Case Study: adapting music for amateur choir

A trained soprano approached me recently about adapting a famous Buddhist song, arranged for four-part voice, for a 45-person amateur choir, pianist, cello, and saxophone. Continue reading “Case Study: adapting music for amateur choir”

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Dame Kiri to sing in Maui on 1st October 2011

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa comes to Maui on Saturday 1st October 2011 to give a recital with pianist Terence Dennis at the Castle Theater in Kahului.

Shortly after I returned to Maui in mid-August 2011, I checked out the classical music scene here. It was bare — or I should say “nil” compared to what I have been accustomed to in Amsterdam, Utrecht, and London. However, one name stood out.

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa

I had to take a second look. The legendary soprano from New Zealand? Dame Kiri who sang at Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding? The most beloved soprano in Britain?

Having lived in London for most of my adult life, I had heard of Dame Kiri long before I started going to operas and definitely long before I began writing concert reviews. I loved that I knew how to pronounce her name from years of listening to Classic FM Radio. She was one of those beautiful megastars that I never imagined my luck being in the same room with, let alone the same island.

In Maui, where classical music concerts are few and far between, everyone who loves classical music flock to the only show in town. And Dame Kiri’s is, literally, one night only.

Last weekend, I mentioned to a 30-year Maui resident, “I’m going to miss Dame Kiri’s concert.” To my surprise, he responded with “Who is she?”

I had to count to five before answering. While she may be a household name in London, she’s virtually unknown to surfers and those outside of the classical music scene.

“If you have never been to opera or an art song recital or a classical concert of any sort, and you don’t know anything about opera, art song, or classical music, you would seriously regret not going to see Dame Kiri in concert if you had the chance. She’s coming to Maui to give a concert — that’s just incredible. Amazing!”

As last weekend passed, I mentally registered that I had missed the chance to see her. Today, I learned that I had gotten my dates wrong. She will give a concert in Oahu on 29th September and then fly to Maui to perform at the Maui Arts and Culture Centre (MACC) on Saturday 1st October 2011. The MACC on Maui is equivalent to the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the South Bank Centre in London with its suite of three concert halls. The announcement on Hawaii Public Radio mentioned that these will be her first performances in Hawaii.

For those who have not heard of Dame Kiri — just google her. Watch youtube videos of her performances of her opera roles as the Countess in the Marriage of Figaro, Pamina in the Magic Flute, and as Tosca, to name a few. She has turned full circle from her teenage years in pop music in New Zealand to opera roles in London to art songs, expanding to broadway and beyond. Here’s a nice video of a rehearsal of Kiri with Andre Previn and others. Watch her TV interview in London and another on the challenges of being an opera singer. Watch Dame Kiri’s moving performance of “Ach Ich Fuhl” when she received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement in Music awarded at the Classic BRIT Awards 2010.

On Saturday 1st October 2011 at 7:30 pm at the Castle Theatre of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, Dame Kiri and accompanist Terence Dennis will perform selections from composers Mozart, Vivaldi, Handel and Puccini opera as well as art songs from France and Germany, and folk songs from England and South America. I am very curious what those selections will be. In my next blog post, I shall postulate.

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.

Buskin’ Bekkers with opera singer Reiche

Robert Bekkers arranges music from the great opera arias for classical guitar to accompany Dutch soprano Mirella Reiche for outdoor performance in central Utrecht, The Netherlands. It is preparation for his upcoming solo guitar concert in the Hague.

“I am going to play on the streets of Utrecht,” Bekkers the Busker declared.

It’s not about how many coins he will collect in his guitar case.

It’s not what people think.

deh, Vieni, Non Tardar by Mozart, arranged by Robert Bekkers for guitar and voice
deh, Vieni, Non Tardar by Mozart, arranged by Robert Bekkers for guitar and voice

I recall reading articles on the economics of busking in an academic journal. After all the transaction costs of concertising in established concert venues, busking works out just as well.  An economist worked out the economics of busking in London. Here’s another one about busking in New York City. I remain skeptical how much money you can make from busking. But then, you don’t need to book a venue, do publicity, etc.

“I’m going to accompany Mirella Reiche. She has a license,” he added. Apparently you need a license to play in the streets of Utrecht, the fourth largest city in the Netherlands. “She will sing highlights from opera.”

Bekkers discovered that it was easier to arrange the guitar parts than to look for sheet music. “Most guitar arrangements,” he explained, “are written for guitar solo. I don’t have time to visit book stores or order online, if there are any at all. It’s faster for me to look at a piano accompaniment and arrange it for guitar.”

Ach, Ich Fuhl's by Mozart arranged for guitar and voice by Robert Bekkers
Ach, Ich Fuhl's by Mozart arranged for guitar and voice by Robert Bekkers

I have seen Mirella Reiche perform live on several occasions. She is very expressive when she sings. I can imagine her leading the crowd from joy to sorrow, from love to rage — all the emotions the great divas have expressed through the timeless arias of famous operas of Mozart, Puccini, and others.

Each day Robert Bekkers puts on his crisp white shirt and dark trousers and announces,”I’m going to town. I’ll be back in a few hours.” When he returns, he brings back coins which he throws into a big pickle jar. “By the end of the month,” he declares, “this jar will be full.”

Over coffee today I told a friend about Bekkers’ busking activities. “I think I heard someone sing yesterday. I was at the central library.” That’s where they were.

Bekkers (guitar) and Reiche (soprano) in central Utrecht, Netherlands 2 Aug 2011 photo: Iztok Klančar
Bekkers (guitar) and Reiche (soprano) in central Utrecht, Netherlands 2 Aug 2011 photo: Iztok Klančar

Tomorrow 3rd August 2011 at 2 pm Stadhuisbrug Utrecht (opposite the central public library) Robert Bekkers and soprano Mirella Reiche will perform the following opera arias:

Ach, Ich fühl’s
Meine lippen sie kussen so heiss
Mein Herr Marquis
Quando me vo
Mio Babbino Caro
Habanera
Dolente Imagine di fille mia (Bellini)
Tuute le Feste
Voi, Che Sapete
Deh, Vieni, Non Tardar
In Uomini, in Soldati
Je Veux Vivre

It’s the best training for a live performance, because it is a live performance in front of listeners who are free to come and go as they please and donate as they wish. In other words, a live performance is the best preparation for the next performance.

Robert Bekkers will give a solo guitar concert in the Grotekerk in the Hague (Den Haag) this Sunday 7th August 2011 at 2 pm. Free entry. Donations accepted. CDs for sale.

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)

Live recording of concerts on CD

Listening to live recording of a concert is different from that of a studio recording.

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)