Rewind to unwind in Galicia

It was an achingly beautiful day. The sun warmed our skins, and the Atlantic Ocean roared loud and clear. Robert watched the distant surfers with envy and declared that he would hunt for a wet suit to join them. I was content just being outside and near the water.

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I shall now rewind my recollections of Spain by going backwards. At this time of night, I’m also trying to unwind from the long day of planning ahead and juggling a portfolio career in Utrecht.

Any day now we will be receiving the CD recording of our first concert in that beautiful villa in Madrid. When Robert returns from Maastricht, where he is finishing the transcriptions of live flamenco music taken in Seville, he will continue viewing and clipping the video of our concert of 21st century music at the MACUF (Museum of Contemporary Arts in Coruña) — our raison d’etre for going to Spain in the first place. Had it not been for the invitation to take part in this didactic concert series of music of 20th and 21st centuries, we wouldn’t have gone to Madrid, La Coruña, Santiago de Compostela, and Ferrol.

Until the Madrid CD and the MACUF video, I will go through my photo and video albums, select the ones worth sharing and remembering on this blog, and walk down memory lane for as long as I can.

After the MACUF concert, which ended around 14:00 on Sunday 3 May, we explored the Galician coast. The rest of this blog is all about that day in La Coruña.

Anne Ku at the coast of La Coruna
Anne Ku at the coast of La Coruna

It was an achingly beautiful day. The sun warmed our skins, and the Atlantic Ocean roared loud and clear. Robert watched the distant surfers with envy and declared that he would hunt for a wet suit to join them. I was content just being outside and near the water.

Robert Bekkers posing on an outdoor sculpture in La Coruna
Robert Bekkers posing on an outdoor sculpture in La Coruna

The wind blew us in one direction. As we walked and talked, I noticed the figure in front of us.

“I know this person.”

“Who? Him?” Robert pointed to the young man ahead of us.

“Yes! He looks very familiar. Where have I seen him before?”

I quickened my steps to catch up with him. I walked in front of him and turned my head.

“You! Didn’t I meet you in Utrecht? What are you doing here?” I stopped him dead in his tracks. “Sorry, I forgot your name!”

He looked at me quizzically.

“Miguel,” he said. “Anne Ku, what are YOU doing here?”

“You remembered my name!” I laughed and pointed to Robert. “Have you met? This is Robert Bekkers.”

“Yes, we’ve met. I saw your photo in the newspaper this morning.” Miguel scratched his head. “Contemporary music? You gave a concert today?”

I met Miguel in Utrecht in 2007 or so. He was a very enthusiastic Spaniard who asked what I composed. I replied that there were still two piano solo pieces that have not yet been premiered. Would he like a copy?

“I’m going to accompany singers tonight,” Miguel said. “I have to hurry. Where are you staying? What’s your number? Let’s get together later.”

We spent the rest of the day walking along the coast, visiting the aquarium, and climbing to the cliff that offered a panoramic view of the ocean.

By the time we meandered into town, we were hungry and tired. At 9 pm, my mobile phone rang.

“Where are you?” asked Miguel, the pianist.

“At Maria Pita Square,” I said. “Or is it Pita Maria Square?”

“Okay! I will be there in 10 minutes.”

Maria Pita Square in La Coruna, Spain
Maria Pita Square in La Coruna, Spain

Seconds later, my phone rang again. It was Ruben, the composer. He arrived with Paula. After introductions, we walked to a nonsmoking bar to have drinks and tapas.

Musicians in La Coruna, Spain
Musicians in La Coruna, Spain

The phone rang again. It was David, the pianist.

“I hear you have made a lot of friends. I won’t join you tonight. Have fun!”

Competing against the weather in La Coruña, Spain

The Museum of Contemporary Arts in La Coruña (MACUF) is a spacious place housed within the compound of the electricity company Union Fenosa. Our new programme of 21st century music for piano guitar duo contains two world premieres, Gijs van Dijk’s Abstract and Dance and Heleen Verleur’s Fire from the Five Elements.

The weather in La Coruña, our host and pianist friend David Lopez, is typically windy, cold, wet, and grey — the kind that makes you want to stay indoors instead of braving the elements. Much to our surprise, it was sunny when we landed on 2nd May 2009, a public holiday weekend in Spain.

Our first view of La Coruna, from the taxi ride from the airport
Our first view of La Coruna, from the taxi ride from the airport

These two factors alone, sunny weather and public holiday, would prove risky, if not deadly, for audience development. In other words, don’t count on getting as many people as you’d normally expect to come to a live classical concert.

The third factor, I learned later, is that contemporary music, i.e. works of live composers, are not readily received in this part of Spain. For that reason, Ruben Somesa, the Spanish composer who proposed this series (in its 3rd year) deliberately made it a didactic one — i.e. to educate the public.

Our new programme of 21st century music for piano guitar duo contains two world premieres, Gijs van Dijk’s Abstract and Dance and Heleen Verleur’s Fire from the Five Elements. Both composers had come to our “Duo for Export” benefit concert in Utrecht to support our first trip to the USA in 2007. While it’s always exciting to have the composers at our premieres, it wasn’t possible on this occasion. We have thus planned on a repeat of this programme in Amsterdam, on Sunday 12 July 2009 (4-page PDF). Hopefully all the composers will be there.

The Museum of Contemporary Arts in La Coruña (MACUF) is a spacious place housed within the compound of the electricity company Union Fenosa. I would have liked to have met the employees, if not to reminisce those good ol’ days in the dawn of electricity deregulation when I was frantically completing my thesis and later interviewing energy executives about competition. Piano was a companion but not the focus in those days. Now, it’s the reverse with energy just a distant memory.

As with all concerts, we needed to test the acoustics beforehand. The modern building of MACUF has high ceilings and a lot more echo than we’re used to. I tried to warm up with a relatively unknown piece that sounds like Chopin (in the video below).

To prepare for Lan Chee Lam‘s “Drizzle” I labelled a few notes on scrap pieces of paper to put on the strings inside the piano so that I could easily find them the next day. Without the usual plastic guitar picks, I would have to pluck the high C, E, A, B, D, and highest E strings with my short fingernails.

Preparing the grand piano for Lan Chee Lams Drizzle
Preparing the grand piano for Lan Chee Lam's "Drizzle

After our rehearsal, I asked Robert Bekkers to play a solo piece while I experimented with the video function of my mobile telephone. The rainbow colours of the setting sun danced upon the white walls through the suspended crystal ball, creating a magical effect on this mystical work of Barrios.

By the time we finished rehearsing, it was well past 8 pm. Time to leave, return to the hotel, and rest for the big day. We were not hungry after a late lunch of authentic mouth-watering Galician octopus, prawns, and clams. Instead, we looked forward to an early night, in spite of the big game of Madrid vs Barcelona.

Encore: I just wanted to hear one of my favourite pieces, or rather, the tremolos in Tarrega’s Requerdos de Alhambra.

Note: coincidentally my article (5 page pdf) “Betting on the Weather” had nothing to do with risk management of weather and concerts. Perhaps there ought to be some way to hedge the effect of good weather on audience development! Nearly five years ago, I wrote an article of the same title, “Competing against the weather,” but in Den Haag!