Wanted: home for a Steinway

Steinway grand piano from 1909 New York model A 188 cm is up for sale, rent, or loan. Resident piano in Keulsekade, Utrecht, Netherlands, Monument House Concert Series performances and chamber music rehearsals. A fine instrument.

My relocation to the Netherlands in 2003/2004 coincided with a refund of monies from Singapore. It was a milestone for change.

Frustrated by the daily challenge of finding a good piano to practise at the conservatory in Utrecht and the inadequate upright piano at home in Bussum, I decided to find a grand piano of my own.

First I visited the local piano shop whose owner led me to a room full of Yamahas. I could not find a piano that was special enough to be different. I abandoned the idea of a Yamaha and went for a Steinway instead. The story of how I found that piano and the piano technician who helped me negotiate the price is an interesting one, perhaps for another blog post. He did request that I visit his atelier after I got back from Taiwan. A month later, the French polished, restrung Steinway grand arrived in Bussum.

It was a glorious moment — to finally have a Steinway Grand Piano in my home. The Steinway was not from Hamburg but from New York. Made in 1909. All 188 CM of it. Model A. Ivory keys. One celebrated concert pianist, Dutch winner of the Liszt Piano Competition who commuted between Vienna and Utrecht, remarked that it was a Rachmaninoff piano for it had that romantic sound.

Here’s how the Steinway sounds: Intermezzo by Allan Segall, performed by Anne Ku, recorded by Robert Bekkers.

I held a Steinway Warming party for my piano friends. With the upright piano, four pianists could play on both pianos. We tried all sorts of duets.

Once I got accustomed to being the proud owner of a Steinway, it was time to let go of my Gerhard Adam, a German mahogany grand piano from the 1920’s which I left behind in London. I wrote a decision making guide to buying a second-hand piano to help sell that piano online. Once again I walked down my memory lane of buying a piano. I wrote an Adieu which used all 88 keys on the piano, a way for me to say goodbye thru the new owner I did not meet.

Here is a recording of my playing on my Steinway. Adieu to a Piano by Anne Ku

Steinway Grand Model A 188cm, 1909 New York, before recording session
Steinway Grand Model A 188cm, 1909 New York, before recording session

In summer 2006, the Steinway moved with me to Utrecht. We launched the Monument House Concert Series with a violin and guitar concert by Duo 46. That December we chose the theme Piano as Orchestra, featuring several concertos (harp, euphonium, guitar). The following year we combined food with music in Chamber Music Tapas Style. Every year we committed to organizing two house concerts. Often we had several mini concerts, including a kitchen concert, garden concert, impromptu concert. Each time we became more adventurous and more professional. We outsourced food and wine to professional chefs and wine sommeliers. We included art exhibitions.

On my last trip back to the Netherlands, I felt compelled to host two concerts back to back. Despite being time-challenged with only 2.5 months to sort out my things, I felt it was important to organize these concerts for two American pianists on their way to the Italian alps. Why? Maybe instinctively I knew it was the last time my grand piano would be heard in a concert setting. Sure enough, 2nd July 2011 became the last house concert.

And the last recordings were that of piano duets I had collected from a Call for Scores from Hawaii to Holland. Here’s Brendan Kinsella and I playing my late composition teacher Henk Alkema’s piece.


This Steinway Grand, made in New York in 1909, model A – 188 cm – needs a home. SALE. RENT. or LOAN.

Steinway for Sale with new photos and sound clips.

Interested parties please use the LEAVE A REPLY field below.

Steinway Grand at the Monument House, Utrecht
Steinway Grand at the Monument House, Utrecht

Afternoon Tea Trio and Duets

The final day of the July house concert festival at the Monument House Utrecht, Netherlands is dedicated to exploring the future for classical musicians. Egyptian dinner for those who stay (reservations required) to discuss.

Also known as Trio Afternoon Tea and Piano Duets

subtitled: Musicians Open Day

What do we want to do after hosting two consecutive concerts from our home? Chill out.

I want to hear the brand new trio of French horn, concert harp, and soprano — an unusual combination.

Trio Afternoon Tea: Emile Kaper, Kitty de Geus, Maria Pozdynakova
Trio Afternoon Tea: Emile Kaper, Kitty de Geus, Maria Pozdynakova

I want to play and hear the new multi-hand piano duets that did not get performed in San Francisco.

But most of all, I’d like to get the two pianists Nathanael May and Brendan Kinsella to share their views on the future for professional classically-trained musicians and conduct a career workshop. To lure musicians to participate in the discussions on topics close to their hearts, I am inviting a professional photographer and videographer to make press photographs and videos. I am inviting Chef Hany to once again provide an Egyptian feast for all. We will have workshops on how to launch a concert tour, writing professional biographies, and advanced networking skills.

Like the two previous events in this weekend of house concerts at the Monument House, there will be organic wine tasting, raffle draw, and silent auction. What’s different is that the performances are FREE to the public. The dinner is again 18 euros (but including a glass of organic wine).

Musicians get a discount of 10 euros if they recruit 1 dinner guest; 5 euros if they recruit 2 dinner guests; and a free dinner if they recruit 3 dinner guests. Otherwise, they pay 15 euros (not including wine, which is 2 euros per glass). In other words, musicians (performer, composer, conductor, teacher) pay nothing if they get 3 guests to reserve/pay dinners, 5 euros if 2 guests, 10 euros if 1 guest.

Discussion panels topics:

  • future of classical musicians’ career (given budget cuts), i.e. how to survive as a musician after budget cuts
  • work life balance: how to have a career in music and have a family
  • concert touring: how to do this, costs and benefits, contacts
  • house concerts: variety of approaches, audience development
  • music for a cause: fundraising, publicity, and the new revenue model
  • what do you need to have a career in music? website? photographs? social media networking?

To reserve, visit the High Note Live website.

The concert itself is FREE — or rather, by donations only — similar to the Glass Vase Concert of 2011 concept.

"Blue and White Vases"  24x36 acrylic on hard board by Rob Judkins (2011)
"Blue and White Vases" 24x36 acrylic on hard board by Rob Judkins (2011)

Impasse or interruption?

Classical music can be daunting in terms of how to survive as a musician. Anne Ku has created and produced concerts without a budget. Is it a mountain that cannot be changed or a rock that supports an existence?

Sometimes life feels like a rock in your way, refusing to move no matter how much you push at it.

Pushing against a rock in the Garden of Gods in Colorado Springs. Photo credit: J. Kormanik
Pushing against a rock in the Garden of Gods in Colorado Springs. Photo credit: J. Kormanik

My involvement in classical music appears that way. I have created new events, produced concerts to full-house reception, involved musicians, visual artists, and local businesses —  and continued to experiment with new ideas, new collaborations, while building new communities and relationships — all without a budget.

My last project — call for scores of multi-hand duets from living composers and performance / feedback in San Francisco on 15th May 2011 — is not yet over. I have yet to document the results of the sightreading, the performances, the feedback, and various details that I want to share.

My next project — piano house concerts and career management discussion panel in Utrecht, Netherlands on 1 – 3 July 2011 — needs to begin. I have booked organic wine tasting for that weekend. Two concert pianists are traveling from the USA to Italy, stopping in Utrecht just for this occasion.

Yet right this moment, after 2 weeks of traveling from Hawaii to Holland and a week of getting used to life on the ground again, I feel like doing nothing but play my piano that I’ve left behind since mid-October 2010 when my duo embarked on a concert tour of the United States to end in an experiment on that tropical paradise called Maui.

Could it be that the mountain of classical music is not an impasse but a mere interruption?

Perhaps I should consider music to be the rock that supports me while I tackle the rest of life’s challenges. Certainly I have been looking for a cause to serve — one that is greater than music itself, for music is not an end in itself but a means to a greater end.

Garden of Gods in Colorado Springs. Photo credit: J. Kormanik
Garden of Gods in Colorado Springs. Photo credit: J. Kormanik

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!

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.

House concerts: a cottage industry

House concerts for classical musicians as a way to travel, network, and make a living.

I’m very happy to see someone else writing about house concerts for classical musicians, showing that we’re not the only ones doing it and pushing for it. Collaborative Piano Blog has a page to various links. I’d like to add my own.

House concerts for art music: multiple stake holders, audience development, and sustainability (14-page PDF) – introduction to house concerts through summary of interviews with house concert producers, home owners, musicians, etc.

House concert for your friends: how to get your friends to organise a concert for you in their home

House concert kit: guides to producing a house concert with links to other great starter articles

Audience development: the art of creating demand

What I really should do is to categorise and index various self-help articles for musicians, instead of writing new articles. Perhaps I could make these into an e-book?

2010: a year in reflection

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo traveled and performed in three continents: Europe, Asia, and North America in 2010. Among the highlights were house concerts, concerts in churches, collaboration with other artists, and showing others how to produce concerts.

As the last blog post in 2010, we would like to thank all readers for reading, referring, commenting, and supporting this blog. 2010 has been an incredible year for our piano guitar duo. We have never traveled as extensively in any year as this one. We have never collaborated with so many people as this year. We have never had such a variety of gigs.

Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands
Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands

We began the year in the Netherlands with our usual concerts.

In February, we made a weekend trip to Belgium to open a new exhibition with a selection of solo, duo, and improvisation in beautiful historic Brugge. It was one of several collaborations with other artists.

In April, we made a whirlwind tour of Taiwan, introducing ourselves to the Taipei Rotary Club and a string quartet in Taipei.

From January to April, we coached new house concert hosts on how to produce concerts from their homes, culminating in our debut of the 30-minute long Grand Potpourri National to open a new concert series and the release of our first CD Summer in the home of an artist.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo CD Summer
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo CD Summer

In May, we organised our biggest house concert yet: a dozen musicians in 4 different concerts in one day! The Glass Vase Concert was free entry with cover art commissioned for auction. The bonus was the chef-catered Egyptian dinner for 50 people, who queued for seconds.

All the insights from our experience of producing house concerts and interviews with others were presented in a paper to economists at an international conference in Copenhagen in June.

Besides performing as a duo, we also worked with other musicians such as French horn player Emile Kaper and American cellist Stephanie Hunt. We found that piano and guitar worked well with other instruments and the audiences love the idea. We programmed one house concert in Amsterdam with our duo, Robert’s solo guitar of Bach Chaconne, piano and cello, and finally piano, guitar, and cello.

In September, we traveled to Zeeland in the southwest coast of the Netherlands to give 5 concerts in 3 days. It was a busy month, made busier by our reluctance to cancel any concerts including those that took us by surprise and decided upon last minute (impromptu).

The highlight of the year was undoubtedly the coast-to-coast America Tour, from Boston to Sacramento in 5.5 weeks. We thank our hosts, guests, and everyone who made this tour happen. We had no idea it would be so empowering and fantastic.

What next? Who knows? We bought ourselves one way tickets to paradise and started a new blog to lure our friends to come visit us. We look forward to seeing our friends from Davis, Houston, Seattle, and Nebraska in the first few months of 2011.

Hope you have enjoyed these blog posts. 2011 promises to be an entirely different year.



Piano and guitar in the Monument House Utrecht, Netherlands
Piano and guitar in the Monument House Utrecht, Netherlands

Audience development: the art of creating demand

People go to concerts for all sorts of reasons. The trick is to find the reasons and then they will go to your concert.

One of the worries a seller has is how to get buyers to want your stuff. The things you sell may bear history and laden with value to yourself, but they are absolutely meaningless to a stranger.

Similarly, musicians and concert producers love their music. They too worry whether enough people will show up. How do they get people to come to a concert? Posters and invitations may not suffice.

Audience development means getting people to come to an event. It’s also about creating demand. There are many alternative ways to spend a Saturday evening in a big city. How do you get someone to choose you over other possibilities?

The keyboard and guitar that found new homes
The keyboard and guitar that found new homes

How is this similar to a garage sale?

I spoke to a lady at a yard sale today about how I managed to get rid of my things to free myself to leave London for the Netherlands. I held an Open House, baked cakes and cookies, and invited my neighbours and friends to visit. All four rooms (living room, dining room, bedroom, and study) were filled with things I wanted to sell.

One man’s medicine is another man’s poison. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Nobody wanted to buy my flowery summer dresses or conservative business suits. I had to think of innovative ways to get rid of my stuff.

Spend at least 5 pounds and get the solar calculator for free. The solar calculator and various knick knacks were giveaways at the conferences I attended. I didn’t care about the calculator at all. I did not know that this offer was attractive until I spotted a bassoonist selecting various paperback books to get the 5 pound total. He got his solar calculator.

My friend, the late London-based architect Ayyub Malik desperately wanted a piece of cake. I told him he had to buy something first. There was nothing he wanted except for a piece of cake. I encouraged him to buy an umbrella that he might need (in case his broke). He got his cake.

How do you get people to want something? How do you get people to buy what they do not need? Or what they do not realise that they need or want?

The answer: find out what they really want.

A concert is not just about the music. An economist told me so. “If you think people come to your concerts just to hear you, you are wrong.”

People go to concerts for all sorts of reasons.

The trick is to find and give reasons for people to come to your concert.

[Note: this blog post was inspired by my visit to two yard sales in Maui. People go to yard sales to get things at a discount. Some people go to discover what they did not know they needed. For instance, I bought a shower curtain even though I already have one.]

Local knowledge, inside information, income opportunities (part 2)

A lot of useful information such as job opportunities don’t get printed or published. Such opportunities are not disseminated in the usual way. You can get involved and hop on the grapevine of word-of-mouth.

Part 2: Get affiliated!

In my previous blog post, I mentioned yard sales as a way to get local knowledge and shopping tips. You’re unlikely to get such advice at department stores or public shopping places. Similarly, at house concerts, you can more easily acquire information by asking than at a large public concert venue where it’s harder to make conversation (to strangers).

If you don’t know anybody before you arrive, how will you get assistance? Check into a hotel with a knowledgeable and reliable concierge? Stay at a bed and breakfast and ask the owner? Stay at a youth hostel and ask other guests?

There are other ways to do this.

Get a job. Any job. Temporary or not. Part time or full time. As fast as possible.

Enroll on a course.

Join a choir.


In other words, get involved. Get affiliated!

This is one reason musicians sometimes get gigs that pay below their normal rates because they also get side benefits such as personal contacts and useful information. My instrumentalist classmates from conservatory have played in orchestras not just for the experience but also to get on the grapevine. Gossip about conductors, new ensembles, projects in the pipeline, … in short, work opportunities, often flow, unprinted and unpublished, by word of mouth.

The Chinese saying “Ride a horse to find a horse” translates to “Get a job to find a job.”

My dear musicians, we can’t expect to be invited to perform or get discovered if we stay at home practising all day!

Local knowledge, inside information, community building (part 1)

Yard sales, like house concerts, are great ways to exchange local and useful inside information in addition to getting rid of things quickly at a discount.

Part 1: Yard sales, garage sales, moving sales, open house

Newcomers without affiliation or local connections, such as tourists or short-term visitors to Maui, depend on published and public information to get around. They pay the highest prices for the fewest choices. Locals know where to do their shopping, when to avoid the queues, and how to negotiate the best deals. Newcomers don’t have that advantage.

Public and published sources such as newspapers, free ad-based bulletins and magazines, posters, and online websites are not the earliest or most comprehensive broadcasters of information. There is an inverse relationship between information availability and value — the more available it is, the less valuable.  I don’t know how true this is, but I’m finding out on this island of Maui.

This morning we woke up early to drive to a Yard Sale.  Also known as garage sale, it is a popular American phenomenon but very uncommon in the Netherlands. In the latter, it’s a national activity conducted on one day of the year — Queen’s Birthday on 30th April.

In the USA, people open up their garages or spill over to their front gardens and sell anything or everything, whether they are leaving home or not. You can spend your weekends on a yard sale shopping spree, the way the English do pub crawling on a Friday night. Some people make a habit of visiting yard sales, often queuing with other fanatics before the doors open at 7 am. Some of these folks resell the items at their own yard sales.

Freshly brewed coffee and well-marked signs (mentioned in Craigslist website) lured us to upcountry Wailuku. I had expected a lot more items on sale. We were a day too late. The sale started yesterday morning. Only motorcycles, martial arts tools, DVDs, and other items I did not need were left. While trying in vain to find something I wanted to make the uphill drive worthwhile, I overheard Robert asking about good beaches for surfing. I was curious how the family made a living on the island, given the high cost of living and the downturn in the economy. As nobody else was about, we learned a lot from chatting with the owners who had moved to the island 4 years ago.

We left with a desk lamp for $7 and a snorkeling set (flippers, snorkels, mask, and shoulder bag) for $5.

On the way back, we spotted two boxes on both sides of the road: MOVING SALE. Again, we were too late. Most of the things had gone the day before. But this did not stop us from making conversation with the owner who told us the importance of filtering our water and other local matters.

One can see that a yard sale is not just about the quick disposal of possessions at a discount. It’s also a way for newcomers to find out things that are not mentioned in guidebooks such as shopping tips to save money in a place where it could easily become unaffordable. The average price of petrol at $4 per gallon is considered the highest in the USA, despite being only half of what we used to pay in the Netherlands ($8 per gallon).

Like house concerts, yard sales are places where people gather and chat. Information is exchanged. Communities are built at a very local level. Of course, this would be less likely if the seller is moving and leaving the place for good.

I am reminded of my own attempt to declutter and empty my home in London to move to the Netherlands years ago. I baked cakes and cookies to lure people to visit and stay. Not everything was sold or given away. I got to know my neighbours better. Letting go was the hardest part. Perhaps that’s why I still keep the photos online.

Declutter sale - open house
Declutter sale - open house

From concerts to discussion panels

A pre-concert talk and string quartet interview in Den Haag inspired Anne Ku to follow suit in Phoenix and San Francisco in her duo concerts.

At the opening night of the International Chamber Music Festival in the Hague in September 2010, I witnessed a format I liked very much. The founder and artistic director, Eva Stegeman, inspired by TED talks, invited conductor Itay Talgam to give a pre-concert talk. Talgam went on to interview Dutch violinist Stegeman and her quartet, interrupting them after the first 10 minutes of Beethoven’s Quartet in F Major (opus 59 no. 1).

Stegeman called it “Chamber Music X-rayed.”

I call it —- thinking outside the box. Talgam asked the string quartet questions such as

  • If you don’t have a conductor, how do you know when to begin or end? Who leads?
  • Which passage do you like best?
  • How do you indicate the right tempo?

These are questions we don’t ask ourselves when we are rehearsing. How musicians communicate with each other in rehearsals is a mystery to most non-musicians. As performers, we don’t dissect the way we get our messages across. We indicate. We interpret. We might discuss. We compromise. It is not a science. We simply take it for granted, as musicians.

I had intended to write a review of that pre-concert talk and opening concert of the string quartet, but I got swept away by the momentum of preparing for our concert tour of the USA. Talgam and Stegeman’s on-stage “quartet discussion panel” brewed on my back burner until I got a chance to re-enact it in Phoenix, Arizona in early November and again in San Francisco.

At the Spirit of the Senses event in a loft apartment in Phoenix, Arizona, we gave a duo performance before the intermission. Afterwards, I invited Tom Houlon, the organiser, and guitarists Robert Bekkers and Matt Gould to sit in front of the audience. I moderated a discussion panel on house concerts.

Bekkers Duo in a loft apartment in Phoenix, Arizona
Bekkers Duo in a loft apartment in Phoenix, Arizona

Two weeks later, something similar happened in another loft apartment. After a chef-catered gourmet dinner, I invited the concert host Dr Chong Kee Tan to talk about his activities as amateur pianist, founder of his piano club, and founder/developer of High Note Live, an online software to manage artists, concerts, and audiences. I contrasted this against the view of the next panellist — composer, software-developer, and artistic manager Marc Parella. Only after the discussion panel did Robert Bekkers and I give our duo concert.

Because of the energy economists in the audience in San Francisco, I deliberately referred to cultural economics. While energy is a commodity, music is anything but. The half-hour discussion allowed the audience to participate. Perhaps this is a possible formula for future house concerts.

Loft apartment concert in Phoenix, Arizona
Loft apartment concert in Phoenix, Arizona