Let's Get Relevant

June 20, 2011, 4:56 AM ·

“A concert hall is like a shrine that people turn to
for something that they can’t get anywhere else.”

The Musician’s Way, p. 154

If we’re to fill seats in concert halls, we have to present programs that resonate with audiences.

And one way to design compelling programs is to tap into topics that have broad relevance.

The resonance of relevance
As an illustration, contrast two piano recitals planned for Chopin’s birthday: One program is blandly named Chopin Recital; the other, Chopin’s Circle, includes music by Chopin alongside works by composers who influenced him.

The Chopin’s Circle program is not only more distinctive but also pings with relevance because it delves into a subject anyone can relate to: influence. E.g., what aspects of our personalities are self-created versus the result of influences? In what ways do invention and mimicry intertwine in the creative process and in Chopin’s music?

Simply put, relevant programs make deeper impacts and better attract the public. They can even pique the interest of people who don't normally attend concerts.

Relevant examples
Here are some programming concepts that can spark relevance. 

Music is such a rich art form, that the possibilities for crafting relevant programs seem limitless. And we can amplify the resonance of our programs by supporting them with lively online content.

In the end, relevant work builds audiences and helps make our concerts indispensable to our communities.

Feel welcome to share programming ideas that strike you as relevant.

*  *  *

A version of this post first appeared on The Musician's Way Blog. See Chapters 7-11 of my book The Musician’s Way for detailed concert-preparation guidelines.

© 2011 Gerald Klickstein


June 20, 2011 at 10:02 PM ·

Interesting blog.

I like it when people program a group of works with a connection to a particular performer. I'd love to see a recital with, say, Bartok first sonata, Ravel Tzigane, and the Schumann violin concerto, interspersed with discussion about Jelly d'Aranyi. Or any of the other fascinating players of yesteryear who aren't as famous as the composers who were inspired by them.

June 21, 2011 at 09:36 AM ·

Great idea, Emily.

I can see many possible directions that could go: e.g., the nature of inspiration; collaborative creativity; etc. Thanks for the comment.

June 23, 2011 at 07:17 PM ·


I'd like to play devil's advocate: what you're talking about is not so much relevance, but simply the labeling of concerts with a theme. It's been done for years now, and in most orchestras it's become de rigeur. Conductors are simply now expected to program with some kind of theme. There are no end to these themes, which range from intellectually interesting to cutesy, but the question I'd ask is whether or not they really attract audiences--or are they one of those ideas everyone pushes at those orchestra conferences the marketers go to every year, but which remain objectively untested, thus remaining more a belief than a reality.

Building audiences surely involves a multiplicity of factors, and thematic programming may or may not help. I'd in fact argue that other factors may be more important, such as restrooms, parking, and hall temperature, right up there with conductors and soloists.


June 23, 2011 at 10:27 PM ·

Thanks for bringing this up, Scott - you're touching on important points. And I appreciate you shouldering the devil's advocate role to stir some discussion.

I think that the examples I put forth are both thematic and relevant (the theme is captured in the title; the possible relevance in parentheses).

Take the Modern or Eccentric? program: The theme is 'compositions that, when first created, some people embraced as innovative while others scorned as artless or weird.' 

The relevance of that theme pertains, in part, to the constraints of aesthetic perception and cultural norms, which affect all of us, and can confine our ability to innovate. 

Performers and presenters could build audiences for such programs by, among other things, publishing online content on the subject - perhaps with various authorities piping in - engaging fans in online discussions, and otherwise drawing media attention. Because the topic resonates far beyond a mere theme under which pieces are gathered, the programming concept has the potential to draw people in (although we never know how well a programming idea will succeed with the public until we try it).

I agree that there are plenty of dull thematic programs popping up. But relevant programs go beyond mere thematic categorization. 

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