Setting up a concert programme is as much of an art as the music itself
It's an all-Schumann afternoon for the Aldeburgh Connection, as they celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the composer with baritone Phillip Addis, still fresh from a Opéra Comique run of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande in Paris this summer, and soprano Erin Wall, who must be giddy over the Grammy nominations her recording of Mahler's Eighth with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas received this week.
Aldeburgh Connection co-artistic directors, accompanists, narrators and life partners Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata have unerring good sense in their programming, which alone makes their cozy musical salons at Walter Hall worth attending. They understand, mood, flow and even the value of humour.
For details on today's concert, click here.
I've had programming a lot on my mind lately. From a song recital to an evening at the symphony, the choice of music is an invisible force that can deeply affect how we feel when we walk back out on the street. A less than stellar musical performance can sometimes be redeemed if the order in which the music is presented manages to engage the mind and the heart. The reverse is also true.
Most of us are oblivious to what goes into programming. The closest most people get is in setting up iPod playlists -- but would you set up an evening's playlist the same way knowing that you would be listening with your full attention for an hour?
Being conscious of the choices and order of a concert programme is part of my job. But, over the last few weeks, I've realised that even being conscious of it doesn't present its full complexity. I'm putting together a programme for a solo recital I'm giving at the church in the new year, and I've turned from being Mr. Decisive into Mr. Ditherer.
I've never had to put together a recital programme before without any input from someone else. I keep shifting piles of scores between In, Out and Maybe, thinking about historical relationships, not having too much of one tempo, balancing mood, avoiding awkward stylistic clashes or inserting of too many pieces written in the same key. I also have to balance what I like with what I think an audience made up of a wide range of tastes and preferences will enjoy.
Above all, I actually have to be able to play all the pieces I've selected.
Perhaps every critic should have to go through this exercise, because there's a world of difference between tearing apart someone else's choices, and having to organize your own artistic vision into a coherent whole.
I started playing the piano more seriously again when I became the music critic at the Star five-and-a-half years ago. My excuse was that I wanted to remind myself every day how much work goes into turning a a page of sheet music into actual music. This is just another step to making sure I don't take for granted the work I sit and listen to every week.
Trying to combine as many elements as possible -- Schumann, flow of music, piano (the late Alicia de Larrocha), and Toronto (Toronto Symphony Orchestra music director Peter Oundjian is on first violin with his Tokyo String Quartet mates) -- here is a fantastic performance of Robert Schumann's E-flat Major Piano Quintet, Op.44: