Monument house for rent in Utrecht, Netherlands

The monument house at Keulsekade 25, Utrecht, Netherlands is available for rent: 4 bedrooms, 2 toilets, 1 bathroom and a separate garden house with its own toilet, shower, sink, and tatami sleep area. Front and back gardens. Floor heating. High ceilings. Everything you want in a central location, convenient for shopping and the central station in Utrecht. Available 15 Oct 2013.

A year ago Robert and I put up our house in Utrecht, Netherlands for sale and for rent. We wanted neither, of course. But we were on opposite sides of the earth, 12 time zones apart, dealing with a situation that required us to empty our home and take the first offer. Had we sold it, we’d be closing an important chapter in our lives.

Luckily the first couple who saw the renovated Dutch monument house fell in love with it and offered to rent it.

Whew! We didn’t have to sell it. Thus I never wrote part 2 of my blog: monument house for sale. But we still had to remove everything, including my beloved Steinway.

Now it’s up for rent again.

Available in mid-October 2013 – the entire house plus the garden house behind it.

I wish a musician would rent it — then we would move the 1909 Steinway grand back where it belongs.

The piano room in the Dutch Monument House in Utrecht
The piano room in the Dutch Monument House in Utrecht

From 2006 to 2011, we met our commitments to hold two concerts per year as part of the Monument House Concert Series in that lovely space. The last one on 2nd July 2011, only a day after the first one, was a good-bye to years of music making. I can’t watch the video in the next blog without tears, but I will try to use it in introducing minimalistic music in the “Introduction to Music Literature” class I’m teaching this semester at University of Hawaii Maui College.

For more information: visit Sabbatical Homes

Queen’s Birthday Gift: abdication for the new king

If I weren’t in Maui or connecting flights in Chicago, I’d rather be in Amsterdam right now. It’s the abdication of Queen Beatrix for her son.

If I weren’t in Maui or connecting flights in Chicago, I would definitely rather be in Amsterdam right now.

Only by stumbling upon a friend’s post on Facebook did I learn that the Dutch Queen is abdicating her throne for her son on 30th April 2013. What a historic event it is!

Every year, on 30th April, every one in the Netherlands comes out to play. It’s not the present queen’s birthday but that of her mother’s that she chose to declare a public holiday for the nation. There are street parties from morning till night. You can either choose to host your own party, sell your wares outside your house, on your street, or visit other parties. The next day is probably the smelliest and dirtiest day in the country, for the streets reek of stale beer and urine.

My first encounter of the Queen’s Birthday Party was in 1995 when I decided to visit the Keukenhof, by way of a conference in Rotterdam. My Dutch friend told me about this public holiday and gave me a glimpse.

From that day on, I was hooked. Every 30th April in the Netherlands was a day to enjoy with friends.

Here’s a toast to the Queen and the new King —- and all my friends in the Netherlands.

5 steps to concert promotion

Anne shares 5 steps she learned from 10 years of promoting concerts that she attended, organized, produced, hosted, or performed in.

One of the most read posts in this blog is “Getting people to come to a concert.” Another name for this exercise is audience development. One goal is to get enough people to come to a concert so that your costs are covered and you can even get a return. Another goal is to have these people that come to your concert come to  your next one and, even better, they get others to come.

The first concert may be a lot of work (to promote). Each subsequent concert should get easier. After you’ve built a reputation and a mailing list, you should get a full house every time.

Empty seats before the first concert at the Monument House Utrecht
Empty seats before the first concert at the Monument House Utrecht

In the last 10 years of experimenting with different ways to get people to come to my concerts, I’ve identified 5 steps that have worked for me.

  1. Identify who you want to come to the concert.
    This is where you have to analyse your audience make-up. In Houston, I brought my colleagues. In London, I invited my neighbors, colleagues, and new contacts. In the case of Monument House Concert Series in Utrecht, Netherlands, I wanted new people to come so that they can experience the authentic house concert tradition. I knew that previous guests would always come because of the sticky nature of such intimate occasions. I also knew the viral nature of word of mouth. But it was getting new people that was the challenge. If I only expected the same people to come every time, our concert goers would have been a clique.
  2. Analyse the lure.
    What is the ace of spades? Is it the music? The performer(s)? The composer(s)? The audience? (People want to come to be with other people they expect to see there.) The venue? The occasion? The date/time? (nothing else better to do). The theme? (benefit concert). Identifying the ultimate lure is the key to a yes.
  3. Figure out where these folks are located, i.e. how they can be reached.
    You may start with the low hanging fruit, i.e. your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Beyond that, how do you find your audience? Where do they hangout? Music stores? Music libraries? Music colleges? A concert? How about music lovers groups on Linked-In?  “If it’s fish you’re looking for, why climb trees?”
  4. Use the right communication tool.
    Some folks read their emails and act. Some react to newspaper ads. Some listen to the radio. There are online, offline, face-to-face communication methods. You might have to try everything. See “concert promotion by other media.”
  5. Write. Rewrite. Format. Reformat.
    A concert invitation is different from an announcement. You have to write to persuade. You may even have to put a personal touch to it. The result you want is action — which leads to a full house and a guestbook that looks like this.

The secret to success is your mailing list. The bigger it is, the higher the chance of drawing an audience. Mailing lists get built over time not over night. This is the subject of yet another blog post.

First international Alkema composition competition

The first international Alkema composition contest calls for scores for piano and saxophone, deadline April 2012, in honor of the late Dutch composer Henk Alkema.

While researching for my forthcoming paper on “call for scores” I came across an announcement in English and in Dutch, calling for scores for saxophone and piano, deadline April 2012.

I recognize Alkema, the last name of my late composition teacher Henk Alkema. I see the announcement is made by Matching Arts and Utrecht Conservatory. I recognize the name of one of the jurors, Jeroen D’Hoe who had also taught me composition at Utrecht Conservatory.

Once upon a time, a Chinese classical saxophonist from Szechuan (Sichuan) had shown me different effects of the alto saxophone to interest me in composing a modern piece for him. I did not write a solo work for saxophone. Instead I included the four kinds of saxophones in an ensemble piece as part of a composer-in-residence project. That’s when I learned of the saxophone’s range and versatility. Saxophones could sound like flute, clarinet, or French horn.

In my last conversations with Henk Alkema, he had urged me to start composing again. I see he has not given up.

The contest is open to composers of all ages and nationalities. I am glad to see that. During my four years at conservatory, I found that most competitions posted on our bulletin board had imposed age restrictions. I did not know then to look online. This contest has been announced in many composition forums and newsletters. I will for sure follow the results of this competition in 2012.

Piano duets from Hawaii to Holland

Summary of the “Call for Scores: multi-hand piano duets” project from January to September 2011 with links to reviews of selected individual works by living composers.

Call for Scores of Multi-hand Piano Duets

This was an experimental project to get living composers to submit interesting duets for pianists to play and to get feedback from the pianists on readability, playability, and more.

The first round of sightreading took place in Maui: over 3 separate sessions, Karyn Sarring and Anne Ku sightread the 42 duets accepted. This set was short-listed and some sent to Chong Kee Tan, organiser of the mid-May event in San Francisco to get interest. As a result of feedback, it was decided not to have a sightreading competition but a sightreading workshop with piano soiree instead. The event was not publicised to composers because some pianists expressed reservation in sightreading new works in front of them. In spite of this, two Bay Area composers attended.

To get more pianists to play, Anne Ku took the printed PDF sheet music to the Netherlands to interest pianists to try the music with her. The following pianists (by first name only) in chronological order attempted the duets: Tom, Thera, Brendan, Ahti, Huub, Liesbeth, Carol, and Bart. Anne Ku recorded several extracts of sightreading with Texas-based Brendan Kinsella in early July and 3 studied pieces with Utrecht-based Carol Ruiz Gandia in early August 2011.

Chronology from 31st January 2011 onwards:

REVIEWS OF SELECTED DUETS ## = sample score ** = mp3 or video recording

Steinway Grand used in recordings of multi-hand piano duets
Steinway Grand Model A 188 (1909 New York) at the Monument House, Utrecht, Netherlands used in recording of multi-hand piano duets

Easy to play, nice to listen to: piano music of Heleen Verleur

Music that is easy to play and nice to listen to characterises the solo piano works of Amsterdam-based composer Heleen Verleur. Daniel’s Song is an example, played and recorded by Anne Ku in Utrecht, Netherlands.

During my 2.5 months in Utrecht, Netherlands this past summer, I took out sheet music I had collected for years to choose ones worth taking with me to Maui. Some of these pieces were so enjoyable to play that I decided to record them.

I was searching for music that’s easy to play and nice to listen to.

Contrary to what you may believe, it’s not easy to write music that is easy to play. It’s harder still to write music that’s nice to listen to but not boring after the first time. Good music, I sincerely believe, gets appreciated each time it’s played. It grows on you.

Amsterdam-based composer Heleen Verleur is a pianist and piano teacher who has the benefit of observing how her students read and study her compositions. She has written numerous solo and chamber works that involve the piano. I was fortunate to discover her music quite early in what-I-now-call my Dutch era — a decade of infatuation with the Netherlands.

I performed her Prelude in d minor and fugue at a concert in Bussum, a village east of Amsterdam, in 2002. I had also introduced her Tango for violin, cello, and piano to my house concert in London and her piano duets to the Monument House Concert Series and a sightreading workshop prior to our piano guitar duo concert in San Francisco. Heleen has also written “Fire” for our piano guitar duo, which we premiered in Spain in 2010.

Anne Ku with Heleen Verleur, sightreading duets in Amsterdam, 2001
Anne Ku with Heleen Verleur, sightreading duets in Amsterdam, 2001

In the “V” section of my music library, I discovered yet more short works for solo piano that she had given me.

“Daniel’s Song” met my criteria of easy to play and nice to listen to. I decided to record it on my Steinway.

Daniel’s Song for solo piano by Heleen Verleur (mp3)

Daniel's Song by Heleen Verleur
Daniel's Song by Heleen Verleur

Background music to Vinyasa Yoga

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.

Anne Ku plays Bach’s theme from Harpsichord Concerto used in “Hannah and Her Sisters” (mp3)

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.

The yoga session ended when the nocturne ended.

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

Waltz for 4-hands, 1 piano by Schroeter

Schroeter’s Waltz for 4-hand, 1 piano is reminiscent of the romantic era, a piece that is easily sightreadable and playable after some cosmetic changes. Listen to an extract played and recorded by Anne Ku and Carol Ruiz Gandia in Utrecht, Netherlands. Note: This blog post has been taken down due to protests by the composer.

Among the 42 piano duets by 30 composers submitted to my Call for Scores project is a delightful, easily accessible (readable, playable, and appreciable) quatre mains duet by Brazilian composer. This Los Angeles-based composer’s style is reminiscent of the romantic era familiar to many members of the piano club in San Francisco.

I noticed how easy it was to play this piece in Maui, San Francisco, Utrecht, and the Hague where I introduced this new work. There are many repeated and modulated sections. The secundo sets a firm pace.

Note @ 21 December 2011:

It is with great reluctance that I have decided to erase the rest of this blog post, remove the sample score and recording. I had spent quite some effort getting the music read, interpreted, and reviewed by enthusiastic pianists in Maui, San Francisco, Utrecht, and the Hague, culminating in a recording made with Carol Ruiz Gandia on my Steinway in Utrecht. However, the overwhelming number of protests, to the tune of 50 unpleasant spam e-mails from the composer, tells me that sometimes feedback and publicity is not appreciated.

Conversations in the Garden: how good music travels

Conversations in the Garden is a new recording of a new 4 hands on 1 piano duet of John Bilotta, played and recorded by Anne Ku (primo) and Carol Ruiz Gandia (secundo) on a Steinway Grand model A in Utrecht, Netherlands. Listen.

Good music travels. In January 2011, I announced a “Call for Scores” from Maui. John Bilotta composed his new piano duet in San Francisco where I met him for the first time in May 2011. Carol Ruiz Gandia and I recorded it in Utrecht, Netherlands in August 2011.

Today, having just returned to Maui, I found that the recording Carol and I did of John Bilotta’s piano duet “Conversations in the Garden” has appeared on his youtube channel below. Forget trying to get a small mp3 version loaded on my website. This is much better. [Note: if you can’t see the video below, click on this link.]

This summer I asked Spanish pianist Carol Ruiz Gandia, who has performed many times in our Monument House Concert Series, to study a few piano duets from my Call for Scores of Multi-hand Duets, specifically to record them on my Steinway Grand (1909 New York Model A).

On a sunny Thursday morning (4th August 2011), Carol played the secundo (bass) and I the primo (treble) part of San Francisco-based composer John Bilotta’s “Conversations in the Garden.” We had chosen the parts a few days earlier and practised them for the purposes of recording. We recorded it on a ZOOM hand-held recorder in my home in Utrecht, Netherlands.

Carol is starting a new house concert series from her home in Tuinwijk part of Utrecht. Tuinwijk translates to “garden village.” We were at Utrecht Conservatory together, and it’s nice to continue our collaboration even after graduation. I will be writing more about her new concert series soon.