If you google “Giuliani and friends” you get the Mayor of New York, not the guitar virtuoso Mauro Giuliani who was a friend of Beethoven and whose music is being revived by Braintree pianist Ellyses Kuan and Newton guitarist Robert Bekkers in Massachusetts.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
- Bekkers solo cadenza and extract from Grand Potpourri National by Hummel and Giuliani
- Dance from “Abstract and Dance” by Gijs van Dijk
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.
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.
We are now preparing a completely new programme for 2010. What sets it apart from previous programmes is that it is full of new transcriptions that are equally fun and exciting for piano and guitar. We open with Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba.
We are now preparing a completely new programme for 2010, to debut on 21st January 2010 in Doorn, Netherlands. What sets it apart from previous programmes is that it is full of new transcriptions that are equally fun and exciting for piano and guitar.
We open with Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, whose 4-hand one piano score could easily be read for our piano and guitar combination. While I was visiting Helsinki in mid-November to play the duet with my Finnish friend, Robert Bekkers transcribed it for our duo. It’s a piece that makes me happy every time I play it.
The choice for the second piece is tricky. I’m not sure what to put between the Queen of Sheba and the third piece: Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Perhaps we should choose a lesser known piece, just to break the familiarity of sticky tunes, or as the composer and pianist Daniel Abrams suggested, a solo piano or guitar piece.
Robert arranged Winter for our duo, largely because the Summer concerto worked so well for us. The latter was very exciting and challenging to play in sync. He chose it after spotting a young Korean guitarist playing the fast sections on youtube. Originally written for string orchestra, Winter is much easier to play than Summer. I particularly like the second movement – Largo. How fitting it is to study Winter in the final week of 2009 with snow thawing on the ground. I feel that sweet contentment of being indoors, in the warmth and coziness of a well-insulated Dutch house. Winter has never been like this, where I grew up — in the subtropics.
I first heard Manuel de Falla’s Danse Espagnole from the opera La Vida Breve at a final exam concert at the Utrecht Conservatory in 2008. I was so taken by it that I invited the Spanish violinist Angel Sanchez Marote and the Okinawan pianist Shumpei Tanahara to play it again in our Monument House Concert Series. [A midsummer afternoon tea concert programme PDF] I asked Angel (pronounced An – hul) where to get the music. He said it was one of many popular arrangements by Fritz Kreisler, available at music book stores. Coincidentally, Robert owned an arrangement for two guitars which he rehearsed with his own duo. His guitar part was 80% the same as the violin part in the violin-piano score I found at a second-hand sheet music store in Amsterdam. Needless to say, it was a matter of time before we adjusted the score for our piano guitar duo.
I was delighted to stumble upon a video clip of Angel playing the Spanish Dance, with a different pianist (below).
The only works in our new programme that are original to piano and guitar are the Grand Duo Concertant and Grand Potpourri National which are long enough to fit a concert by themselves. The former was a collaboration between 33 year old Mauro Giuliani and 19 year old Ignaz Moscheles, and the latter between Giuliani and Johann Nepomuk Hummel. The 25-minute Grand Potpourri National is a joy to play. It contains themes of national anthems of the countries in 1815 when it was written. So far we’ve only managed to identify Rule Britannia and Haydn’s Deutschland Uber Alles which became the Austrian national anthem. We’re told there is also Vive Henri IV (French national anthem). What about the others?
When I met the English guitarist and composer David Harvey in London in 2006, he gave me his arrangement of Piazzolla’s Tango Suite no. 2 (from his guitar duos). It’s only now that we have time to include it in our repertoire. We played it recently for my Rotary Club gathering.
We revisit another great Spanish maestro, the blind composer Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999), whose Fantasia para un Gentilhombre took us through all of 2009. This time, we return to his most famous guitar concerto, if not THE most famous of all guitar concertos: the Aranjuez. Robert had arranged the beautiful slow movement for himself as soloist with an ensemble of flute, bassoon, and guitar in an outdoor summer concert which I organised in London (photo below). Since 2002, we’ve considered studying all three movements of the Concierto de Aranjuez, we’ve never been so convinced until now to include it in our program.
Ever since I saw Bizet’s Carmen in Amsterdam, I promised and vowed to make an arrangement of my favourite pieces from this delightful opera. The orchestral score has been sitting on my grand piano for months while I searched for interesting piano solo and duet arrangements. Perhaps my own arrangement for piano and guitar will be the missing second piece in our new programme. That’s my way of getting back into the swing of composing again.