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!

Remembering Villa Maria

Anne Ku remembers performing in Villa Maria in Houston, now up for sale for $5.7 million.

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.]

Pachelbel Canon in C

Anne Ku introduces Pachelbel’s famous Canon to beginners of piano.

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.

Capriccio for piano, 4 hands by Blessinger

Piano duets often have origins elsewhere. Martin Blessinger’s Capriccio for piano, 4 hands came from the 3rd movement of a violin and viola piece. Listen to an extract recorded by Anne Ku (primo) and Carol Ruiz Gandia (secundo).

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.

Salon concerts: another name for house concerts

What is in a name? Home concert, house concert, salon concert, huisconcert, … does it make any difference if it’s established or not? How much can you charge and still get people to attend a concert in your home?

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

Live recording for radio Houston

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

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.

Wanted: piano in Maui

The pianist laments for her piano left behind. There are pianos to borrow, to rent, and to buy. But she longs for the piano she cannot have, not to perform but to practise with no one listening.

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.

Holiday greetings: a viral video

Holiday greetings come in all forms and manners. Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo share the interesting ones they received this Christmas and New Year with everyone, starting with a viral video clip.

It’s that time of the year when we are getting seasons greetings in all shapes, sizes, and media. There’s the personal e-mail with attached photos. There’s the facebook photo with tags. There’s the personal newsletter via e-mail. We received one photo card by post because the sender asked for our Hawaii address. All other mail will have to wait until we return in the spring or summer.

All these greetings remind us that we’re once again late in creating and sending out our own holiday greetings. Last year we recorded our adventure in the snow in front of our home in Utrecht. The previous year we sent out a 2-page newsletter. What will we do this year?

Let’s start by sharing nice greetings from our friends.

We received a link to the following youtube video today. We recognise our friend David Crawley, an expert on branding, marketing, and everything else you need to know to succeed in the new world of technology, entrepreneurship, and most of all, ideas. Earlier in November 2010, David introduced us to Arnaud (head of the company) and showed us the office which you see in the video.

Robert and I watched the video with no expectation whatsoever. We laughed. We cheered. Before the video was over, we wanted to tell our friends and contacts. It looked fun to work in that company. A company with a bright future. A company with a philosophy we can relate to. Their list of clients in the end was impressive. Videos are viral animals. If you like it, you want to share it.

Now, how can we make videos of our performances viral?

PS. Visit the website of Hexagroup and watch the trailer in the top left-hand corner.

Passion and patronage for the arts

Arts patronage is necessary for the arts to thrive and flourish. There are many ways to support the arts. One example is someone who connects artists to opportunities. Linda Marroquin supports the arts by doing not only that but also turning her home into a venue and gallery called the Audley Society in Houston.

When you’re passionate about something, you do it. You tell people about it, and you share it. You support it by doing it and sharing it.

What if you’re a connoisseur of the arts? You may not necessarily engage in it as in drawing, painting, designing, composing, performing, or live as an artist, musician, writer, or any of those activities that are considered creative or artistic. However, you may very well attend gallery openings and concerts or be a regular museum visitor. There’s nothing wrong with that. But you can do more.

You can be a patron for the arts.

These are people who have the passion but who also support the arts through any of the following activities:

  • connect people by introducing artists to patrons, consumers, and others who provide opportunities
  • engage or hire artists such as concert producers, venue owners, and gallery owners
  • sponsor artists or events that employ artists
  • collaborate with artists or those that employ artists to make the events possible or affordable
  • create opportunities for artists
  • provide material for artists: photographs, video, transportation, accommodation, publicity, etc.

Our 5 week concert tour in the USA would not have been possible without these patrons. They may not even know they are patrons. Arts patronage is not a job or a recognised label but it is a necessary function for the arts to thrive.

One of the aims of this CONCERTBLOG is to explore the what it takes to allow the arts to flourish in our society. There will be another blog post on what economists call transaction costs — the cost of doing or making something happen. In the arts, such as producing a concert, the transaction costs are very high. As a result, not everyone involved in the arts are paid what they’re worth (or paid at all).

Arts patrons volunteer their time, service, intellect, contacts, and other resources to support the arts.

One example of an arts patron who has helped us greatly is a lady I met on the plane from Baltimore to Houston in July 2000. She is one of those people who exudes a presence without saying anything. She is a connector — someone who sees similarities, opportunities, and connects people to one another.

She made it possible for us to stopover in Houston to give two house concerts in December 2007. She introduced us to Jeff Abrams who hosted our last concert in Houston. She introduced us to Michael Woodson who interviewed us on KPFT Houston radio station. Through her connections, she found the right person to invite us to fly to Houston for a private concert.

She turned her beautiful home into a gallery and concert venue to support the arts. She is not an artist or a musician. But she loves the arts. She loves to support the arts.

She is Linda Marroquin. Her next event of the Audley Society is on Political Art, beginning on 19th December 2010.

Upstairs in the venue of Audley Society, Houston, Texas
Upstairs in the venue of Audley Society, Houston, Texas

Join the Audley Society and proprietor Linda Marroquin as they embark on a political journey; an adventure undertaken to celebrate the victorious artistic endeavors of 9 Texas Artists; an exhibition of individual theories and ideologies that shape the way in which these artist speak out about issues very dear to their hearts, and how these unique perspectives change the way they see the world and produce their artwork. The show is curated by Janet Hassinger.

Reveal the Lies: An Artistic Call to Action includes the works of Amita Bhatt, Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak, George Bowes, Gabriel Diego Delgado, Janet Hassinger, Maria Cristina Jadick, Bert Long, Keith J. R. Hollingsworth, and Mary Jenewein.

The Exhibition is on display from December 19, 2010 – January 31, 2011, with an artist reception on December 19, 2010 from 1 pm – 6 pm. The closing events with dates to be announced will include a salon style discussion with Renowned News Anchors.

House concert formula a la Jeff Abrams in Houston

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo discovers best practices in house concerts in the USA and identifies key success factors for such concerts to flourish. One of these is in Houston, Texas.

One of the aims of our USA concert tour 2010 was to discover best practices in house concert production. Producing a successful house concert requires experience and know-how. We define success as meeting the expectations of all stakeholders: venue host, performers, audience, etc.

Performers feel rewarded by a full house, an enthusiastic and appreciative audience, a return invitation, sell-out of CDs and merchandises, and remuneration.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo concert in Houston Photo: Melissa Noble
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo concert in Houston Photo: Melissa Noble

The Glass Vase Concert we had organised in our Monument House Concert Series in May 2010 was a prelude to the house concert we gave in the home of Jeff Abrams in Houston, Texas. I say prelude because we designed it to mimic what we thought Jeff Abrams did for his concerts. A passionate supporter of the arts, Jeff Abrams has been hosting and producing house concerts for nearly 15 years. He has a strategy for getting full house concerts. We wanted to learn how he did it —- and we experienced that in the run up to Sunday 14th November 2010.

House concert in Montrose area, Houston, Texas Photo: Melissa Noble
House concert in Montrose area, Houston, Texas Photo: Melissa Noble

Some key success factors:

  1. Build a big mailing list. Not everyone can come. The larger the list you have, the greater the chance you’ll get a full house. Cast a wide net and you get more fish.
  2. Send out your e-mails not just once, but several times in different ways to remind people.
  3. Word your invitation to sell, promote, and persuade. Don’t just announce but actively get people to action.
  4. Choose your dates and times carefully. If it’s a Sunday, start early and expect to end early as people go to work on Mondays.
  5. Promote your concert with another concert. Get people to get a taste of the artist elsewhere. In this case, Robert Bekkers played a few solo pieces in a concert the previous evening.
  6. Allow (and invite) people to stay after the concert to get to know the artists, buy CDs, and “jam” with the artists. For some people, the jamming or free improvisation is a lure.
  7. Ensure there is something to eat and drink so people will stay and not leave immediately. Networking is an important part of building a return following.

We had a few surprises that Sunday evening at Jeff Abrams’ home in the Montrose area of Houston. The music stand on the piano fell forward when I turned the page of the Aranjuez Concerto. Luckily my friend Wendy jumped to the rescue and held it so I could finish the movement. She reminded me later that this had happened years ago when we were in high school in Okinawa.

Another surprise was getting photos and videos of our performance. Melissa Noble, who also volunteers as a radio announcer on KPFT Pacifica Radio Network, asked for permission to record our concert. We have learned from past concerts that we should never refuse such an offer from professional photographers and videographers. Thank you, Melissa!

Jam session after the house concert in Montrose. Photo: Melissa Noble
Jamming to Pachelbel's Canon Photo: Melissa Noble

What surprised me most was how fluidly we improvised to Pachelbel’s Canon in D (though we transposed it to C) after the concert was over. By the time we finished talking and the majority of the guests had left, we felt it was time to jam. We moved back into the piano room. I explained the circle of 5ths and started round the clock with a C major chord followed by G major and then the corresponding relative minors A minor and E minor. With Robert on the guitar and me on the Chickering grand piano, we formed a nice back-up for others to join in the jam. Jeff caught on quickly with fast runs on his silver flute. Others drummed on.

Jamming to Pachelbel Canon in D. Photo: Melissa Noble
Jam session in Jeff Abrams' house concert Photo: Melissa Noble

It was a brilliant end to an unforgettable week in Houston, Texas. Thank you, Jeff!