Tag Archives: Italy

Allan Segall, composer, pianist, and playwright

How do performers meet composers and commission works from them?

I met Allan Segall during the intermission of a concert in Amsterdam in spring of 2004. The encounter left such an impression on me that I wrote an entry in my online journal. A few months later, I invited him to my Steinway welcome party in Bussum. He introduced a simple but sticky solo piano piece that I played and recorded for the event. As with most if not all compositions, Intermezzo comes with a story. I would love to include it in my solo piano project but I would need the score in electronic form.

Allan was intrigued by our piano guitar duo. He said that he enjoyed writing for “neglected ensembles.” By that, he probably meant rare combinations. We invited him to the premiere of the first piano guitar duo written for us. Afterwards, he declared that he would write a duo piece for us.

Allan’s output was a work that required several years of practice to get it right. I’m still not entirely sure that we got it right. “When J.S. Bach, Igor Stravinsky, and the Who met” is a terrifically difficult but exciting piece. It’s like time travel, with Bach counterpoint, Stravinsky harmony, and echoes of Tommy the rock musical. I daresay it’s the first time that the guitar is louder than the piano. We premiered it in Cortona, Italy in 2006. The USA premiere was on Maui in 2007. We finally released the CD of that Maui concert earlier this year. You can hear a short sample on CDBABY.

Cortona Contemporary Music Festival 2006: Anne Ku, Allan Segall, Robert Bekkers

Cortona Contemporary Music Festival 2006: Anne Ku, Allan Segall, Robert Bekkers

Once allowed to flourish, creative people have no boundaries. Allan Segall has now expanded his powers of creation beyond music. He wrote the play “Detox the Dummy” which premiered in Estonia recently. I remember when he was working on it. Our friendship nearly suffered during the period he was going through “detox.”

Watch the TV video below for an interview (in English) with Allan Segall. Don’t let the unsubtitled Estonian language deter you from seeing clips of the play.

Detox the Dummy

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Waltz by John Carollo

John Carollo, composer, and Anne Ku, blogger, Honolulu, 3 April 2011

John Carollo, composer, and Anne Ku, blogger, Honolulu, 3 April 2011

On Sunday 3rd April 2011, while sightreading 81 short piano pieces entitled “80th Birthday Jingles” by the Honolulu-based composer John Carollo, I came across an old work of his from 1986. John, whom I first met in Cortona, Italy in July 2006, walked out of his kitchen and came towards me.

“I haven’t heard that in awhile.” He seemed caught off guard. Later, I learned that he had forgotten about this piece.

It was tonal music from his pre-serial days.

“Play it again,” he mused.

John had written this Satie-like waltz for his friend Bill whose surprise birthday party I had attended two nights earlier in a million dollar home in Hanepepe Loop. On Sunday in a penthouse in central Honolulu, we were just eating the leftovers from that executive chef-catered dinner when my playing of his Waltz evoked even earlier memories of his journey as a composer.

I liked it so much that I took it to Utrecht, Netherlands and recorded it on my grand piano on 4th August 2011.

Waltz by John Carollo, interpreted by Anne Ku (mp3)

Waltz by John Carollo

Waltz by John Carollo

Just yesterday afternoon I found the three of John’s CDs: the award-winning Ampersand, Starry Night for String Orchestra, and Transcendence in the Age of War. Now that I have time in Maui, I will listen to his works, although I have already heard one performed in my house on 1st July 2011. Pianist Nathanael May played his Prelude as the last piece of a set of five by the composers Antheil, Chopin, Gershwin, and Debussy as the opening to a house concert. (Programme 2-page PDF) It was well chosen before John Cage’s dream-like “In a Landscape.”

Immediately after I left Honolulu, John began composing a 9-movement work for my piano guitar duo. While we have not yet had time to rehearse the piece, I have already requested John to extend the second movement which is so addictive!

Born in Torino, Italy, John Carollo was brought to the U.S. by his adoptive parents.  John took piano lessons and began composing his first piano works while at San Diego State University where he graduated with a Masters Degree in Psychology.  Shortly thereafter, John moved to Honolulu, began a full-time mental health career for the State of Hawaii and started private composition lessons with Dr. Robert Wehrman. So great was his passion for composing that he quit his day job to compose full-time. Since then his works have been performed in Italy, Netherlands, and elsewhere. Website: http://www.johncarollocomposer.com

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Three on One piano duet by Anne Ku

It’s a delight to hear the live recording of my multi-hand piano duet “Three on One” performed on 16th July 2011 in the Battle of the Pianists at the Maui Music Conservatory in Hawaii. I was in Utrecht, Netherlands on that date.

The CD arrived in the post along with the programme notes. It’s nice to see my name after Darius Milhaud’s Scaramouche, a 4-hand, 2-piano 3-movement piece that I’ve heard played in Munster, Germany.

The Battle of the Pianists was one of several events in “A Little More Summer Music, Please” organised by Ebb & Flow Arts, the same nonprofit foundation that produced our piano guitar duo concert in Makawao in December 2007. When I first heard of the duet concert, I wanted so much to participate, especially to play the Canto Ostinato which is a rare gem.

Ironically it was Dutch composer Simeon Ten Holt’s famous Canto Ostinato which inspired me to write my minimalist duet for 6 hands on one piano when I was still studying at Utrecht Conservatory. This multi-hand duet was first sightread by 5 composers (including myself) at the Cortona Contemporary Music Festival in Italy in July 2007. I called it “Five on One” then. When Thomas Rosenkranz asked me for the score to premiere at the University of Hawaii in Manoa a year later, I changed the music slightly and renamed it “Three on One.” [Download the score in PDF]

Three on One piano duet by Anne Ku

Three on One piano duet by Anne Ku

After sightreading various new piano duets this year through my Call for Scores project, I am inclined to rewrite this piece. For one, the notes should be bigger. Two, it would be easier to lay it out in parts not in parallel as I have done. Readability is extremely important. A minimalist piece needs to be longer. At 2 minutes 26 seconds, it’s ridiculously too short. Listen to the performance by Karyn Sarring, Robert Pollock, and Lotus Dancer.

Three on One duet by Anne Ku (mp3) – click to listen.

Fellow collaborator of my Call for Scores project Karyn Sarring played the bass. Lotus Dancer played the middle part and Beatrice Scorby the top (highest, primo).

Composer’s biography in programme notes (tailored to the Maui audience):

Born in Brunei of Chinese parents, Anne Ku grew up on Okinawa, Japan where she learned English from age 7 and the piano from age 8. After graduating valedictorian from Kubasaki High School, she won a full scholarship to Duke University where she double-majored in Electrical Engineering and Mathematics. She actively participated in chamber music performance while studying the piano under Randall Love. Fast forward ten years later, she was interviewed by the weekly newspaper of the largest university in the Netherlands for her second chamber opera Culture Shock! which premiered in Utrecht on 2 June 2008. Since then she has focussed on chamber music performance with guitar, French horn, and cello and active as producer of Monument House Concert Series and traveling the world with her piano guitar duo and sharing her adventures through her blogs.

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Kinsella Concert 2nd July 2011

Wines painted for Columbus Symphony Orchestra fundraiser, 16x20 acrylic on canvas, Rob Judkins (2011)

Wine and Strawberries, 16x20 acrylic on canvas, Rob Judkins (2011)

As I blog, I plan the details of upcoming concerts which could easily comprise a festival. These events are more than concerts. They have elements of music, drink, food, conversation, and fundraising. Dare I call it a festival? Or just a concert series?

Alternative names for the second concert in this series:

  • organic wine concert
  • Kinsella plays Rzewski
  • Vietnamese dinner concert
  • Beethoven, Poulenc, Liszt, Rzewski

Which came first? The idea of introducing organic wine to guests of the Monument House to accompany live music.

Next, pianist Nathanael May introduced the American pianist Brendan Kinsella who will travel with him to the Soundscape Music Festival in the Italian Alps the following week.

I contacted my Vietnamese friend to take up on her suggestion an authentic Vietnamese dinner after she experienced the Egyptian dinner at last year’s Glass Vase Concert. She then contacted Chef Hong who is available to cater for Saturday 2nd July 2011.

Kinsella is giving a virtuosic programme of the late works of Franz Liszt, the famous Waldstein Sonata of Beethoven, Poulenc’s Aubade, and the very American feel of Rzewski’s version of American popular ballad “Down by the Riverside.”

As with the previous evening (Body of Your Dreams Concert), there will be organic wines served by Eveline Scheren and fundraising for an artist-in-residence fellowship through a silent auction of items from the Monument House and other donations.

Saturday 2nd July 2011

6 pm Doors open for authentic Vietnamese dinner

7:30 pm Doors open for concert

Silent auction, pre-bidding online

8:15 pm Concert (no intermission)

9:30 pm Raffle draw for door prizes

9:45 pm Results of silent auction.

For details and reservations, visit High Note Live.

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Live recording of concerts on CD

Releasing CDs of live recordings of concerts is a scary thing. You can’t edit the recording of a concert like you can of studio takes. It has to sound live — the way the music has been performed. There will be mistakes. There will be audience intervention such as coughs and background noise. A live recording is never perfect, but it is live.

When we decided to make CDs out of live recordings of two concerts, we joined other musicians in embracing this brave new world.

As concert producer, reviewer, promoter, and now talent scout, I get CDs in the post and as gifts. On tour, it’s not been possible to listen to these CDs in optimal acoustical surroundings. I have no stereo system in the rented apartment in Maui where I’m taking a sabbatical from my usual existence (in the Netherlands).

When I received a package from Italy recently, I was astonished to find just how powerful the Vatican radio broadcast recording was from my laptop. It’s the bicentennial of Franz Liszt’s birth and music festivals celebrating his music are springing up everywhere. Coincidentally the International Liszt Piano Competition is also held this year in Utrecht, where I normally live.

Pianist Leonora Baldelli’s interpretation of Liszt is sizzling on the Vatican radio broadcast CD that I received. Soprano Alessandra Benedetti joins her from track 6 onwards, not music of Liszt but of arias from operas of Mozart, Puccini, Rossini, and Verdi. Such a powerful voice Benedetti has! Such powerful playing of Baldelli! I have yet to meet either musician, but I feel I already know them from the live recording. More than anything, listening to their music reminds me of how much work and dedication it is to produce something so magnificent.

Million dollar view in Cortona, Italy July 2007

Million dollar view in Cortona, Italy July 2007 (click to get Tuscany tour)

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A Roman holiday in Rome

To shortlist where to go in Rome, my mother and I watched several video clips of “Roman Holiday” on youtube on our last night in Florence. [The youtube clip below was chosen at random.]

Spanish Steps

The Mouth of Truth

Fountain di Trevi

My own list includes: the Vatican, Colosseum, St Cecilia Academy of Music (the state conservatory), and Keats/Shelley House.

After 2 weeks in Venice and Florence, we thought we were ready to go home. And I only reserved 3 nights and 4 days for Rome. Clearly it’s not going to be enough.

What a surprise to find the Gallery of Modern Art empty of people and a treasure chest of Modigliani, de Chiruco, and other Italian artists I’ve never heard of. The Villa de Borghese is HUGE! Their Galleria will have to wait until I return again.

It’s raining cats and dogs in Rome. No one is lingering on the Spanish Steps. But we went to see it anyway. 

Today I sent my wishes to the wind, namely, an event on facebook:

Calling musicians to play music of Italian composers. Calling non-musicians to cook Italian food and bring Italian wine. It will be a Roman holiday in Utrecht on Sunday 8th November. Space is limited.

Actually, my time is limited. My mother is asleep upstairs. I’ve been skyping and blogging in the beautiful, mirrored hall of my hotel (below) where we will be having breakfast at 7:30 am tomorrow. 

The mirrored hall where I am typing this blog in Rome

The mirrored hall where I am typing this blog in Rome

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What makes a great exhibition?

I consider myself rather new to the understanding and appreciation of visual art. My desire to attend exhibitions, however, started long ago, driven by curiosity and the kiasoo syndrome (not wanting to miss out). Over time, through conversations with artist friends and connoisseurs, I’ve learned that it takes time to understand and appreciate visual art, just as one would with music.

Much of what I know today comes from the high school humanities course I took from the late Mr Darwin Scales. His passion for art, music, literature, history, and philosophy was contagious. He was the reason I so wanted to see Europe at the age of 21.

On our last full day in Florence, my mother and I went to an exhibition that surely beats all others we’ve seen in the past two weeks. It reminded me of the Matisse-Picasso exhibition we had seen in the Tate Modern years ago. Both were well-curated, informative, and entertaining.

The last portrait in Florence

We did not expect “Art and Illusions” at the Palazzo Strozzi to keep us intrigued and interested for three hours. [Clearly management of expectations has a lot to do with this. Since we didn’t expect much, we were pleasantly surprised.]

 

Art and Illusions at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy

Art and Illusions at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy

We had a lot of time available on this sunny but slightly chilly day. It was our last day before heading south to Rome. It was the last museum we had planned to visit. [Exhibitions are not for the time-challenged. Less is more. I regret having rushed through Galleria dell’Academia and not had the time to sit and stare at Michelangelo’s David.]

 

We had not seen an exhibition like this before. [Novelty is an important factor.]

The bilingual text that accompanied each painting and exhibit was informative and clear. [This can be said of most museums, churches, and galleries that we have visited in Florence and Venice.]

The audio guide added value to the existing text. There were also musical interludes, i.e. music and illusions. [These additional things consistently supported the main theme.]

The last portrait in the Art and Illusions exhibition in Palazzo Strozzi in Florence

The last portrait in the Art and Illusions exhibition in Palazzo Strozzi in Florence

It was well-organised and divided into different relevant sections. We did not get lost. The exhibition built upon our knowledge. [As a result, we could focus on the content and not get confused or distracted.]

Most of all, the subject of art and illusions was interesting. I can think of parallels in music and acoustics, such as the way we fill in skipped notes to make a melody that otherwise would not make sense, the way we skip over false notes in our listening, the way we dismiss what we don’t want to hear. There are certainly compositional techniques that deceive the ear just as techniques of “trompe l’oeil” achieve visual illusions.

Combining visual art with live music performance

Liz Miller Photo Exhibition at Monument House Concert Series in Utrecht, Netherlands

Liz Miller Photo Exhibition at Monument House Concert Series in Utrecht, Netherlands

How can I apply what I’ve learned to our cross-domain initiatives at our Monument House Concert Series in Utrecht? We had launched our first exhibition at the last house concert of solo guitar from South Africa on 3rd October 2009. Although the concert was sold out in three days and a success by all accounts, I felt the need to give the exhibition more visibility.

Expand on the theme of water (as shown in the 13 polaroid images in the piano room) to coincide with a concert on the theme of water. Already a pianist has offered to play Ravel’s Jeux Deux. Our duo will play Lan Chee Lam’s Drizzle. Anybody for Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude?

Photo exhibition of Liz Miller at the Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands

Photo exhibition of Liz Miller at the Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands

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