William Shaub as one of the most brilliant recital programmers around. As Concertmaster of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, Will is responsible for its Concertmaster Series – three recitals that are each performed twice. Will selects the repertoire, as well as the other musicians who will perform with him.I've come to view violinist
Across five years of Will’s programming, I’ve often wondered how he continues to create such interesting, innovative programs. I've heard a great deal of music that was new to me (much of which I loved), paired with a steady diet of my all-time favorites. It's always a well-balanced combination that leaves me looking forward to the next one!
How does he do it? I decided to simply ask, and he kindly agreed to an interview. So last weekend I sat down with Will, who generously shared thoughts on programming. Here are 10 tips he offered from his own personal experience:
1. Don’t be afraid to take some risks.
"Today, violinists are competing with every form of entertainment, from Netflix to Spotify podcasts to sports. A great recital can win because it’s live, it’s fun, and we are expressly passionate about the meaning behind the music. And with our exciting virtuosic repertoire in live performance, we have the terrific element of risk; something audiences love either consciously or subconsciously. In my five years of directing the Concertmaster Series, I’ve committed to taking my audience on journeys that strive for the highest form of artistic expression, and sometimes, that includes some controversy backed by passion. I‘ve been fortunate to have a phenomenal recital partner with me since the beginning, pianist Kevin Class. He takes this journey with me and makes possible our ability to deeply explore amazing repertoire."
2. Find ways to surprise your audience.
"I recently performed Mason Bates’ Ford’s Farm, which was originally commissioned by Hilary Hahn for her Encores album. The audience went absolutely wild for this piece! I was surprised that this short, virtuosic, bluegrass-inspired ditty need not be an encore: you can put it anywhere in a program. In fact, we began the evening with it! And the audience felt it was memorable, fresh, and exciting. Surprising an audience strikes at the most important elements of a great recital: passion for the repertoire, excitement, and, again, the element of risk."
BELOW: Violinist William Shaub and pianist Kevin Class perform a preview of Mason Bates’ "Ford’s Farm."
3. Give your recital a title or theme.
"The title of the program I just mentioned was Beethoven and Folk Music, where we looked at the intersection between this iconic composer and folk inspiration. I cannot recommend enough titling your programs. A great title serves to focus your program thematically, spark curiosity in your audience, and form memories of a great journey taken together."
4. Search for memorability.
"Try new things and new music without fear, and search for that increasingly ever-important factor in the 21st century: memorability. A violin recital today needs to have an unforgettable quality as we compete for the audience’s attention and time. We absolutely must understand that in order to establish goals for a violin recital in the modern age. We need to instill in those brave souls who venture out to hear us perform that there was a reason to get off the couch and away from the comfort of their surroundings."
5. Program music by diverse composers across all time periods.
"When it comes to living composers and contemporary music, I feel very strongly about programming pieces that I feel immense appreciation for – pieces that inspire conviction in me as an artist. Program music that is beautiful, powerful, and speaks profoundly to you so that you can then speak it to your audience. In my programming, you might see a concert with no living composers. A couple months later, you might see two on the same program. I’m searching for great music often within a theme, and through that theme I hope to find great living composers. I have encountered incredible pieces that have become audience favorites – pieces people still mention to me as being memorable. Carlos Simon’s Loop for string trio, Alexandra T. Bryant’s Petrichor, and Kendall Briggs’ Duo Concertante for Two Solo Violins all come to mind." (Author’s note: The Briggs duo is one I absolutely fell in love with upon first hearing.)
6. Balance "audience favorites" with lesser-known pieces.
"My philosophy on audience favorites is that they seriously matter! Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous piano trio, Franck’s Violin Sonata, Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy: they stand the test of time for a reason. We should feel no shame in programming them. But they are part of a dinner plate, a menu of diverse music that we present at a recital. We might have appetizers by Kreisler or a great film composer like Morricone, a first course from Jessie Montgomery, a second course in the form of Beethoven’s 7th Sonata, and maybe dessert with Waxman. I believe variety creates excitement and inspires a memory! I’m less inclined to recommend 'All French' or 'All Beethoven' recitals for this reason. Part of what a great recital should do is educate your audience and prime them for the next one, and most of the time, diversity does that best."
7. Tie in other arts to the works you’re performing.
"From the stage, I once read and unpacked the lyrics to the Schubert song (Die Forelle) that's embedded in The Trout quintet and then the audience had a frame of reference when it was later played by the musicians. I've gone so far as to put the spectacular poetry behind Vivaldi’s Four Seasons directly into the hands of the audience, and I also went briefly through Vivaldi’s word painting prior to performing it. My view is that if it matters deeply to me, it will matter to the audience, and as performers it is precisely that which we must share."
8. Speak directly to your audience, when possible.
"Needless to say, speaking between pieces during your recital is going to depend somewhat on the venue. My Concertmaster Series is performed in a gallery space at the Knoxville Museum of Art, where I am mere feet away from the 200-seat audience that are seated in a horseshoe-shape around me. There is a feeling of being in a grand home, as opposed to a concert hall, and it would almost feel awkward if I didn’t speak to this group. I’ve found that it absolutely adds to the experience and I routinely get this feedback from attendees."
9. Program some virtuosic pieces.
"In my experience, programming virtuosic pieces, such as Sarasate, Wieniawski, and Corigliano, is spectacularly successful with audiences. I’ve taken the great virtuosic repertoire with me to remote cities and towns, and it has roused and inspired audiences that frankly prefer bluegrass (or at least, they thought they did). Eugene Fodor did the same thing, and he was right to do it. Aaron Rosand said, 'Remember the virtuosic showpieces,' and he was right, too. Don’t forget about this music, and don’t worry if it’s not perfect. Program it anyway. You might be surprised how well they turn out."
10. Take into account your personal emotional stamina.
"A mistake I’ve definitely made was not accounting for emotional stamina. An extreme example might be Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in front of a Brahms sonata followed by a Tchaikovsky Piano Trio. It’s a lot of expression to take place in 85 minutes or so. Sure, you met the clock and the 'idea' of variety on some level. But I recommend more emotional variety: it’s almost like having steak for your first, second, and third courses. Not quite ideal! Kreisler, Handel, Corelli, and even contemporary small ensemble pieces are helpful here. And we cannot forget about great film composers like Williams, Morricone, and Chaplin, who Philippe Quint is beautifully championing at the moment. As for physical stamina and length of performances that are most effective with audiences, there’s no need to program too long of a concert. 75 minutes of music can be just as effective, perhaps even more so, than an hour and a half. When competing for audience attention, quality beats quantity and we want our audience to come away wanting more, always."
BELOW: Here is a PBS concert with Will and Kevin filmed in the spectacular Tennessee Theatre, featuring the music of Stravinsky, Mozart, and Gershwin. (Don't miss Stravinsky's beautiful Serenade at 5:39.)
You might also like:
* * *
Enjoying Violinist.com? Click here to sign up for our free, bi-weekly email newsletter. And if you've already signed up, please invite your friends! Thank you.Tweet
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.
Violinist.com is made possible by...
Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.