When musicians meet, they play together

Today five virtuoso musicians met for the first time. Quartet San Francisco (QSF) was warming up in Gilman Chapel in Cedar Grove Cemetery. They had just driven up from Rhode Island where they were staying for a string workshop and concert at the university in their concert tour of Rhode Island, Boston, Lexington, and Martha’s Vineyard.

Robert Bekkers, who gave the inaugural concert of this new concert series, walked into the church and shook hands with them. He and Jeremy Cohen, founder and leader of QSF, had corresponded by e-mail after my introduction. One member of my ukulele pluck ensemble had told me about QSF, and after watching their videos, I was hooked.

Continue reading “When musicians meet, they play together”

Replaced by a string quartet

It began with a piano in London and ended with a string quartet in Boston.

It’s 8 am in London. My next door neighbor starts practising promptly. I have only met his wife who explained yesterday that he had a concert that evening. They moved into this neighborhood, what, 4 ? 5 years ago. Yet I never bothered to get to know them because one of them smokes, perhaps even both, albeit outside. The cigarette smoke drifts into my garden. And for that, I did not bother to get to meet, much less, know this virtuoso Russian concert pianist.

As the “Flight of the Bumble Bee” wears on, I find myself as the beneficiary of live background music. Ten years ago, I housed a young pianist who practised this exact piece every day while I made my move to the Netherlands. I could only imagine what my neighbors experienced through the brick walls.

Just last week, I unpacked my suitcase to the live background music of the classical guitar — Robert practising for his 3 gigs.

The third guitar concert culminated in Mauro Giuliani’s Theme & Variations. It was a piece I knew like the back of my hand. We went through it many times, the guitar struggling to be heard, the piano unresponsive and unsympathetic. After many years of tug and war, I finally relented.

The guitar cannot sound well if the guitarist has to force it to sound louder than the grand piano. Although it is absolutely possible, as Amsterdam-based composer Allan Segall proved in his first piece for piano and guitar, in most other cases the guitar has to struggle and the piano has to give in. The traditional way in which the duo is written assumes the piano is a fortepiano or some other subservient predecessor of today’s modern piano.

So Robert upgraded to a “concert guitar” — built to match the concert grand piano.

But I still had work to do. I had to constantly adjust to the volume and quality of the guitar sound.

There in Williams Hall at the New England Conservatory, on Tuesday 8th May, at approximately 9 pm, Robert performed Giuliani’s work with a string quartet. The four string players, by sheer nature of their instruments, brought out infinitely more color and texture than I could produce with 88 keys. Each of their four strings was a different instrument. They had the bows to help produce sound at different parts of the strings. They could pull, pluck, strum, hit, and more.

I sat back, resigned to my fate.

I had been replaced by a string quartet.

In the simplest case, my right hand was replaced by two violins and the left hand by the viola and cello. Thinking like this, every piano guitar duo piece can result in guitar and a string quartet or wind quartet or other combinations.

My eyes moistened as I thought of the years of preparation that led to this day. The guitarist can go on — playing solo with other instruments.

The pianist?

I’ve sold my Gerhard Adam grand piano in this Victorian cottage where I experimented with chamber music, house concerts, and eventually decided to pursue a degree in music. My Steinway Grand is sitting in a piano shop in Zeist, the Netherlands, waiting to be noticed, tried, and bought.

And I?

I have returned to where it all began. No piano. No audience. No house concert, but neighbor to a concert pianist who practises all day long.

C’est la vie.

Welcome to Boston Concert 1st September 2011

Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers gives his first concert since arriving in Boston in August 2011. The concert on 1st September 2011 features mainly solo guitar works and vocal works of Scarlatti, Cesti, and Bellini with counter tenor Yakov Zamir at the St John’s Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plains.

Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers will give his first concert since arriving in Boston on 24th August 2011, to study full-time with maestro Eliot Fisk at the New England Conservatory.

On Thursday 1st September 2011 at 8 pm, the public is invited to a concert of largely solo guitar works and several songs with guitar accompaniment. It’s the first time that Robert Bekkers will collaborate with counter tenor Yakov Zamir, an authority on the vocal works of Franz Liszt. The combination of counter tenor and classical guitar is very unique. They will perform vocal works of Cesti, Scarlatti, and Bellini.

The solo guitar works had earlier received a welcome reception in the Hague, Netherlands, at the Grote Kerk on 7th August 2011.

The audience is invited to socialise with the artists after the concert. Visit the JP Concerts website for information about the performers.

St. John’s Episcopal Church, Jamaica Plain, Boston
(Green Street station on Orange Line)

Thursday 1st September 2011

8 pm

Robert Bekkers, guitar

Yakov Zamir, counter tenor

Prelude, Fuga and Allegro BWV 998            J.S. Bach

El Cathedral                         A. Barrios-Mangore
Preludio, Andante Religioso, Allegro Solemne

Five Bagatelles                            W. Walton

Siete Canciones    a selection                M. de Falla


Cappricho Diabolico                            M. Castelnuovo-Tedesco

Intorno all’idol mio                  Cesti
Le Violette                                Scarlatti
Dolente Immagine di Fille Mia                    Bellini

Decameron Negro                            L. Brouwer

Chaconne                                J.S. Bach

Admission: $10

Robert Bekkers at the Grotekerk, Den Haag on 7 August 2011, The Netherlands
Robert Bekkers at the Grotekerk, Den Haag on 7 August 2011, The Netherlands

From Utrecht to Boston

A short account of how Robert Bekkers travelled from Utrecht, Netherlands to Boston, Massachusetts and two photos of his homes.

alternative title:  by foot, bus, train, plane, metro, foot

How did Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers travel from his home in Utrecht, Netherlands to Boston, Massachusetts?

The garden house that Robert Bekkers designed, got built, and lived in Utrecht, Netherlands
The garden house that Robert Bekkers designed, got built, and lived in Utrecht, Netherlands

Walk from home to bus stop. 3 minutes

Take bus number 4 to Utrecht Central Station. 5 minutes

Take the Intercity train from Utrecht Centraal (two a’s) to Schiphol Airport. 25 minutes.

Check-in at KLM counter.

Fly to Paris.

Change planes. One hour is barely enough time to get to the new gate!

Fly to Boston, Massachusetts.

Take the T-line to his final destination in the USA: his new home (below).

The house in Boston where RB lives
The house in Boston where RB lives

Mark Francis: Second Guitar Concerto, orchestral reduction for piano and guitar

Revisiting Mark Francis second guitar concerto, original version for guitar and orchestra vs orchestral reduction for piano and guitar premiered in Amsterdam on 17th July 2011 at a private birthday concert.

The positive reaction to our premiere of Mark Francis’ new work in Amsterdam led me to revisit the score.

Piano part from 1st movement of 2nd Guitar Concerto by Mark Francis
Piano part from 1st movement of 2nd Guitar Concerto by Mark Francis

Subtitled “In Somnis Verita” which means “in dreams there is truth,” the 2nd guitar concerto contains three movements albeit the composer had originally conceived of five. He wrote in the programme notes for the orchestral premiere in Jackson, Mississippi, “It is my belief that many people refuse to acknowledge what is true when they are conscious, but can’t escape from what they know to be true in their subconscious when sleeping. These things manifest themselves in dreams. Our subconscious will cobble things together in all kinds of strange scenarios. The music tries to depict these cobblings.”

A few days after the concert, I listened to the live recording of the orchestral premiere. I saw the piece come to life —- what the piano could not fully muster.

Guitar Concerto No. 2 by Mark Francis
Guitar Concerto No. 2 by Mark Francis

We had performed the first movement faster than the composer had intended (quarter note = 72). After the concert, we read Mark Francis’ programme notes, “The tempo of the first movement is slow, which sets the stage as our ‘dreamer’ drifts off to sleep and begins to dream. The opening triplet motif represents breathing. These are gentle dreams filled with longing and nostalgia. This movement is set in a kind of arch form.”

Guitar part to 1st movement of 2nd Guitar Concerto by Mark Francis
Guitar part to 1st movement of 2nd Guitar Concerto by Mark Francis

Who is the composer, Mark Francis?  He is a guitarist. He knows how to write music that guitarists like to play. That is very important. He wrote the second concerto specifically for guitarist Jimmy Turner, music director Wayne Linehan and the Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra in Jackson, Mississippi.

How did we discover Mark Francis? None other than my Call for Scores for multi-hand piano duets! He submitted two pieces which I will mention in a future blog post. Noticing that I had a piano guitar duo, he asked if we’d be interested to see his new concerto — reduced for piano and guitar. That’s how it started. Now I am even more curious about his first concerto and other works.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo, birthday concert in Amsterdam. Photo: FCAP
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo, birthday concert in Amsterdam. Photo: FCAP

Hooked on music – extended play of John Carollo

To get performers to want your music before they even get together to play it — that is the true calling of a composer.

Since my last blog post of 24th April —  after a great day of giving the Easter Sunday lunch concert, I stopped writing. Why? I had a car accident that very evening.

I had wanted to write about the choral concert of 30th April and the silent auction, the 42 new multi-hand piano duets I had received from 30 composers, my visit to George Kahumoku’s farm in Maui, and more…. and my upcoming travels to meet musicians in San Francisco, Denver, New York, and beyond. I will have to catch up during my 2 weeks of traveling.

Meanwhile, something can’t wait.

Tonight I received an mp3 of part 2 of a new piano guitar duo piece by the Honolulu-based composer John Carollo, who has also submitted a multi-hand duet to the sightreading piano soiree in San Francisco 15th May 2011. It is absolutely addictive to listen to, and I’m sure, even more addictive to play it.

When I first received it a few weeks ago, I complained that it was too short. Carollo made it a bit longer. I complained again. Minimalist music deserves an extended play. I actually confessed, “I hate to say it —- but I dig this music.”

It will be another 2 weeks before I get together with Robert Bekkers to try the 5-movement piano guitar duo. I can only imagine how the guitar part sounds as I play the piano part.

Click here to listen to the mp3

To get performers hooked on your music before they even get together to play it — that is some accomplishment!

Count down to guitar solo concert tour

Robert Bekkers, guitarist, prepares his three week solo concert tour of Boston to Phoenix in February.

Five hours before Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers boards the airplane for his trans-Pacific and coast-to-coast red-eye (overnight) flight from Maui to Boston, he finishes a hearty meal at the cafeteria of Maui College famous for its award-winning Culinary Academy. Every Monday to Thursday between 11 am and 1 pm, Paina Meals at $5 a plate are served. Today he chose the more expensive $7.90 swordfish with purple potato as a send-off meal. He knows that there will be NO complimentary meals served on Hawaiian Airlines and Delta Airlines for the long journey.

Guitarist Robert Bekkers at Maui College in Hawaii
Guitarist Robert Bekkers at Maui College in Hawaii

An e-mail from the concert host in Wells, Maine brings a reality check:

“As the day draws near, I’m praying for NO MORE SNOW! We’ve had so much with more expected, and I’m concerned about parking. There is just no more room to push the mountains of snow that have accumulated around the driveway.”

That concert of “Guitar meets Piano” will take place on Sunday 13th February, a day of travel for Robert Bekkers on the Boston T-line and the Amtrak. Before then, he will have given two house concerts in Boston. Valentine’s Day on Monday 14th February will be another day of travel, by Amtrak from Wells, Maine to Boston and then the Peter Pan coach to Manhattan.

What he brings to these concert hosts and their guests are three new CDs he produced in Maui: a solo guitar album and two live recordings of his Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo concerts in Maui and at Duke University. He hopes and expects the sale of these CDs to support this 3 week tour of Boston, Wells, Pelham, Houston, and Phoenix.

Makawao concert poster and CD

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo releases Live in Makawao CD of their first public concert in the USA — 29th December 2007. Included are music for piano and guitar for 3 centuries.

A framed poster of our first public concert in the USA hangs on my mother’s wall. It’s the only one that survives today.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo concert at Makawao Union Church, December 2007
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo concert at Makawao Union Church, December 2007

The CD will soon be available on CDBaby and at all concerts that Robert Bekkers plays on his solo concert tour. Our hope is that it will sell out to enable us to reinvest in arranging more music for piano guitar, collaborate with other enthusiastic music lovers and musicians, and encourage more composers to write for this combination.

The piano and the guitar are rarely heard today as a classical duo. At this concert in December 2007, which has been recorded and released on CD Live in Makawao, you can hear original music written for piano and guitar from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.

While we have to research the origins of the earlier works, we have only to e-mail or speak to the composers in the 21st century.

Haarlem-based guitarist and composer Erik Otte was the first person to write for our duo. He dedicated the 4-part Rio de la Plata to us. With South American influences, the music is about love. The first movement opens with a bang, symbolising a break-up. The fourth movement is very energetic (below).

We invited Amsterdam-based composer Allan Segall to the premiere of Rio de la Plata at the “Mustard Seed” in Santpoort for he could not believe that a piano and guitar could be a feasible duo. After hearing Otte’s piece, Allan stood up and announced that he would write something for us.

Segall’s “When JS Bach, Igor Stravinsky, and the Who Met” is a challenging and terribly exciting piece. It’s extremely demanding to get it together. Segall suggested that we watch “Tommy” to get the feel of the rock musical which is embedded in the piece. It’s the only work in which the guitar overpowers the piano.

Once these pieces were added to our repertoire, we started actively looking for composers to write for our duo. Utrecht-based Henk Alkema wrote “Sailor Talk” on a programmatic subject he knew well for he loves sailing. We premiered it at the Cortona Contemporary Music Festival in 2007.

At the same festival, we played Toronto-based Lan Chee Lam’s “Drizzle.” The Dutch audience especially love this piece — kind of oriental and exotic. Lan Chee is the youngest composer to have written for our duo. She finally came to the Netherlands in January 2010, for the premiere of another work of hers.

Lan Chee Lam, composer of "Drizzle" in Utrecht, Feb 2010
Lan Chee Lam, composer of "Drizzle" in Utrecht, January 2010

Preparing for Maine in Maui: making 3 CDs for concert tour

Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers races against time to finish producing three CDs for his upcoming solo concert tour of Boston, Wells, Pelham, Houston, and Phoenix.

Dutch classical guitarist Robert Bekkers is preparing three new CDs for his upcoming solo concert tour of Boston, Wells (Maine), Pelham (New York), Houston, and Phoenix. The first two are live recordings of the Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo in concert in Maui (2007) and Durham, North Carolina (2010). The third is a new solo CD still being recorded from the bedroom of the apartment below.

Combining breakfast with making the artwork for the 2nd CD in Maui
Combining breakfast with making the artwork for the 2nd CD in Maui

Before the sun appears above the slopes of the volcano Haleakala, he is already awake, preparing coffee and breakfast. He usually reads his music history book while it is still cool in the apartment.

On Saturday 29th January 2011, he turns on his laptop and imports the new photos from the previous evening —  a private viewing of a newly commissioned painting Maui-based artist Frances Ku. He crops and re-sizes the image of the unframed watercolor of guitar and piano.

All preparations for this second CD, the live recording of his duo’s concert at Duke University on 2nd November 2010, have been made, except for the artwork.

The 10 tracks from the Duke CD have been uploaded onto CDBABY. The CD itself is being copied in upper Kula, in a house on the path to the crater of Haleakala. All he has to do now is to make the CD cover and send it to the CD presser and at the same time upload the album artwork onto CDBABY.

Meanwhile he is practising his solo repertoire to finish the third CD which contains the one-hour programme he will play on his solo concert tour. After the recording, he will listen to each track, edit, and master them to create a CD.

For the first CD, Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo LIVE in Makawao, he used a photo of the new painting “Piano and guitar in acryllic” by Georgia-based artist Rob Judkins. He extracted pieces of the photo image for the poster for the house concert in Maine. He also cropped part of Judkins’ painting for the CD label, which appears on the physical CD itself.

In the week that remains on Maui, he will be racing against time to finish recording his solo album, finish the artwork for the second CD, and assemble the envelopes (CD sleeves) for the first CD.

Next blog posts: CDs, music, collaboration with artists and composers.

Gitaar = guitar (in Dutch)

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

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

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.