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.

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“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.

Holiday greetings: surf’s up

Another example of a holiday greeting: e-mail in different languages with a photo that you want to use, steal, or share. Surf’s up!

Continuing from my previous post of unique holiday greetings we have received, I’d like to share the following image within a multi-lingual holiday greeting e-mail from the Netherlands. It’s snowing over there. I suppose the sender is dreaming of the kind of winter we’re having here in Maui. I can’t say it’s an original photo but I shall link the image to sender, i.e. the website of the Cuban pianist who lives in the Hague. I daresay it’s the first card we received that does not have snow.

Surf's Up: 2011 The best of times is now
Surf's Up: 2011 The best of times is now

We hope you may conclude a wonderful year.
May your years improve with age, like wine.
So we wish you an even grander 2011.
Happy Holidays!

Esperamos que hayan concluído un buenísimo año.
Que sus años, como el vino, se mejoren con el tiempo.
Y que el 2011 se aun mejor.
Felices Días!

We hopen dat jullie een geweldig jaar mogen afsluiten.
Dat de jaren, net als wijn, steeds beter mogen worden.
Dus onze beste wensen voor een nog mooier 2011.
Fijne Feestdagen!

Now you may ask, what is so special about this season’s greeting with photo of some unknown surfer riding a wave that looks like a scene out of Hawaii 5-0?  Well, if I have to let the cat out of the bag, read on.

These days, the only thing that really matters to the Dutch classical guitarist in Maui is the condition of the surf. He wakes up. Walks to the balcony and looks outside. How’s the surf?

Is it up?  If so, he makes a point of going to the beach to catch some waves. If lucky, he’ll ride on one with his boogie board.

Yesterday there was no surf. This means  —- pray for surf tomorrow.

The view from our balcony in Maui: surf's up on Christmas Day!
Morning view from our balcony in Maui: surf's up on Christmas Day!

Luckily on Christmas Day, the surf is up.  Time to go catch some waves!

From concerts to discussion panels

A pre-concert talk and string quartet interview in Den Haag inspired Anne Ku to follow suit in Phoenix and San Francisco in her duo concerts.

At the opening night of the International Chamber Music Festival in the Hague in September 2010, I witnessed a format I liked very much. The founder and artistic director, Eva Stegeman, inspired by TED talks, invited conductor Itay Talgam to give a pre-concert talk. Talgam went on to interview Dutch violinist Stegeman and her quartet, interrupting them after the first 10 minutes of Beethoven’s Quartet in F Major (opus 59 no. 1).

Stegeman called it “Chamber Music X-rayed.”

I call it —- thinking outside the box. Talgam asked the string quartet questions such as

  • If you don’t have a conductor, how do you know when to begin or end? Who leads?
  • Which passage do you like best?
  • How do you indicate the right tempo?

These are questions we don’t ask ourselves when we are rehearsing. How musicians communicate with each other in rehearsals is a mystery to most non-musicians. As performers, we don’t dissect the way we get our messages across. We indicate. We interpret. We might discuss. We compromise. It is not a science. We simply take it for granted, as musicians.

I had intended to write a review of that pre-concert talk and opening concert of the string quartet, but I got swept away by the momentum of preparing for our concert tour of the USA. Talgam and Stegeman’s on-stage “quartet discussion panel” brewed on my back burner until I got a chance to re-enact it in Phoenix, Arizona in early November and again in San Francisco.

At the Spirit of the Senses event in a loft apartment in Phoenix, Arizona, we gave a duo performance before the intermission. Afterwards, I invited Tom Houlon, the organiser, and guitarists Robert Bekkers and Matt Gould to sit in front of the audience. I moderated a discussion panel on house concerts.

Bekkers Duo in a loft apartment in Phoenix, Arizona
Bekkers Duo in a loft apartment in Phoenix, Arizona

Two weeks later, something similar happened in another loft apartment. After a chef-catered gourmet dinner, I invited the concert host Dr Chong Kee Tan to talk about his activities as amateur pianist, founder of his piano club, and founder/developer of High Note Live, an online software to manage artists, concerts, and audiences. I contrasted this against the view of the next panellist — composer, software-developer, and artistic manager Marc Parella. Only after the discussion panel did Robert Bekkers and I give our duo concert.

Because of the energy economists in the audience in San Francisco, I deliberately referred to cultural economics. While energy is a commodity, music is anything but. The half-hour discussion allowed the audience to participate. Perhaps this is a possible formula for future house concerts.

Loft apartment concert in Phoenix, Arizona
Loft apartment concert in Phoenix, Arizona