Tag Archives: Texas

Houston Public Radio KUHF

Today I read that the new CEO Shumate laid off key personnel at Houston Public Radio KUHF.

I was shocked.

The Front Row interviewed our duo twice – the first time in 2007, our first performance in Houston; the second in 2010, almost exactly 3 years ago.

It was a novel experience to go on radio, not just to be interviewed but to play on radio. To play meant playing on a magnificent concert grand — a Steinway — in the radio’s recording studio.

I wish we had taken photos of ourselves in the studio. This was before smartphones. It was before we knew how to behave on radio. At least we blogged about it.

Listening to the radio clips reminds me there’s more work to be done. We have recorded Summer and Winter of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and then our lives got hugely interrupted. We need to do Spring and Autumn. When will that be?

There are many interesting stories surrounding the compositions and even more that we could relate to regarding our re-discovery and revival of these compositions for our two instruments.

Reading the latest news about KUHF’s layoffs distresses me. Bob Stevenson, who had interviewed us, has been laid off. Couldn’t the CEO’s salary be halved and save a few positions?

Here on Maui, I almost exclusively listen to the Hawaii Public Radio in my car. I tell my music literature students to give up what they usually listen to and, at least for the current semester, listen only to public radio. It’s a good way to absorb classical music by immersing yourself in it.

What do we do now? Download the mp3 clips and save them before everything disappears!

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Remembering Villa Maria

During our tightly packed 5-week concert tour from Boston to Maui (18 Oct – 25 Nov 2010), we did not have the time to write about every concert. Needless to say, this does not mean that we do not remember them!

When my friend Grace e-mailed me that Villa Maria was up for sale, I discovered I hadn’t even mentioned this important concert that flew us into Houston, cutting short our stay in Phoenix!

Villa Maria concert in Houston, Texas, November 2010

Villa Maria concert in Houston, Texas, November 2010. Photo: Rodney Waters

My friend Linda had pushed for us to perform in that mansion. I had no idea it was so grand, the occasion so elegant and completely out of this world.

Houston was where house concerts started for me. In February 2001, I performed in a concert of improvised music. There were two Steinways, one from New York, the other from Hamburg, side by side. It was River Oaks. It was my first house concert.

Who would have thought that I’d be back in Houston nearly 10 years later, actually giving concerts?

I invited my friend Grace to the concert at Villa Maria. She probably thought every house concert was just like that — something out of a movie or ancient Rome.

It was a guitar extravaganza — a program already full. But the organizers managed to squeeze us in – just 20 minutes which became 15 minutes – 2 pieces: Vivaldi’s Winter from Four Seasons and Manuel de Falla’s La Vida Breve.

The owners sat directly in front of the stage like the patrons of days past. The concert hall was purposefully built and opened onto the balcony. Beneath was where we warmed up — a converted gym. Robert recalls: “it was my first time, being in a 5-star gym as a green room and the stage was like a Roman villa, complete with paintings: the perfect backdrop for a program with Vivaldi.”

The article neglected to mention the prized and decorated Doris Duke Steinway grand piano that I played on. I wonder if that is for sale, too? [Open the article in full view and scroll to the middle to read about this 1901 New York Steinway Model B.]

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Pachelbel Canon in C

Johann Pachelbel’s most famous work is his Canon in D. George Winston played his version of it in the key of C. Why not? C is 2 sharps easier than D major.

Is it possible to decompose it further? Simplify it so that even beginners can have fun with it?

I recall a post-concert spontaneous “jam session” in Houston, Texas where Robert on his guitar and I on the piano played the chords of Pachelbel and the host improvised on his flute. It was such fun that I wanted to do it again.

A canon, by definition, is a piece of music where one voice repeats the part of another, throughout the whole piece. Pachelbel’s Canon is often subtitled with “basso ostinato” — a repetitive bass. Once you know the bass line and the sequence of chords, you can repeat it over and over again.

Pachelbel's Canon arranged for solo and group playing by Anne Ku

Pachelbel's Canon arranged for solo and group playing by Anne Ku

In the above score, notice there are 4 parts. Four different players can play in sequence. The first begins. The second joins at the beginning when the first reaches rehearsal mark A. Similarly the third player joins at the beginning when the first reaches rehearsal mark B and the second reaches rehearsal mark A.  And so on.

Of course there is more development than these 16 bars, but at least beginners can play this.

I googled “Pachelbel Canon and C” and discovered that others have arranged simple versions for solo piano in the key of C. And there are plenty of free sheet music on the Internet such as this one.

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Capriccio for piano, 4 hands by Blessinger

It has been nearly five months since the deadline of my Call for Scores has passed and 3.5 months since the Piano Soiree in San Francisco where several of the piano duets were played. And it has taken THAT long to find another pianist to study, play, and record a duet.

During my 2.5 months in Utrecht, Netherlands (end May – mid August 2011), I actively sought pianists to sightread the 42 duets from 30 composers. Aside from those too boring or too difficult, there were many candidates for a replay. After gauging the sightreading experience with different pianists, I decided which ones deserved another re-evaluation.

Martin Blessinger‘s Capriccio is a fun piece that challenged me enough to recruit someone else with whom to prepare and play together. Below is an extract of the recording on my Steinway Grand in Utrecht, Netherlands with me as primo and Carol Ruiz Gandia as secundo.

Capriccio for piano duet by Martin Blessinger (mp3)

The Texas-based composer wrote:

This piece is a transcription of a movement from Tapas, a suite of short pieces I wrote a few years ago for violin and viola duo.  It struck me that one of the middle movements of the work, Capriccio Pizzicato, would work particularly well for four-hand piano.  This is an ensemble that has always appealed to me for personal reasons.  I was a piano major as an undergraduate, and some of my fondest memories are of reading through four-hand piano works with other members of the piano studio at SUNY Stony Brook.    

Capriccio for piano, 4 hands by Martin Blessinger

Capriccio for piano, 4 hands by Martin Blessinger

In studying for this piece, I focussed only on getting the notes correct, labeling ledger lined notes and polite accidentals whenever possible and necessary for clarity. When we got together to play, we decided to make a small comma after the third quarter note in bar 6 because it felt like a breath was needed. These are decisions that can only be made after studying a piece (not sightreading).

I thought I had the difficult part until I saw what the secundo had to do in bar 33 and 34 while I played nothing. Spanish pianist Carol Ruiz Gandia decided to memorise those octaval 16-th notes while I stayed put. Moving the page distracted her. So I waited until bar 36 before I moved the page.

Bars 34 and 35 in the secundo part of Capriccio by Martin Blessinger

Bars 34 and 35 in the secundo part of Capriccio by Martin Blessinger

We decided to add some dynamics in bar 58 where it was already forte. We went back down to a mezzo forte and made another crescendo to a forte in bar 60. These dynamics added to the piece. In bar 61, we went back down to a piano and steadily climbed until a big fortissimo in bar 64. The secundo immediately dropped back to a mezzo piano (subito) and I joined her to crescendo to another fortissimo in bar 65. And again. These dynamics are essential to make this piece exciting to play and listen to.

On top of page 7, we retracted to piano and then pianissimo as we descended.

Capriccio by Martin Blessinger

Capriccio by Martin Blessinger: bars 78 to 81

Listen to the 3rd movement Capriccio Pizzicato of Tapas from which this duet came. I rather think the entire 4 movement piece for violin and viola could be arranged for piano duet. I particularly enjoy playing fugues in duets.

In the meantime, having discovered its origins, I will share it with my violin and viola friends in Bristol, where just a year ago I was sightreading piano trios and quartets in their newly renovated Georgian home.

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Salon concerts: another name for house concerts

First I used “home concerts” for live foreground music that gets performed and heard in one’s home. In Dutch, home is “huis” — pronounced like house in English. When I moved to the Netherlands, I used “huisconcerten” or “house concerts” instead of “home concerts” to promote concerts in the home.

In the USA, I noticed people using “salon concerts” — and decided to investigate this further.

When I google “salon concerts” I get what looks like an established concert series called Salon Concerts. There is a link to a nice article called “Chamber music finds its modern home.” Scrolling down, I see that the ticket price begins at $40.

How much to charge for house concerts? This is the question many hosts and performers have asked. If Salon Concerts can charge $40 and get a full house, why can’t anyone charge $40? Instead, I’ve heard reactions such as

I can’t charge my friends.

I can’t expect people to pay more than $10.

The economy is bad. People won’t come if we charge more than $10.

Let’s make it free and ask people to donate.

How much do we charge to make sure we get a full house? If we charge too much, we get empty seats.

If we change the name of house concerts to salon concerts, create a professional website, get media attention, can we then charge more than $10 per person? Maybe then, it becomes affordable to run a concert series from the home.

Download the 14-page paper presented at the International Cultural Economic conference in Copenhagen, 2011: “House concerts for art music: multiple stakeholders, audience development, and sustainability

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Live recording for radio Houston

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

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo in Warmond, Netherlands Photo: Humphrey Daniels

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo in Warmond, Netherlands Photo: Humphrey Daniels

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)

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.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo at Utrecht Conservatory K108 Photo: Olaf Hornes

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo at Utrecht Conservatory K108 Photo: Olaf Hornes

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.

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Wanted: piano in Maui

How long can I stand not having a piano to practise on?

There’s an upright piano (a spinet) at the community centre nearby where I can practise in the afternoons. The first time I tried the piano, it was out of tune. After it got tuned for our short concert, I tried it again. Several groups were playing mah jong. They didn’t mind and even applauded after Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, the only sheet music I had that was remotely Christmassy. The mah jong players invited me to snack with them during the break and gave me Haiku tangerines. “Come back next week,” they said when I was leaving.

A kind lady offered her Steinway grand in south Kihei. It’s at least a half-hour drive to her beautiful home. My sister told me of another place in Kihei with a grand piano that I’ve yet to visit.

There are many churches nearby. I’m sure there are pianos I could use, but first I need to enquire.

Still, I get tempted when I see a piano for sale. Perhaps I just want a piano in my home and not anywhere else.

On Craigslist I spotted pianos for sale: an upright piano — a medium-brown-coloured spinet left behind when the house got sold. The new owners initially advertised it for $300 two weeks ago. Now they changed it to $250 or better offer. I imagine it sitting in the corner in my living room. I would wake up and play it to my heart’s content.

The piano reminds me of the Yamaha console my father had bought brand new for our family. We all learned to play the piano. My mother told me that she took lessons with us because we were the first and only students of our Japanese piano teacher (at that time.) She stopped when our teacher recruited other students. Sadly my father sold the piano after we had grown up and left home. I guess I’m still pining for that piano.

Yamaha upright in Okinawa, Japan

Yamaha upright in Okinawa, Japan

Buying a piano is not a trivial thing. In my article “Buying a piano: a decision maker’s guide,” I advised buyers to get a professional assessment (by a piano technician) before deciding. I did not add that there are costs of moving, tuning, advertising and selling when one leaves.

Why buy a piano if you can rent one? In Houston, I rented a Baldwin upright on a monthly basis for 14 months. I did not have to find a mover or a tuner. One phone call and it arrived. Another phone call and it left. What a joy it was to play! What a joy it was to compose!

Rented Baldwin upright piano in Houston, Texas

Rented Baldwin upright piano in Houston, Texas

What I really want is not a piano in my home but access to a piano in a room (nearby) where I can practise without an audience. When I’m aware of the presence of someone else listening, my playing becomes a performance. What I really miss is being able to practise on a good instrument close by, whenever I want, and for as long as I want.

The guitarist has no longing as such. His guitar is always a heart beat away, anywhere he goes.

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