tweet.
  2. Serious buyers would come if invited to the private viewing or artist reception.
  3. Others would come out of curiosity.
  4. Add champagne and hors d’oeuvres to entice people to stay, view the works, and chat with the artists.
  5. Add live music to encourage the flow of conversation and set the ambiance.

When we visited the NaPua Gallery in the Grand Wailea in mid-March 2011, I imagined live music at the next artist reception. When I accepted the invitation to play there, I imagined myself sitting at the Yamaha baby grand outside the main entrance, luring people to visit the gallery. I collected a variety of sheet music for that event, to play as background music.

  • Le Onde and other new age, modal music by the Italian composer Ludivico Einaudi
  • Piano arrangements by Dan Coates
  • Songs sung by Elton John (as he gave a concert on Maui not too long ago)
  • Classical pieces by Robert Schumann, Claude Debussy, and others

On the day before the event, I learned that the baby grand piano was not available. I had two choices: give up the gig or bring my own instrument.

It would have been easy to give up the gig, but I had already imagined myself playing the music I had selected for this event. Not only that, I also wanted to be an integral part of that event — to meet the artists, to see their works, and to participate in something so beautiful. Having had some of the most interesting conversations at private viewings of contemporary art in London and Amsterdam, I did not want to give up the opportunity to attend my first such event on Maui.

With little time to spare, I decided to ask two music lovers I had befriended recently. “May I borrow your clavinova?”

Help a friend in need, and you become a friend indeed.

Moving the 25-year old Yamaha Clavinova (pictured below) required first dismantling the keyboard from its stand, three people to lift the weighted keyboard, fitting the items into the car, unloading the items onto a trolley, wheeling it to an elevator, and reassembling the items on site. My friends had endless patience and no complaint about the interruption to their Saturday.

Live piano music at artist reception at the NaPua Gallery in the Grand Wailea
Live piano music at artist reception at the NaPua Gallery in the Grand Wailea, photo. W. Herrerra

On a tropical island where the salt in the air and humidity cause pianos to wear out sooner than usual, piano owners incur high maintenance costs. A local piano tuner told me that he spends most of his time repairing pianos. A good instrument is rare to come by. How then does a newcomer find a piano to practise on, let alone to perform?

As it turned out, the electric piano was not a poor substitute for the real thing. I played with the different settings and adjusted the volume. Unlike my concert performance earlier that day, the gallery performance was intended as background music. No one acknowledged me after each piece like the residents in the luxury retirement home that same afternoon. No one applauded. At times I felt invisible.

Just after 8 pm, I stopped. I joined the rest of the guests with a glass of champagne and a bite of the delicious crab cakes to meet the artists. I considered it a privilege to discuss the works with the creators. Once my music stopped, I started receiving feedback. People were listening after all.

Original acryllic miniatures, same size, different frames by Roxana Broadbent
Original acryllic miniatures, same size, different frames by Roxana Broadbent

Guitarist vs bartender at 3 Allen Center, Houston

Why do people tip bartenders but not musicians? Should musicians be more forefront about this?

The guitar is a portable and versatile instrument capable of stealing hearts and filling the uncomfortable silence that stops conversation in mid-sentence. When there is no piano, the guitar steps in.

At least that’s how I see it.

On Wednesday 10th November 2010, while I was visiting a pianist in River Oaks, Robert was playing at the opening of a new exhibition in downtown Houston. Photographs of new architecture based on old architecture were displayed at 3 Allen Center at 333 Clay Street. The Anza Falco Museum has yet a space of its own — thus the exhibition in a temporary space until 17th December 2010.

Around 5:30 pm, classical guitarist Robert Bekkers set up his Dutch guitar and amplification against a wall opposite the bar. He warmed up while the bartender was setting up the bar. After playing a few solos, he received a $5 bill from a young man. That’s when he realised that people wanted to show their appreciation by donations. Only when asked, did he mention that he had CDs for sell.

Compare this to the bartender. People were putting dollar bills into his glass as a tip. The bills piled up quickly.

Linda Marroquin and guitarist Robert Bekkers at 3 Allen Center
Linda Marroquin and guitarist Robert Bekkers at 3 Allen Center

Question:

Why are people conditioned to tip bartenders, waiters, and waitresses?  They already receive salaries.

Why don’t people pay musicians who don’t receive salaries? The Dutch guitarist played for free but thanked those who donated and bought his CDs.

What makes a great exhibition?

On our last full day in Florence, my mother and I went to an exhibition that surely beats all others we’ve seen in the past two weeks. It reminds me of the Matisse-Picasso exhibition we had seen in the Tate Modern years ago. Both were well-curated, informative, and entertaining. How can I apply what I’ve learned to our cross-domain initiatives at our Monument House Concert Series in Utrecht?

I consider myself rather new to the understanding and appreciation of visual art. My desire to attend exhibitions, however, started long ago, driven by curiosity and the kiasoo syndrome (not wanting to miss out). Over time, through conversations with artist friends and connoisseurs, I’ve learned that it takes time to understand and appreciate visual art, just as one would with music.

Much of what I know today comes from the high school humanities course I took from the late Mr Darwin Scales. His passion for art, music, literature, history, and philosophy was contagious. He was the reason I so wanted to see Europe at the age of 21.

On our last full day in Florence, my mother and I went to an exhibition that surely beats all others we’ve seen in the past two weeks. It reminded me of the Matisse-Picasso exhibition we had seen in the Tate Modern years ago. Both were well-curated, informative, and entertaining.

The last portrait in Florence

We did not expect “Art and Illusions” at the Palazzo Strozzi to keep us intrigued and interested for three hours. [Clearly management of expectations has a lot to do with this. Since we didn’t expect much, we were pleasantly surprised.]

 

Art and Illusions at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy
Art and Illusions at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy

We had a lot of time available on this sunny but slightly chilly day. It was our last day before heading south to Rome. It was the last museum we had planned to visit. [Exhibitions are not for the time-challenged. Less is more. I regret having rushed through Galleria dell’Academia and not had the time to sit and stare at Michelangelo’s David.]

 

We had not seen an exhibition like this before. [Novelty is an important factor.]

The bilingual text that accompanied each painting and exhibit was informative and clear. [This can be said of most museums, churches, and galleries that we have visited in Florence and Venice.]

The audio guide added value to the existing text. There were also musical interludes, i.e. music and illusions. [These additional things consistently supported the main theme.]

The last portrait in the Art and Illusions exhibition in Palazzo Strozzi in Florence
The last portrait in the Art and Illusions exhibition in Palazzo Strozzi in Florence

It was well-organised and divided into different relevant sections. We did not get lost. The exhibition built upon our knowledge. [As a result, we could focus on the content and not get confused or distracted.]

Most of all, the subject of art and illusions was interesting. I can think of parallels in music and acoustics, such as the way we fill in skipped notes to make a melody that otherwise would not make sense, the way we skip over false notes in our listening, the way we dismiss what we don’t want to hear. There are certainly compositional techniques that deceive the ear just as techniques of “trompe l’oeil” achieve visual illusions.

Combining visual art with live music performance

Liz Miller Photo Exhibition at Monument House Concert Series in Utrecht, Netherlands
Liz Miller Photo Exhibition at Monument House Concert Series in Utrecht, Netherlands

How can I apply what I’ve learned to our cross-domain initiatives at our Monument House Concert Series in Utrecht? We had launched our first exhibition at the last house concert of solo guitar from South Africa on 3rd October 2009. Although the concert was sold out in three days and a success by all accounts, I felt the need to give the exhibition more visibility.

Expand on the theme of water (as shown in the 13 polaroid images in the piano room) to coincide with a concert on the theme of water. Already a pianist has offered to play Ravel’s Jeux Deux. Our duo will play Lan Chee Lam’s Drizzle. Anybody for Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude?

Photo exhibition of Liz Miller at the Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands
Photo exhibition of Liz Miller at the Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands