Live recording for radio Houston

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo returned to Houston in 2010 and appeared on Houston Public Radio KUHF Front Row Programme for the second time with previews of their forthcoming second CD Winter!

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What a surprise to discover  Houston Public Radio KUHF chose us for their final programme of the Front Row in 2010! We had pre-recorded it on Friday 12th November 2010, a busy day that began at 6:30 am with interview at another Houston radio station, followed by a free public concert at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The nearly one hour programme is on the KUHF webpage. “Husband-and-wife musicians, guitarist Robert Bekkers and pianist Anne Ku treat us to a salon concert from the Geary Performance Studio! Based in The Netherlands, …” more

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo in Warmond, Netherlands Photo: Humphrey Daniels
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo in Warmond, Netherlands Photo: Humphrey Daniels

The program previews our forthcoming CD Winter — which follows our first CD Summer! The producer Bob Stevenson asked us to play the first and last (skipping the slow second) movement of Vivaldi’s Winter from his Four Seasons. We gave this programme during 2010 in the Netherlands and on our 5-week USA tour.

Included on this show was a short guitar solo cadenza of the Dutch national anthem which Robert invented for the lengthy Grand Potpourri National. The other original work for piano and guitar was the second half of Amsterdam-based composer Gijs van Dijk’s “Abstract and Dance.” Robert Bekkers had arranged Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (first piece on the KUHF programme and played in its entirety). Another arranged piece for our duo was Fritz Kreisler’s version of Manuel de Falla’s Spanish Dance from La Vida Breve which we both adapted for piano and guitar (also the entire piece).

Order of works on the Front Row Program:

first part: (mp3)

  • Arrival of the Queen of Sheba Handel, arr. Bekkers
  • Spanish Dance from La Vida Breve, de Falla, arr. Kreisler, Bekkers, Ku

second part: (mp3)

  • Winter, Vivaldi, arr. Bekkers (1st and 3rd movement only)

third part: (mp3)

What’s interesting about this recording session was that we were playing to an invisible and unknown audience that would listen in the future — an unknown date in the future on which it would be broadcasted and an unknown date on which people would listen online. There was no applause in the recording studio of the radio station. You could say we had only two people in the audience in the studio: the producer Bob Stevenson interviewing us, and sound engineer Todd Hulslander on the other side of the glass window.

Some corrections: I didn’t graduate from Utrecht University but Utrecht Conservatory in 2008, two completely different institutions both located in Utrecht, Netherlands. Robert mentioned he had to bring down “Winter” one whole note — what he meant was whole tone — a Dutchism.

The radio programmers chose a photo of us taken by the Dutch photographer Humphrey Daniels in a monastic church in Warmond, Netherlands where we had recorded a concert towards the end of 2008. One of those pieces (recorded by Dutch sound engineer Boy Griffioen) found its way to our first CD Summer — Romance from Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nacht Musik, arranged for our duo by Robert Bekkers.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo at Utrecht Conservatory K108 Photo: Olaf Hornes
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo at Utrecht Conservatory K108 Photo: Olaf Hornes

We noticed a huge difference between our second recording at KUHF in 2010 and the first in 2007! The first live recording and interview in December 2007 was also the first time Robert and I had ever appeared on radio. We thought we would pre-record it and thus arrived an hour early. Little did we know that it was going to be a LIVE broadcast! We were less talkative and less knowledgeable about being interviewed in 2007.

Relocating and reinventing yourself

Do you have to relocate to reinvent yourself? Or just find the time to write? Anne Ku discovers why she admires authors and writers so much.

This December, my sister said,”Why don’t you write a book about relocating? You’ve done it so many times. If anyone knows how to do it, it would be you.”

Last December, my writing teacher said,”Why don’t you write a book about how to organise a house concert? Everyone who goes to your house concerts is thinking — gosh! I wish I could do this in my house. You can sell it to your audiences.”

People whom I’ve met on our USA concert tour have said to me,”Why don’t you write a book about your tour?”

There are many books I can write. There are many books I’d love to write. But I only have time to blog.

How do I make the time to write? A blog is not a book.

A friend who loved to write but never wrote a book told me to get up in the morning and just write.

When I discovered that “The Four Seasons” was the title of a new novel while researching Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, I wrote and introduced myself to the San Diego based author. Laurel Corona promptly sent me the novel. I’ve been following her on Facebook and Twitter ever since.

I am now half-way around the world from where I have been living most of my adult life. I am closer to my roots than anywhere I’ve lived in the last 20 years.

At the Rotary Club Maui luncheon last Thursday, I met the author Jill Engledow. I promptly visited Borders bookstore in Kahului and bought her book — “Island life 101: a newcomer’s guide to Hawai’i.” I am half-way through the book already.

This afternoon, I sat on a dried up tree trunk on the pebbled north shore of Waiehu Beach road and read another book while Robert body surfed.

For some reason, Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” caught my attention in a book store at one of the many airports I lingered at recently. I found it again, overdue in a stack of books destined to be returned to Wailuku Public Library. I had been wanting to immerse myself in a book since I left the Netherlands. Now, I can’t put it down. Liz, as the author called herself, relocated and reinvented herself.

Tonight I watched “Message in a Bottle” on Netflix online. While perusing the author’s website, I read about his life and how he got into writing. Nicholas Sparks did not stop whatever he was doing in his life to become an author. He just wrote. He eventually got published.

Perhaps being away from my normal environment will help me realise a dream. Perhaps that’s why I admire authors so much.

New concert programme for 2010

We are now preparing a completely new programme for 2010. What sets it apart from previous programmes is that it is full of new transcriptions that are equally fun and exciting for piano and guitar. We open with Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo photo credit: Humphrey Daniels, Warmond

We are now preparing a completely new programme for 2010, to debut on 21st January 2010 in Doorn, Netherlands. What sets it apart from previous programmes is that it is full of new transcriptions that are equally fun and exciting for piano and guitar.

We open with Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, whose 4-hand one piano score could easily be read for our piano and guitar combination. While I was visiting Helsinki in mid-November to play the duet with my Finnish friend, Robert Bekkers transcribed it for our duo. It’s a piece that makes me happy every time I play it.

The choice for the second piece is tricky. I’m not sure what to put between the Queen of Sheba and the third piece: Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Perhaps we should choose a lesser known piece, just to break the familiarity of sticky tunes, or as the composer and pianist Daniel Abrams suggested, a solo piano or guitar piece.

Robert arranged Winter for our duo, largely because the Summer concerto worked so well for us. The latter was very exciting and challenging to play in sync. He chose it after spotting a young Korean guitarist playing the fast sections on youtube. Originally written for string orchestra, Winter is much easier to play than Summer. I particularly like the second movement – Largo. How fitting it is to study Winter in the final week of 2009 with snow thawing on the ground. I feel that sweet contentment of being indoors, in the warmth and coziness of a well-insulated Dutch house. Winter has never been like this, where I grew up — in the subtropics.

I first heard Manuel de Falla’s Danse Espagnole from the opera La Vida Breve at a final exam concert at the Utrecht Conservatory in 2008. I was so taken by it that I invited the Spanish violinist Angel Sanchez Marote and the Okinawan pianist Shumpei Tanahara to play it again in our Monument House Concert Series. [A midsummer afternoon tea concert programme PDF] I asked Angel (pronounced An – hul) where to get the music. He said it was one of many popular arrangements by Fritz Kreisler, available at music book stores. Coincidentally, Robert owned an arrangement for two guitars which he rehearsed with his own duo. His guitar part was 80% the same as the violin part in the violin-piano score I found at a second-hand sheet music store in Amsterdam. Needless to say, it was a matter of time before we adjusted the score for our piano guitar duo.

I was delighted to stumble upon a video clip of Angel playing the Spanish Dance, with a different pianist (below).

The only works in our new programme that are original to piano and guitar are the Grand Duo Concertant and Grand Potpourri National which are long enough to fit a concert by themselves. The former was a collaboration between 33 year old Mauro Giuliani and 19 year old Ignaz Moscheles, and the latter between Giuliani and Johann Nepomuk Hummel. The 25-minute Grand Potpourri National is a joy to play. It contains themes of national anthems of the countries in 1815 when it was written. So far we’ve only managed to identify Rule Britannia and Haydn’s Deutschland Uber Alles which became the Austrian national anthem. We’re told there is also Vive Henri IV (French national anthem). What about the others?

When I met the English guitarist and composer David Harvey in London in 2006, he gave me his arrangement of Piazzolla’s Tango Suite no. 2 (from his guitar duos). It’s only now that we have time to include it in our repertoire. We played it recently for my Rotary Club gathering.

We revisit another great Spanish maestro, the blind composer Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999), whose Fantasia para un Gentilhombre took us through all of 2009. This time, we return to his most famous guitar concerto, if not THE most famous of all guitar concertos: the Aranjuez. Robert had arranged the beautiful slow movement for himself as soloist with an ensemble of flute, bassoon, and guitar in an outdoor summer concert which I organised in London (photo below). Since 2002, we’ve considered studying all three movements of the Concierto de Aranjuez, we’ve never been so convinced until now to include it in our program.

Robert Bekkers arrangement of Aranjez Concerto 2nd movement
Robert Bekkers arrangement of Aranjuez Concerto 2nd movement

Ever since I saw Bizet’s Carmen in Amsterdam, I promised and vowed to make an arrangement of my favourite pieces from this delightful opera. The orchestral score has been sitting on my grand piano for months while I searched for interesting piano solo and duet arrangements. Perhaps my own arrangement for piano and guitar will be the missing second piece in our new programme. That’s my way of getting back into the swing of composing again.

Searching for Vivaldi in Venice

As I am particularly fond of reading novels about music and musicians, I took Corona’s “Four Seasons” to consume …. Although it was not live music, I was satisfied that there was finally an installation and acknowledgement of Vivaldi in Venice.

The Four Seasons by Laurel Corona
The Four Seasons by Laurel Corona

When I was preparing the programme notes for our piano guitar duo’s version of “Summer” for our concert in Madrid, I found the new novel entitled “The Four Seasons” on the Web. As it had just been published in late 2008, I contacted the author out of curiosity. San Diego-based Laurel Corona had woven an interesting story around Vivaldi and the Venice that he lived in, largely based on her own research and filling in the gaps where history had recorded none.

As I am particularly fond of reading novels about music and musicians, I took Corona’s “Four Seasons” to consume on holiday in Seville in April 2009. While reading it, I started planning an in-depth tour of Venice with my 70-year old mother, who had never been to Italy before.

I had stopped in Venice briefly when I was 21 and remembered the crowds of tourists at Piazza San Marco. A day later, I hopped on the overnight train to Switzerland.

Venice deserves a second chance.

Armed with “The Rough Guide to Venice and the Veneto” I navigated the 118 islands and 400 bridges of that floating labyrinth which my friends in Amsterdam called “a 17th century time capsule.” The art historian, who rented us the 18th-century palazzo with a stunning view of the Grand Canal, told us about the 53rd Biennale and the various related contemporary art exhibitions. In the ensuing days, we lingered at Peggy Guggenheim‘s extraordinary collection of modern art and sculpture and visited every church that was on our way to the “must-sees” listed in the guidebook.

By the sixth day, I was stomped. The live “classical” music available were limited to 1) various outdoor performances at restaurants in San Marco’s Square (5.50 euros per person if you sit down, and 10 euros for coffee); 2) a free one-off concert of recorder music during Titian’s time at a cultural centre; and 3) evening concerts of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (at 25 euros per ticket).

But Antonio Vivaldi had written more than 500 concertos (including 36 for bassoon), 90 operas, and some 46 operas. Surely there would be music of Vivaldi to grace this timeless treasure chest of culture! Or is the Four Seasons such a blockbuster (with Beethoven’s 9th a distant second place in the classical music world) that it overshadows other Vivaldi works?

When I had nearly exhausted my mother of visual stimulation, I stumbled upon a church not far from San Marco Square. First I heard the sound of a violin concerto. Then I walked into a display of the art of violin making by the Museo Della Musica. Although it was not live music, I was satisfied that there was finally an installation and acknowledgement of Vivaldi in Venice. Like other Vivaldi hunters before me, I had been inadvertently looking for his music.

“Finally,” I said to my mother. “I found Vivaldi. I shall have to come back with Robert.” Then he could fill the silence of the churches and the palazzos with his guitar music —- his Dutch guitar built in Amsterdam, where most of Vivaldi’s music was published. It would complete the circle.

Note to readers:

Vivaldi’s “Concerto in D Major for Guitar” was the first piece that our duo had read and played. Vivaldi’s “Summer” continues to surprise our audiences. We are now arranging “Winter.”

Laurel Corona’s “The Four Seasons” has been translated into French, German, and Spanish. The Dutch version is currently underway. I hope it will be translated into Chinese so that my mother will enjoy it as I have.

Getting ready for a concert

How do you react if one makes a mistake, such as playing a wrong note, a wrong chord, playing something too early or skipping a beat? There is no “undo button” to correct the situation. It’s all moving too fast. Not only do you have to anticipate the next move and prevent a wrong move, you have to cover up a wrong move if it happens.

Revised from “Getting ready for a concert” Facebook Notes, Monday 8 December 2008

Why is it necessary to be in shape (physically and mentally) to perform in a concert?

A concert is a real-time experience. In a duo situation, a performer not only has to be alert to his/own movements but also that of the other musician. It’s necessary to hear well and anticipate because performing chamber music is not only about making a sound from your instrument but mixing the sound with other(s).

How do you react if one makes a mistake, such as playing a wrong note, a wrong chord, playing something too early or skipping a beat? There is no “undo button” to correct the situation. It’s all moving too fast. Not only do you have to anticipate the next move and prevent a wrong move, you have to cover up a wrong move if it happens.

It’s a dead giveaway to show you have made a mistake by your facial expression. I didn’t know this until a few ladies in the audience told me they enjoyed my performance but felt that perhaps I didn’t because of the way I frowned. I learned afterwards never to show that I made a mistake or that my duo partner made a mistake.

How do you get yourself prepared for such a real-time “battle”? I say battle because it’s like fighting the chance of imperfectly executing your prepared moves. How do you get totally alert and stay focussed when you’re on stage?

A good night’s sleep helps. I have seen the detrimental effects of a late night’s sleep and jetlag. You can only stay 100% focussed for so long, and it becomes extremely hard when you’re fighting a lack of sleep. There is enough to battle on stage without having to fight the desire to fall asleep. It’s happened to me when I’ve “blacked out” in seconds to a dream-like state simply from lack of sleep. That’s toxic for the other performer.

Keeping in shape is another way to be prepared. I take regular exercises in aerobics, weight-lifting, yoga, and pilates. The guitarist is training for a marathon. In the Netherlands where there are safe cycle paths everywhere, cycling is THE way to travel from A to B. Cycling is tough in dark, wet, windy, gloomy winter weather. I still don’t know how the Dutch manage to carry things in the rain on their bicycles without getting wet. But they certainly stay trim and fit.

The relationship between the performers has to be clear and good. Misunderstandings, resentment, and other unspoken disagreement all get in the way of a good performance. Long ago I used to get stressed out before a major performance, and I’d argue with the guitarist and get mad. After awhile, he figured out that I was just nervous. With better preparation, good night’s sleep, physical exercise, better communication, and getting to the venue with plenty of time to spare, we now avoid such stressful confrontations.

Finally, a good diet and regular routine helps. My father always preached the Chinese way of walking the middle road and achieving balance in life. As impetuous a risk-taker as I am, I have learned that “extreme” living requires compensation at some point. If I eat too much, I feel uncomfortable. If I eat the wrong thing, I react. There is comfort in knowing the certainty of routine, as boring and predictable as it may be.

One more thing — a very important one: Don’t overeat before a concert, for digestion takes away concentration. I once cooked and ate a huge meal just before giving a full moon concert in North Wales. Not sure how the guitarist fared, but I will never forget that bloated feeling of fighting to focus on the music and finish before my stomach takes over everything else. Musicians are naturally hungry after a concert. And hungry musicians are eager to play.

Related stories:
Preparing for a concert, March 2004 Bussum

Competing against the weather, June 2004 Den Haag

The second set and Schumann’s Traumerei, June 2004 Bussum

The nuts and bolts of a duo concert

The last concert we gave in November 2008 took place in a monastic church in a village north of Leiden (home of the oldest Dutch university). We drove there in the snow. We received a standing ovation and did an encore out of courtesy.

Revised from “Starting a blog of my concerts” from Facebook Notes, Wednesday 3 December 2008

My life these days revolves around concerts. That is, performing on the piano, with my duo partner — the classical guitarist. Hence our rather generic name of “piano guitar duo.”

It begins with fixing a date, time, venue, and programme — blocking off a chunk of time on the calendar. Then practising (by myself), rehearsing with my duo partner, and preparing for the concert. When the day arrives, it’s the usual ritual to put on my make-up, fill a thermos flask with hot rooibos or other herbal tea & sometimes make sandwiches or other light snack to eat in the car, drive there, warm up and check the accoustics, change into concert clothes, and play.

My duo partner meanwhile has the arduous task of finding the route on Google Earth and jotting down the necessary phone number and address. [After he received the surprise free gift from his mobile phone provider for New Year’s Eve, he started using the iphone’s GSM facilities instead of the old paper ritual.]

I never don’t know what to expect in terms of the quality of the piano and the acoustics, unless we get to rehearse before the day of the concert. Because the piano and the guitar are “attack” instruments (rather than the “sustain” kind of string and wind instruments), it’s necessary to get the balance right. The quality of the sound we produce is highly dependent on the acoustics of the room and the piano.

We have to get there at least half-an-hour before the concert, preferably one hour before, to permit enough time to warm up and adjust to the acoustics and instruments. If the acoustics are too dry, I have to use more pedal. If too resonating (like in a big church), I sometimes avoid the right pedal altogether. If the piano is too loud, I may have to close the lid completely and reluctantly.

I usually never get to see the piano or the venue beforehand, unless it’s a place my duo has performed before. So far, of the concerts we’ve given in the past 7 years, it’s always been for the first time at that particular venue. The surprises make interesting stories, enough to fill a book or a television series.

The last concert we gave in November 2008 took place in a monastic church in Warmond, a village north of Leiden (home of the oldest Dutch university). We drove there in the snow. We received a standing ovation and did an encore out of courtesy. We had arranged for a recording engineer to record the 1 hour concert and a photographer to take professional photos of us afterwards. There was a lot of equipment and setting-up. The concert was also video recorded by a student of the guitarist, see below.

Summer (second movement) from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, arranged by R.A. Bekkers