Hooked on dancing

Dancing makes me feel alive and free. And it also brings back many fond memories.

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In the “mixers” the women line up and wait for their turn to dance with a man who leads in a dance around the room until it’s time to join the queue again. This is Maui on a Saturday evening on the parquet wooden floors of the Omori Dance Studios at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC).  In London, it was the opposite — the women were in short supply at Friday night CEROC dances, and the men had to queue for their turn.

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Waltz by John Carollo

Anne Ku met composer John Carollo in Cortona, Italy in 2006 and in Honolulu in 2011. Carollo’s Waltz written in 1986 evokes Satie and Debussy. Listen to a recording from the Netherlands.

John Carollo, composer, and Anne Ku, blogger, Honolulu, 3 April 2011
John Carollo, composer, and Anne Ku, blogger, Honolulu, 3 April 2011

On Sunday 3rd April 2011, while sightreading 81 short piano pieces entitled “80th Birthday Jingles” by the Honolulu-based composer John Carollo, I came across an old work of his from 1986. John, whom I first met in Cortona, Italy in July 2006, walked out of his kitchen and came towards me.

“I haven’t heard that in awhile.” He seemed caught off guard. Later, I learned that he had forgotten about this piece.

It was tonal music from his pre-serial days.

“Play it again,” he mused.

John had written this Satie-like waltz for his friend Bill whose surprise birthday party I had attended two nights earlier in a million dollar home in Hanepepe Loop. On Sunday in a penthouse in central Honolulu, we were just eating the leftovers from that executive chef-catered dinner when my playing of his Waltz evoked even earlier memories of his journey as a composer.

I liked it so much that I took it to Utrecht, Netherlands and recorded it on my grand piano on 4th August 2011.

Waltz by John Carollo, interpreted by Anne Ku (mp3)

Waltz by John Carollo
Waltz by John Carollo

Just yesterday afternoon I found the three of John’s CDs: the award-winning Ampersand, Starry Night for String Orchestra, and Transcendence in the Age of War. Now that I have time in Maui, I will listen to his works, although I have already heard one performed in my house on 1st July 2011. Pianist Nathanael May played his Prelude as the last piece of a set of five by the composers Antheil, Chopin, Gershwin, and Debussy as the opening to a house concert. (Programme 2-page PDF) It was well chosen before John Cage’s dream-like “In a Landscape.”

Immediately after I left Honolulu, John began composing a 9-movement work for my piano guitar duo. While we have not yet had time to rehearse the piece, I have already requested John to extend the second movement which is so addictive!

Born in Torino, Italy, John Carollo was brought to the U.S. by his adoptive parents.  John took piano lessons and began composing his first piano works while at San Diego State University where he graduated with a Masters Degree in Psychology.  Shortly thereafter, John moved to Honolulu, began a full-time mental health career for the State of Hawaii and started private composition lessons with Dr. Robert Wehrman. So great was his passion for composing that he quit his day job to compose full-time. Since then his works have been performed in Italy, Netherlands, and elsewhere. Website: http://www.johncarollocomposer.com

Girl with the Hat Box for 3 hands, 1 piano by Freihofner

San Francisco-based composer Phil Freihofner’s arrangement of his wind quartet into a 3-hand piano work is delightful and fun. Anne Ku introduces this programmatic piece that has been tried by pianists in Maui, San Francisco, and Utrecht, Netherlands.

Subtitle: From quartet to trio to duet

This blog post concludes my review of all shortlisted works from the 42 multi-hand piano duets received from 30 composers in my Call for Scores project. After this, I will write and speak about the insights garnered from trying these duets with pianists from Maui to the Netherlands. “Trying” included first-level sightreading and making a decision about the difficulty, playability, readability, and potential for further study, performance, and recording. Some pieces received a proper performance-level debut. Others were attempted and discarded.

San Francisco-based composer and oboist Phil Freihofner brought his new “Girl with the Hat Box” score to the sightreading workshop and piano soiree in San Francisco in mid-May 2011. It was sightread twice, first by me and 2 others and second by 2 late comers who chose this piece over others in the binder.

In the preface of this 5-movement piece sprawled over 30 pages, he described the work as a “three hands” arrangement of his “Quartet #1 for Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, and Bassoon.” I can already think of friends in the Netherlands who would readily request to play the original quartet. It’s a programmatic piece inspired by a Russian silent film Devushka s Korobkol which translates to “The Girl with the Hat Box.” The one page preface tells the story as plotted over the five movements.

Now, three-hand, one piano pieces are not the norm in piano duet music. The most prevalent form is quatre-mains, i.e. 4-hands on one piano. Three hands? The International Petrucci Library lists just a few on its 1 piano, 3-hand page. I think this scarcity of repertoire stems from a desire for pianists to play with both hands. Furthermore, pianists want to play constantly. Pianists are not like orchestral players who are used to counting empty bars.

Freihofner specifies that the work is intended for 3 pianists, each using one hand, at the same piano. It’s also possible to play on more than one piano. But he did not state that 2 pianists could play. I decided to try it with 2 other pianists in San Francisco and later just one pianist in the Netherlands. The effect was very different. I agree with the composer: it should be played by 3 pianists and not 2. Thus this multi-hand duet could be categorized as a trio.

Sadly I did not find an opportunity to record this while in the Netherlands. Hopefully this blog will inspire my peers in Hawaii to make it happen. It can easily be a nice multi-media project to accompany the first 14 minutes of that film from 1926, directed by Boris Barnet or part of some Russian festival. I know of a house concert producer in Virginia who has a captive audience in the Russian community. Having grown up next to Russian neighbours in Okinawa, I can see how this piece would work well in such a thematic event.

I extract a system from each of the five movements in an attempt to give my readers a feel for the piece.

Girl with the Hat Box: 1. Galop by Philip Freihofner
Girl with the Hat Box: 1. Galop by Philip Freihofner

The second movement is a pleasant waltz with quarter note = 108. If only 2 pianists were to play, the second one should do the middle and bottom parts which form most of the accompaniment.

Girl with the Hat Box: 2. Waltz by Philip Freihofner
Girl with the Hat Box: 2. Waltz by Philip Freihofner

Like the Galop which starts slowly (in a very short intro), the third movement quickens in the main part of the March.

Girl with the Hat Box: 3. March by Philip Freihofner
Girl with the Hat Box: 3. March by Philip Freihofner

The fourth movement is a fugue, one of my favourites in piano duet playing. A fugue translates to a chase. Here the main character Natasha (the girl with the hat box) takes the train to Moscow where she meets a poor but handsome student.

Girl with the Hat Box: 4. Fugue by Philip Freihofner
Girl with the Hat Box: 4. Fugue by Philip Freihofner

This five movement trio ends slightly more upbeat (quarter note = 126).

Girl with the Hat Box: 5. Coda by Philip Freihofner
Girl with the Hat Box: 5. Coda by Philip Freihofner

When I tried this piece for the last time on this 3 month journey from Maui to the Netherlands, one pianist exclaimed, “May I please have this piece?” At first I was reluctant because the well-prepared, printed score was my only hardcopy, and one with my penciled markings. Then I remembered that this Dutch pianist had an established piano teaching practice for some 30 years and she usually never asked for music unless she liked it. This meant she would be enthusiastic in playing it and sharing with her students and other pianists. My reply?  “Here, take it. This would give me an excuse to meet the composer again, on my way back through San Francisco to Hawaii.”

On my return journey, I met with Phil Freihofner for breakfast on my layover in San Francisco Airport. He gave me a new version of the score, this time “dedicated to Anne Ku.” What an honor! I have five copies now. Who will I meet in this part of the world wanting to try this work with me?

For more information about the composer and his various arrangements and compositions, visit Phil Freihofner’s website at http://www.adonax.com.

Waltz for 4-hands, 1 piano by Schroeter

Schroeter’s Waltz for 4-hand, 1 piano is reminiscent of the romantic era, a piece that is easily sightreadable and playable after some cosmetic changes. Listen to an extract played and recorded by Anne Ku and Carol Ruiz Gandia in Utrecht, Netherlands. Note: This blog post has been taken down due to protests by the composer.

Among the 42 piano duets by 30 composers submitted to my Call for Scores project is a delightful, easily accessible (readable, playable, and appreciable) quatre mains duet by Brazilian composer. This Los Angeles-based composer’s style is reminiscent of the romantic era familiar to many members of the piano club in San Francisco.

I noticed how easy it was to play this piece in Maui, San Francisco, Utrecht, and the Hague where I introduced this new work. There are many repeated and modulated sections. The secundo sets a firm pace.

Note @ 21 December 2011:

It is with great reluctance that I have decided to erase the rest of this blog post, remove the sample score and recording. I had spent quite some effort getting the music read, interpreted, and reviewed by enthusiastic pianists in Maui, San Francisco, Utrecht, and the Hague, culminating in a recording made with Carol Ruiz Gandia on my Steinway in Utrecht. However, the overwhelming number of protests, to the tune of 50 unpleasant spam e-mails from the composer, tells me that sometimes feedback and publicity is not appreciated.