Mother’s Day Concert

A few pieces from Anne Ku’s Mother’s Day Concert at Roselani Place, May 10, 2015

Preamble: Usually I blog about a themed concert either before or just after giving it. This year is the first time that I’ve managed to “stick around” to celebrate Mother’s Day on Maui. In addition to playing music relevant to this special day, I added a few pieces to entertain my 76-year old mother who was present in the audience.


Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of each May. Anna Jarvis is credited for her effort to get US President Wilson to issue a proclamation to recognize this day. Shortly after giving this special concert at Roselani Place on May 10, I read that my friend Connie is related to Anna Jarvis. This made my research even more relevant!

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Eine Kleine Nacht Musik for Easy Piano

Anne Ku arranges Mozart’s famous Eine Kleine Nacht Musik for easy piano for four different levels, for solo or ensemble playing.

Mozart’s “Little Night Music” was originally written for string ensemble, consisting of string quartet plus an optional bass. I played the quatre-mains version with my classmate Jeff Beaudry one summer at New College, Oxford for a talent contest. We won a bottle of champagne which we shared with the other team at our next bridge game.

Continue reading “Eine Kleine Nacht Musik for Easy Piano”

Mozart’s Requiem to mourn a loss

Listen to Mozart’s Requiem on full blast to experience and mourn a loss.

Can anyone tell me the name of the movie in which a man and a woman date, get into a relationship, and split — the man listens to Mozart’s Requiem to cope with the break-up? The woman can read minds, so he is never private?

I watched that movie a long time ago — and developed a habit of listening to Mozart’s Requiem whenever I wanted to feel the sadness and tragedy of a situation.

When I returned to Maui recently, I came upon such an occasion. But my CD of Herbert von Karajan’s conducting Mozart’s Requiem was no longer with me. It’s probably among the entire collection of CDs that have vanished from my life — in Utrecht.

That in itself is cause for mourning.

Thanks to the Internet, I googled “Mozart’s Requiem” and listened to a version on Youtube. Much to my dissatisfaction at the slower pace and thinner texture, I searched for “Mozart’s Requiem Karajan” to find that particular version I knew and yearned.

Not only was I able to listen to the entire Requiem but also see the performers on Youtube. This nearly beats listening to the CD, except I have no stereo system. That too is gone.

What am I mourning? The loss of what is meaningful because the situation dictates it. What is meaningful comes from intention, be it a gift or purposeful acquisition. Over time, even that which was not intentionally and deliberately acquired could become meaningful if dwelled upon and appreciated.

Two weeks ago, I returned to London and took out what I had stored in suitcases, photo albums, and boxes — everything that I had wanted to keep and preserve in the secret loft. I was like a child again, returning home, surrounding myself with everything familiar and nearly forgotten in the years I’ve been away.

Sadly, after reducing my possessions by half, I had to store the remaining half away, boxed up and sealed. I don’t know when I will return again.

In the 10 hour flight to San Francisco, I bid farewell via two onboard movies and a nap. Flying westbound was a journey of goodbye, mourning of a reluctant loss.

Listen to Mozart’s Requiem on full blast — and you will experience a great tragedy.

Music in the movie The Lady who is Aung San Suu Kyi

Mozart’s piano concerto number 23, K488, adagio is played twice in Luc Besson’s The Lady.

Last evening I watched Luc Besson’s “The Lady” at the Maui Film Festival. I had read about Aung San Suu Kyi over the years but never quite understood why she was kept under house arrest in Burma and separated from her family in Oxford. The movie educated me to her cause and touched me greatly. I was particularly moved by her son Alexander Aris’ acceptance speech of the Nobel prize on her behalf.

The two classical pieces of music were played twice. Mozart’s piano concerto and Pachelbel’s Canon in D will now take on a new meaning for me. As I have been collecting different arrangements of the latter, which suffice material for a separate blog, allow me to indulge in Mozart.

The second movement of Mozart’s piano concerto number 23 (also known as the Adagio from K488) played by soloist Maurizio Pollini was poignant and at the tempo I preferred. I had heard it on a CD broadcasted at my late composition teacher’s funeral this past August and thought it too fast. If you haven’t heard of this concerto, compare the faster version of Horowitz with the slower of Pollini. See how the tempo affects the mood.

Theme from Adagio, 2nd movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto K.488
Theme from Adagio, 2nd movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto K.488

My duo has played our own arrangement on various occasions. The piano is the solo, accompanied by the guitar as orchestra. It’s one of my favourite slow movements of piano concertos. We’re always arguing over the right tempo for this piece. Note: Scores for full-orchestra, 2-piano version, and 4-hand duet can be downloaded for free from the Petrucci Library.

In the context of the movie, Mozart’s Adagio conveyed sadness and death. Earlier in the movie The New World, it conveyed one of unrequited love. For me, it will always be a beautiful work — one that can be played as a piano solo.

What will Dame Kiri sing on Maui?

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa will sing a variety of arias, art songs, and folk songs to please a diversified audience in Maui in her first performance in the Hawaiian islands. Anne Ku compares music to food and guesses the programme selection.

My non-music friend expressed his reservations in going to see Dame Kiri this Saturday evening.

“I have never gone to opera or classical concert. I don’t have the appreciation you have for classical music. Will you be disappointed if I don’t understand or be able to enjoy it to the depth you do?  You’re an academic when it comes to music. Is there someone more worthy to go with you?”

Dame Kiri in Maui, 1st October 2011 at 7:30 pm Castle Theatre
Dame Kiri in Maui, 1st October 2011 at 7:30 pm Castle Theatre

Actually I can think of many people who can’t wait to be asked to go with me to see Dame Kiri. One soprano in Amsterdam already wrote an unsolicited “I’m so jealous! Dame Kiri and then daiquiri on the beach!” There are three sopranos on the island that I would dearly like to enjoy the evening with: one upcountry, one in Kihei, and one in Lahaina.

While it’s “safe” to go with someone who already sings and enjoys classical music, I occasionally like to make a social outing of it such as with a friend who may never attend such an evening without my invitation. I might then be taking a risk going with someone who knows nothing about music. But then, how did I begin? How will classical music appreciation expand beyond the incumbent? It’s up to the existing fan base to introduce it to others.

Classical music is an acquired taste. Opera even more so.

A German friend introduced me to opera in London when I was 30 years old. He took me to Holland Park to see one of the most popular and accessible operas, Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte. I was more affected by the audience and the outdoor venue than what was going on stage. He tried again with Janacek’s less accessible Kat’a Kabanova which sealed my lack of affinity for a decade. When I was assigned to write a short chamber opera by my composition teacher, I forced myself to go to opera. After reviewing seventeen operas, I daresay I love opera.

In my “Opera for First Timers,” I suggested to go to a concert of opera highlights. This is precisely what I expect of Dame Kiri’s Hawaii debut this weekend. Her concert is not an opera. The programme is a mixture of the best arias from famous operas and other kinds of works such as art songs and folk songs. There is enough variety to whet the appetite of anyone who is not an opera aficionado.

It’s the same with food. When you’re new to Chinese cuisine, go experience dim sum. When you’re new to Spanish food, go for tapas. There are equivalent Mediterranean mezes, Indonesian rice tables, Korean kim chi, and conveyor belt sushi and sashimi.

Korean food in Little Korea, Manhattan, May 2011
Korean food in Little Korea, Manhattan, May 2011

Dame Kiri’s concert this Saturday in Maui is not exclusively opera. I repeat. It’s not an opera. It’s a variety show, a taste of the best of everything, and those pieces that have stood the test of time and distance. It’s not just her voice but also how she expresses herself when she sings. That’s what I shall look forward to.

While I have no idea what exactly she will be singing, I’d like to postulate that she will sing the following — many of which are my favourites.

  • Mozart:“Ach, Ich Fuhl’s” from Magic Flute, “Ah! chi mi dice mai” from Don Giovanni, “E Susanna non vien! … Dove sono” from Marriage of Figaro
  • Handel: “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Rinaldo
  • Puccini: “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi, “Vissi d’Arte” from Tosca, “Un belle de vedremo” from Madame Butterfly
  • Folk songs from England: “O Waly, Waly,” “Oliver Cromwell,”  “Scarborough Fair,”  poetry of Emily Dickinson: “Why did they shut Me out of Heaven? Did I sing – too loud?”
  • Folk songs from South America: of Granados and the Argentine composer Ginastera

Outdoor opera for guitar and soprano

Soprano and her guitarist accompanist play one more set for an eager listener in Utrecht — the secret garden near the Dome Tower.

On Friday 5th August 2011, I spotted two musicians cycling to work. Traffic was hectic on the cobbled stone streets of Utrecht, Netherlands.

“Where will you play next?” I asked the guitarist eagerly.

“I think we’re done for the day,” he turned to the singer.

“Oh! But I’ve been looking for you all afternoon. Can’t you do one more set for me?” I begged.

It’s unusual to hear opera arias outside of a concert hall or an opera production. It’s even more unusual to hear a soprano with a classical guitarist, amid the accordeonists that dominate the streets of this ancient Roman city.

“We’ve already done three sets,” said the singer. “We’re going for a beer now.”

“Look. I’ll buy you a beer. Please let me see you perform. I know a nice spot.”

I led them to a secret garden on the right side of the dome. I had visited there once during a walking tour.

Secret garden in Utrecht (near the Dome)
Secret garden in Utrecht (near the Dome)

Guitarist Robert Bekkers and soprano Mirella Reiche had obviously not seen this garden. They decided to try it. Soon the music drew people into the garden.

They were busking on this warm, sunny afternoon in Utrecht. The setting of the secret garden made it into an outdoor concert. The people who were already sitting on the benches refused to leave. Meanwhile, newcomers strolled into the garden to listen.

Robert Bekkers arranged the guitar part for this “Ach, Ich fuhl’s” aria from Mozart’s Magic Flute. The duo introduced this new programme this week.

Somewhere in time, 14th century Utrecht

Giving concerts in ancient buildings in Europe is one perk of being a musician. Anne Ku plays Somewhere in Time in a renovated 14th century building in Utrecht, Netherlands.

One joy of  giving concerts in Europe is discovering ancient buildings in ancient cities. Such medieval buildings line the cobbled streets of central Utrecht, also known as the 4th largest city in the Netherlands and first founded by the Romans 2,000 years ago.

14th century Bartholomeusgashuis (Bartholowmews Guesthouse) was the first nursing home in Utrecht. Located near the Geertekerk and within walking distance from the central train station, this building has a fascinating history.

Nowadays it’s a residence for the elderly, or I should say, the lucky elderly, after its recent renovation to 5-star hotel standards. A concert is held on the first Thursday of each month in the Smeezaal. The rounded oval ceilings make the acoustics conducive to live music making, but the loud air conditioning is not ideal for classical guitar which requires dead silence.

Playing music in such old surroundings take us back in time. After a programme of Mozart on Thursday 8th July 2011, I sat at the Yamaha grand piano and tried to go back in time with the theme from the movie “Somewhere in Time.”

Viva Mozart!

Mozart sells itself just as Hawaii sells itself. The new all Mozart programme of the Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo includes Bekkers arrangement of the Overture to the Magic Flute and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Viva Mozart! Voila!

During the two months Robert and I lived on opposite ends of the earth, he in the Netherlands and I in Hawaii, literally 12 time zones apart, I got involved in the local classical music scene in Maui. My blog “Maui Tips for Newcomers by a Newcomer” documents some of these activities but leaves out several important events that lead to where I am at today.

Barely a week after I returned to Holland at the end of May 2011, we had to prepare to give a concert in Warnsveld. We had not practised together for months. We had to come up with a new programme. What was possible and do-able in the short space of 5 days?

Mozart came to the rescue.

Just a month earlier I had turned pages for Katherine Collier, the pianist and developer of “Amadeus-The Magical Life and Music of Mozart” the opening concert of the 30th Anniversary of the Maui Classical Music Festival. The previous time I had visited the venue of the Makawao Union Church, I was the pianist. In fact, it was the very place where Robert and I gave our first public concert in the USA (not counting Houston Public Radio and the two house concerts in Houston that same month in 2007).

Collier’s Mozart was a brilliant programme, narrated by the Hawaii Public Radio announcer Howard Dicus. Ms Collier wore a white wig and dressed as Mozart. Each string instrument had a motif representing the main characters in Mozart’s life — his dad, his mom, his sister, his wife. The story of the child prodigy was told through music and narration. The audience got to sample a variety of his music: piano solo, string quartet, opera extracts, aria, etc.

Several weeks later while visiting friends in Colorado, I watched the director’s cut of the movie Amadeus. I was once more reminded of the ephemeral popularity of Mozart.

Mozart sells itself just as Hawaii sells itself. People will attend a concert of Mozart’s music, just as people will visit Hawaii (if they can afford the time and airfare). There is no need for embellishment or hard sell.

Our duo has more than enough Mozart for a full concert (45 minutes + intermission + 30 minutes). For the one hour programme without intermission, we have to choose what to leave out. We left out Carulli’s Variazione Sopra un Tema del Flauto magico di Mozart by Beethoven, op. 169 which we played extensively in 2007-2008. Hot off the press is Robert’s new arrangement of the Overture to the Magic Flute and the rest of the Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

The audience at the 3rd June concert in Warnsveld loved our programme. It was not difficult to do. Why did it take us 10 years to figure it out? We had been varying our programme as often as once every month, including difficult pieces such as the 30-minute long Grand Potpourri National which took months to get ready.

The page programme (PDF) of Viva Mozart! is ready to rock and roll. Our next concerts in the Netherlands are Sunday 26 June 2011 in Zeist, Thursday 7th July in Utrecht, and Sunday 17th July in Amsterdam.

Bekkers arrangement of Mozart's Overture to the Magic Flute for piano and guitar
Bekkers arrangement of Mozart's Overture to the Magic Flute for piano and guitar

From performance to entertainment

Classical musicians are trained to perform not entertain. However, increasingly audiences want entertainment. Is there a compromise?

At conservatory, we’re taught to perform not entertain. Yet the world of performance is being crowded out by demand for entertainment.

Famous classical pieces take on new meaning after they have been chosen as themes for movies. Chopin’s posthumous Nocturne in C sharp minor reminds us of the movie “The Pianist.” Whenever I play it, I think of that tragic atmosphere of loss and hopelessness.

Debussy’s Clair de Lune accompanies that delicate moment when Bella visits Edward for the first time. My friend in Denver wants me to play it exactly the way it sounds in the Twilight movie.

Or is simply that classical music takes on a new context when used in situations that bear meaning to us?

Would it be a compromise on our training and eternal quest for beauty and perfection to abdicate performance and embrace entertainment?

Or should we pay attention to what our listeners want? They want to hear those tunes that remind them of the good times in their lives, the movies they love, the weddings they attended (or perhaps their own). We as musicians can easily execute that.

To us, Pachelbel’s Canon in D may be a performance. To them, it’s entertainment — reminding them of the theme from “Ordinary People.”

My friend in DC sent me the following clip of the most popular string quartet in Poland. They are popular because they are entertaining. But more importantly, they are virtuosic, creative, and fun! Mozart would be laughing at this. Click on Mozart Group.

In short, a performance can be entertaining. But to differentiate ourselves and to draw audiences, we as performing artists may need to do more than interpret the music the way we think the composers expect their works to be played.

Recording our first CD (part 2: track order)

How to choose the order of tracks on a CD recording? First decide on a title and then find a story to tell.

Tonight I sat in front of the two very large quad speakers and listened to the 74-minute CD.

Reception of the Monument House Utrecht with the quad speakers
Reception of the Monument House Utrecht with the quad speakers

Why did Robert choose to begin with Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Potpourri? I turned the volume down as it sounded too loud and aggressive for this time of the evening. What should be the first track on a CD? The best piece to discourage the listener from giving up too early?

Hummel’s Potpourri is a piece originally written for piano and guitar. It was written for performance in the Dukaten Concerts in Vienna. For some reason, we always feel the audience rising with us and eventually a loud applause from the exhaustion of the marathon of opera themes. Perhaps this piece should come later.

The second piece, the Polonoise (Polonaise) from Variations opus 113 (65) exists also for guitar and string quartet. Mauro Giuliani and Johann Nepomuk Hummel performed together and composed the Grand Potpourri National which we will perform in mid-April in the house of an artist. It would be an ideal occasion to release our first CD then.

We have traditionally ended our programs with Giuliani’s Polonoise because it’s so virtuosic and exciting. To hear it as a second piece on our CD seems a little strange.

The third track is the first movement of Torroba’s Sonatina. That’s very nice in the evening, after an aerobics workout, sauna, and light dinner. I began to wonder if we should begin our CD with Torroba.

Even Rodrigo’s Fantasia para Gentilhombre is nice to listen to — in the evening.

Our sound engineer, who recorded our concert in a monastic church in Warmond in late 2008, had said that the third track is usually the best piece, the one you want others to listen to. If that’s the case, then the third movement of Torroba’s Sonatina works well.

We don’t have a title for this CD. Somehow “Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo” is not enough for a title.

How about choosing a title and then the order of the tracks?

For example, “Mediterranean Summer Potpourri” would allow us to order the tracks like a story. Imagine a voyage on a yacht in the Mediterranean.

We started in Madrid last spring, our debut concert in Spain. It makes sense to introduce the CD with works of two Spanish composers: Torroba and Rodrigo. Then we sail east on the Mediterranean to Italy. It’s summer by now, and we play our own arrangement of Vivaldi’s Summer from the Four Seasons. Mauro Giuliani left Italy for Vienna where he met the great concert pianist Hummel. Writing and playing potpourris was a favourite pastime in the 19th century. Incidentally, in his lifetime Hummel was more famous than his teacher — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

I propose a new order for the CD as told by the story above. Robert will need to revisit with our sound engineer. This may delay the CD production. But at least we will have a title.

Mediterranean Summer Potpourri

14 tracks

Rodrigo Fantasia para Gentilhombre:

  1. Villano y Ricercare
  2. Españoleta y Fanfare de la Caballería de Nápoles
  3. Danza de las Hachas
  4. Canario

Torroba: Sonatina

  1. Allegretto
  2. Andante
  3. Allegro

Vivaldi: Summer from the Four Seasons

  1. Allegro non molto
  2. Adagio e piano – Presto e forte
  3. Presto

Giuliani: Polonoise from Variationen op. 113 (65)

Hummel: Potpourri on famous opera themes

Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (LIVE)

  1. Allegro
  2. Romanza