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!

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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.

Relocating and reinventing yourself

Do you have to relocate to reinvent yourself? Or just find the time to write? Anne Ku discovers why she admires authors and writers so much.

This December, my sister said,”Why don’t you write a book about relocating? You’ve done it so many times. If anyone knows how to do it, it would be you.”

Last December, my writing teacher said,”Why don’t you write a book about how to organise a house concert? Everyone who goes to your house concerts is thinking — gosh! I wish I could do this in my house. You can sell it to your audiences.”

People whom I’ve met on our USA concert tour have said to me,”Why don’t you write a book about your tour?”

There are many books I can write. There are many books I’d love to write. But I only have time to blog.

How do I make the time to write? A blog is not a book.

A friend who loved to write but never wrote a book told me to get up in the morning and just write.

When I discovered that “The Four Seasons” was the title of a new novel while researching Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, I wrote and introduced myself to the San Diego based author. Laurel Corona promptly sent me the novel. I’ve been following her on Facebook and Twitter ever since.

I am now half-way around the world from where I have been living most of my adult life. I am closer to my roots than anywhere I’ve lived in the last 20 years.

At the Rotary Club Maui luncheon last Thursday, I met the author Jill Engledow. I promptly visited Borders bookstore in Kahului and bought her book — “Island life 101: a newcomer’s guide to Hawai’i.” I am half-way through the book already.

This afternoon, I sat on a dried up tree trunk on the pebbled north shore of Waiehu Beach road and read another book while Robert body surfed.

For some reason, Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” caught my attention in a book store at one of the many airports I lingered at recently. I found it again, overdue in a stack of books destined to be returned to Wailuku Public Library. I had been wanting to immerse myself in a book since I left the Netherlands. Now, I can’t put it down. Liz, as the author called herself, relocated and reinvented herself.

Tonight I watched “Message in a Bottle” on Netflix online. While perusing the author’s website, I read about his life and how he got into writing. Nicholas Sparks did not stop whatever he was doing in his life to become an author. He just wrote. He eventually got published.

Perhaps being away from my normal environment will help me realise a dream. Perhaps that’s why I admire authors so much.

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

A Mediterranean Summer on 12 September

The “Mediterranean Summer” programme is part of the larger traditional programme we’ve performed throughout the Netherlands and three times in Spain. This Saturday we will give it away for free in a 600-year old building in central Utrecht: the Academiegebouw at 13:00.

Our Mediterranean Summer began in May with Spain and ended in August with Crete. It was a summer full of sunshine, beaches, fresh octopus and shellfish, new friendship, and cross-cultural collaborations. 

The “Mediterranean Summer” programme is part of the larger traditional programme we’ve performed throughout the Netherlands and three times in Spain. This Saturday we will give it away for free in a 600-year old building in central Utrecht: the Academiegebouw at 13:00. 

Dare we conclude our summer in Paleochora, Crete, the last week of August? I certainly hope not, for I have already booked a flight to Italy for mid-October, to stretch the summer in the Mediterranean just a wee bit longer.

The last sunset in Paleochora, Crete, August 2009
The last sunset in Paleochora, Crete, August 2009

“A Mediterranean Summer” concert programme

Sonatina
Federico Moreno Torroba (1891 – 1982)
Allegretto
Andante
Allegro

Fantasia para un Gentilhombre (1954) (complete guitar concerto!)
Joaquín Rodrigo (1901 – 1999)
Villano y Ricercare
Españoleta y Fanfare de la Caballería de Nápoles
Danza de las Hachas
Canario


Asturias (Leyenda)

Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909)
guitar solo

Summer from The Four Seasons
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741)
Allegro non molto arr. R. Bekkers (2008)
Adagio e piano – Presto e forte
Presto

Walking through a misty shower on the strand in Paris, August 2009
Walking through a misty shower on the strand in Paris, August 2009

In between Spain and Crete, we ventured into Paris for some inspiration. The modern art exhibition at the Pompidou Centre got us thinking about contemporary music. Why doesn’t the music of live composers attract the large crowds that pour into contemporary art galleries?

Feedback from audiences and readers

How I would like to capture the reaction in real-time rather than trying to recall it after the concert! A few ladies in the audience remembered that we had performed there a year ago and pointed to the chairs where we had sat and conversed well after the concert over wine and cheese.

While live feedback is great, we also get emails from those who have seen our youtube clips and perused our website.

After our concert in Bloemendaal (near Haarlem in the Netherlands), I mentally told myself to remember the reaction of the audience.

The lady who thanked us on behalf of everyone said, “We don’t hear the piano and guitar a lot — an unusual combination. Sometimes it sounds like a real orchestra!” The piano and the guitar, being polyphonic instruments, can sound like multiple instruments, unlike single voiced instruments. But to sound like an orchestra — that’s a compliment indeed!

Our guest, an art history professor from the mid-West (United States), exclaimed, “It was very exciting… intense… and emotional (for me). In the Vivaldi, I heard both of you as one instrument when you were playing together — totally in sync.”

She said that the 90-year old lady sitting adjacent, who was hard of seeing but not hard of hearing, had remarked during the concert that the music was very difficult to play

How I would like to capture the reaction in real-time rather than trying to recall it after the concert! A few ladies in the audience remembered that we had performed there a year ago and pointed to the chairs where we had sat and conversed well after the concert over wine and cheese. I, for one, was grateful for the glass of cool white wine, on such a warm Saturday afternoon in mid-spring.

While live feedback is rewarding due to the immediacy and spontaneity, we also get emails from those who have seen our youtube clips and perused our website. Usually they write to request for sheet music or CD. And I linger a bit before composing an appropriate reply as to why we don’t have sheet music or CD to send.

Here are several recent ones, copied and pasted below, to add to the feedback page.

Hello, I´m writing from Argentina to tell you I´ve seen your page and I liked very much your performances. I also have a guitar & piano duet so we´re interested in your transcriptions we can´t get because of the reduced repertory for guitar and piano (at least comparing with others duets). As we live in Argentina it´s a bit difficult to get that kind of scores. We wanted to ask you if you could send to this e-mail some of the works you play together (original or transcriptions) in PDF format.

Thanks, you´re a great duet.

———–

I have been watching your videos and reading about your duo, and I have to admit, I have had a very hard time finding music for piano and guitar that isn’t something between rock and roll and jazz as well. I don’t mind playing that kind of music, in fact I have a lot of fun playing it, but I’ve been looking for a classical repertoire with my friend for a piano guitar duo for some time now. and so I just wanted to ask you, would there be anyway to know if it is possible for me to acquire some of the sheet music you play? or even ideas for where I should look for it? Thank you very much for you time.

——

My girlfriend and I are finishing our studies at the academy. She is playing piano and I am a guitarist. So, since our final exam is in June, I am begging you to send us some pdf sheet music for piano and guitar duo. We heard how you play Erik Otte’s composition and it was breathtaking! Something like that or Piazzolla maybe woud be perfect. Please, have in mind that we can’t find any sheet music here.

Your followers!
—-

I bought your piano solos cd some years ago, and now, having found your site again, am wondering if you have any recordings of your piano guitar duo available for purchase?

Thank you very much for your attention to this,

Getting ready for a concert

How do you react if one makes a mistake, such as playing a wrong note, a wrong chord, playing something too early or skipping a beat? There is no “undo button” to correct the situation. It’s all moving too fast. Not only do you have to anticipate the next move and prevent a wrong move, you have to cover up a wrong move if it happens.

Revised from “Getting ready for a concert” Facebook Notes, Monday 8 December 2008

Why is it necessary to be in shape (physically and mentally) to perform in a concert?

A concert is a real-time experience. In a duo situation, a performer not only has to be alert to his/own movements but also that of the other musician. It’s necessary to hear well and anticipate because performing chamber music is not only about making a sound from your instrument but mixing the sound with other(s).

How do you react if one makes a mistake, such as playing a wrong note, a wrong chord, playing something too early or skipping a beat? There is no “undo button” to correct the situation. It’s all moving too fast. Not only do you have to anticipate the next move and prevent a wrong move, you have to cover up a wrong move if it happens.

It’s a dead giveaway to show you have made a mistake by your facial expression. I didn’t know this until a few ladies in the audience told me they enjoyed my performance but felt that perhaps I didn’t because of the way I frowned. I learned afterwards never to show that I made a mistake or that my duo partner made a mistake.

How do you get yourself prepared for such a real-time “battle”? I say battle because it’s like fighting the chance of imperfectly executing your prepared moves. How do you get totally alert and stay focussed when you’re on stage?

A good night’s sleep helps. I have seen the detrimental effects of a late night’s sleep and jetlag. You can only stay 100% focussed for so long, and it becomes extremely hard when you’re fighting a lack of sleep. There is enough to battle on stage without having to fight the desire to fall asleep. It’s happened to me when I’ve “blacked out” in seconds to a dream-like state simply from lack of sleep. That’s toxic for the other performer.

Keeping in shape is another way to be prepared. I take regular exercises in aerobics, weight-lifting, yoga, and pilates. The guitarist is training for a marathon. In the Netherlands where there are safe cycle paths everywhere, cycling is THE way to travel from A to B. Cycling is tough in dark, wet, windy, gloomy winter weather. I still don’t know how the Dutch manage to carry things in the rain on their bicycles without getting wet. But they certainly stay trim and fit.

The relationship between the performers has to be clear and good. Misunderstandings, resentment, and other unspoken disagreement all get in the way of a good performance. Long ago I used to get stressed out before a major performance, and I’d argue with the guitarist and get mad. After awhile, he figured out that I was just nervous. With better preparation, good night’s sleep, physical exercise, better communication, and getting to the venue with plenty of time to spare, we now avoid such stressful confrontations.

Finally, a good diet and regular routine helps. My father always preached the Chinese way of walking the middle road and achieving balance in life. As impetuous a risk-taker as I am, I have learned that “extreme” living requires compensation at some point. If I eat too much, I feel uncomfortable. If I eat the wrong thing, I react. There is comfort in knowing the certainty of routine, as boring and predictable as it may be.

One more thing — a very important one: Don’t overeat before a concert, for digestion takes away concentration. I once cooked and ate a huge meal just before giving a full moon concert in North Wales. Not sure how the guitarist fared, but I will never forget that bloated feeling of fighting to focus on the music and finish before my stomach takes over everything else. Musicians are naturally hungry after a concert. And hungry musicians are eager to play.

Related stories:
Preparing for a concert, March 2004 Bussum

Competing against the weather, June 2004 Den Haag

The second set and Schumann’s Traumerei, June 2004 Bussum

The nuts and bolts of a duo concert

The last concert we gave in November 2008 took place in a monastic church in a village north of Leiden (home of the oldest Dutch university). We drove there in the snow. We received a standing ovation and did an encore out of courtesy.

Revised from “Starting a blog of my concerts” from Facebook Notes, Wednesday 3 December 2008

My life these days revolves around concerts. That is, performing on the piano, with my duo partner — the classical guitarist. Hence our rather generic name of “piano guitar duo.”

It begins with fixing a date, time, venue, and programme — blocking off a chunk of time on the calendar. Then practising (by myself), rehearsing with my duo partner, and preparing for the concert. When the day arrives, it’s the usual ritual to put on my make-up, fill a thermos flask with hot rooibos or other herbal tea & sometimes make sandwiches or other light snack to eat in the car, drive there, warm up and check the accoustics, change into concert clothes, and play.

My duo partner meanwhile has the arduous task of finding the route on Google Earth and jotting down the necessary phone number and address. [After he received the surprise free gift from his mobile phone provider for New Year’s Eve, he started using the iphone’s GSM facilities instead of the old paper ritual.]

I never don’t know what to expect in terms of the quality of the piano and the acoustics, unless we get to rehearse before the day of the concert. Because the piano and the guitar are “attack” instruments (rather than the “sustain” kind of string and wind instruments), it’s necessary to get the balance right. The quality of the sound we produce is highly dependent on the acoustics of the room and the piano.

We have to get there at least half-an-hour before the concert, preferably one hour before, to permit enough time to warm up and adjust to the acoustics and instruments. If the acoustics are too dry, I have to use more pedal. If too resonating (like in a big church), I sometimes avoid the right pedal altogether. If the piano is too loud, I may have to close the lid completely and reluctantly.

I usually never get to see the piano or the venue beforehand, unless it’s a place my duo has performed before. So far, of the concerts we’ve given in the past 7 years, it’s always been for the first time at that particular venue. The surprises make interesting stories, enough to fill a book or a television series.

The last concert we gave in November 2008 took place in a monastic church in Warmond, a village north of Leiden (home of the oldest Dutch university). We drove there in the snow. We received a standing ovation and did an encore out of courtesy. We had arranged for a recording engineer to record the 1 hour concert and a photographer to take professional photos of us afterwards. There was a lot of equipment and setting-up. The concert was also video recorded by a student of the guitarist, see below.

Summer (second movement) from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, arranged by R.A. Bekkers