Gitaar = guitar (in Dutch)

Young blonde guitarist plays the electric gitaar (in Dutch) from a photo from long ago.

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This morning, while scanning my e-mails as usual, I almost deleted an unknown sender with the subject line “Old looks.” Out of curiosity, I opened it and read a seasons’ greetings in the familiar multi-lingual text that is commonly found in the Netherlands:

Beste mensen,

Wat ik nu toch vond.

Met vriendelijke groet/best regards/bien à vous/mit freundlichen Grüßen/Sinceramente,

Jan Paul Barentsen
Bizz’Co

Scrolling down further, I saw a photo of a young man with flying blonde hair playing electric guitar. Something about him made me stop and stare. He was around 18 or 19 years of age. He looked familiar. Apparently he sold his moped to buy this instrument.

Young man playing electric guitar
Young man playing electric guitar

I would have liked to meet the young guitarist. By the time I finally met him, his hair was more dirty blonde than blonde. He sold the Telecaster electric guitar long ago.

Thank you, Jan Paul, for this photo of the young Robert. What a nice Christmas gift! Hope to meet you someday.

Panoramic preview in Paleochora, Crete

Any mention of the Greek islands conjures up unforgettable images of clear blue skies, deep Mediterranean waters, and sunbathing on the sandy beaches. Half a lifetime later, I return to Greece once again, no longer alone but with a Dutch guitarist, an American photographer, and an American film maker to the largest of all Greek islands: Crete. Joining us from Belgium is a Norwegian artist, also curious and brave enough to make something creative in the one week we have together. The theme of this year’s project is WIND. What can you do with an acoustic classical guitar without amplification?

Any mention of the Greek islands conjures up unforgettable images of clear blue skies,  deep Mediterranean waters, and sunbathing on the sandy beaches. That was my memory of Mykonos, Naxos, and Corfu when I first ventured here as a college student.

Half a lifetime later, I return to Greece once again, no longer alone but with a Dutch guitarist, an American photographer, and an American film maker to the largest of all Greek islands: Crete. Joining us from Belgium is a Norwegian artist, also curious and brave enough to create something in the one week we have together for a possible exhibition in a museum in Brugges early next year.

Panoramic view from top of Paleochora Crete
Panoramic view from top of Paleochora Crete

Months ago when we as a duo first decided to participate in the Levka Ori project, we had sought in vain to find a venue with a piano in the ancient village of Paleochora, sometimes spelled Paleohora. Without it, any concert (if at all) would be solo guitar. And so I left my music behind in Utrecht but brought my laptop to record this journey and enjoy the last days of summer with the 2,000 inhabitants of this peninsular paradise.

On Saturday 22 August 2009, Fernand, the founder of the Levka Ori project in its 14th continuous year, introduced us to several high altitude areas in this southwestern part of Crete. We scaled various mountain tops to embrace the breathtaking panoramic views and test the acoustics only to be blown away by the strong and deafening Cretan wind. [For current conditions of temperature, wind direction and speed, check the real-time updates.]

The theme of this year’s project is WIND. What can you do with an acoustic classical guitar without amplification? We brainstormed numerous ideas: concert for guitar and wind, mosaic of guitar with wind, the wind playing the guitar, and fantasia for guitar with wind. While the other participants walked around the “Magnesia” site formulating their plans for the rest of the week, the guitarist walked from stone to stone, peak to peak, experimenting with his guitar and that fierce and unpredictable entity called the Cretan wind.

By late afternoon, we conceded that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to compete against the wind. We drove downhill and stopped at a lone Cretan church for a rest.

Cretan church above Paleochora, Crete
Cretan church above Paleochora, Crete

While inhaling the 360-degree view from this plateau, I heard the beautiful sound of solo guitar floating from the church. I posed for a memory and joined the others in the small white-washed building.

Anne Ku next to church above Paleochora, Crete
Anne Ku next to church above Paleochora, Crete

The romantic sound of nylon strings plucked against wood free from the wind welcomed us into that small space. Natural light acted as spot lights on the old mosaic floor. The guitarist stopped. He was only experimenting with chords and harmonics.

“Please play something I like,” I requested.

Outside the wind continued its roar. But inside the clean space of the Cretan church, I enjoyed a private concert of solo guitar.

Robert Bekkers in a Cretan church above Paleochora, Crete
Robert Bekkers in a Cretan church above Paleochora, Crete

Sunset in Ealing London with solo guitar

With my mobile phone, I recorded Robert Bekkers playing Tarrega’s famous Requerdos d’Alhambra. It was the last time I’d enjoy my garden with live music this year.

Beyond my garden, a park and a school
Beyond my garden, a park and a school

I invited my neighbour Inge to see my garden before the adjoining fence got replaced. We sat down among the rubbish and debris to enjoy a glass of freshly squeezed orange and mango juice at sunset.

It had been more than six months since I last visited her. I wanted to tell her about our adventures in Spain, Belgium, and our forthcoming trips to Paris and Crete. As we recalled fondly the garden concert of June 2001, “Summer Solstice” and July 2002, “Spanish Summer Soiree,” Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers appeared.

Before the new fence was installed, my garden seemed boundless.
Before the new fence was installed, my garden seemed boundless.

“Bring your guitar down,” I begged.

“I’m still practising upstairs,” he protested.

“But it’s so nice out here,” I pleaded. “Give us a concert!”

He went indoors and brought out a bottle of beer instead of a guitar.

“Aren’t you going to play something?” I asked.

“First I’m going to take a break.”

Fence in progress in garden of Victorian Cottage London Ealing
Fence in progress in garden of Victorian Cottage London Ealing

He had boldly gone to the Great British Beer Festival the night before, which he regarded as the highlight of his working holiday week in London. I had brought him to London to inspect my Victorian cottage and fix anything that I couldn’t fix. [“Which,” exclaimed the guitarist, “is everything you can find.”]

Complaining that he did not have the proper tools, he asked me to hire a builder to repair the outside pipes, remove and replace the garden fences, and replace the kitchen drains. Between numerous minor chores, he tried to find time to practise while I fretted about the paperwork.

Inge interjected. “Let him have his beer, Anne. I should be going soon.”

“Don’t go yet,” I said. “I want to hear what his guitar sounds like out here. How often do you get to see across to my neighbour’s garden?”

Robert Bekkers in London Ealing
Robert Bekkers in London Ealing

With my mobile phone, I recorded Robert Bekkers playing Tarrega’s famous Requerdos d’Alhambra. It was the last time I’d enjoy my garden with live music this year.

Addendum:

The two builders returned the next morning to finish installing the adjoining hard-wood fence, a luxury beyond my imagination. These fences were unlike any other in this quaint neighbourhood of Victorian cottages.

With very little time left, Robert fixed the laundry lines in parallel while I cleaned the mahogany parquet floors. There was hardly enough time to pack and rush for the airport. The walk to the nearest Piccadilly tube station was compromised by having to pull an overweight suitcase containing two 4-packs of English West Country ciders, numerous second-hand sheet music and travel guides to Italy. And that was how we missed our flight back to Amsterdam.

The garden with new fence in London Ealing
The garden with new fences in London Ealing

Guitar music in Ermelo, Netherlands

…we drove eastward to Ermelo, a place that holds magic for those not acquainted with nature and its secrets. It was an intimate occasion, with local audience. Besides the sounds of nature, they can enjoy the fruit of their labour, such as new guitars made by the Amsterdam-based guitar builder Jeroen Hilhorst.

After our concert in Bussum (this time, a lovely Yamaha grand piano in a dry space with low system ceilings — can one ever get 100% perfect surroundings for a live concert?) we drove eastward to Ermelo, a place that holds magic for those not acquainted with nature and its secrets.

The previous (and second) time we came here, Robert Bekkers and his guitar duo gave a concert, followed by a tasty, home-cooked dinner. I was a mere spectator then. Earlier, on our first visit, we gave a small concert on guitar and keyboards. [Or was it just guitar solo? My memory escapes me – hence the reason for this blog!]

Both were intimate occasions, with a local audience comprising of neighbours in this forested community. Those lucky city dwellers, who retreat to their country houses on weekends and holidays, have an appreciation for the finer things in life. Besides the sounds of nature, they can enjoy (in a relaxed environment) the fruits of their labour, such as new guitars made by the Amsterdam-based luthier Jeroen Hilhorst.

Robert considers it a privilege to be the one to try out Jeroen’s new guitars, hot off the press. Secretly, however, he wants to make sure his own isn’t inferior to the new ones. Jeroen makes only 6 concert guitars per year, 2 at a time, on order for his international clients. On our third visit, Jeroen surprised us with three (not two) new guitars.

First Robert warmed up his fingers on his own guitar, which Jeroen had custom-built for him in November 2005. The concert guitar has served our piano guitar duo well, for it’s much louder than the normal guitar, allowing me to be free on the grand piano.

But it’s not the volume that makes such concert guitars so special. I can only compare it to quality mature red wine, the kind that causes an eruption of “aaaaah!” and makes you want to drink more of it after each sip. The sound surrounds you, like the way the “reserve” red wine fills your body with warmth. The more you listen to it, the more you want to drown in it and forget the world.

I suppose you only wake up to how special Jeroen’s guitars are when you listen to a “normal” classical guitar. Indeed, Robert doesn’t even allow me to touch his concert guitar.