The Perfect Senior Recital

June 20, 2005 at 05:01 AM · I am planning to present a full recital. My audience will not be as sophisticated as NY or Seattle, i.e. However, I would like to present a well-balanced recital with college audition materials in mind. Don't want to play a movement from a concerto. I just don't think that's appropriate for a solo recital. I do have a very fine pianist who will accompany me (she is very very good) If you were in my shoes, what would you play? I would love suggestions. Do sophmores/seniors in HS or freshmen in college play entire Bach suites or partitas, for example? Do audiences sit through them anymore, or are they bored? Is it OK to play only a few movements? Any suggestions would be appreciated... and stories about what YOU played for your senior recital!

Replies (28)

June 20, 2005 at 05:43 AM · A lot of people will tell you to play 3 sonatas or something stuffy like that.

I think if most audiences are going to benefit from a recital, you shouldn't play the same stuff that you would at the Lincoln Centre. Keep it dynamic and exciting. You're in a high school, so chances are people aren't crazy about classical rep.

You have a great opportunity to make at least one person love some classical repertoire, so give them a bit of everything.

Give them stuff that goes right to the heart of the matter.

I'd play a Paganini Caprice or two, definately the more "showy" ones. If you are doing a sonata for your auditions, I'd recommend only doing one movement. Some very poignant suggestions is the first movement of either the Franck A- or the Kreutzer (Beethoven). They are very "emotional" pieces that people will really love. Again, remember that you are playing to people who might not have a high tolerance for this aesthetic. Most music enjoyed today is cut into 3-4 minute songs, which usually only deal with one idea or emotion.

I don't think that programming in such a way as to acknowledge this state of the arts is to play down to your audience, but rather to play at your audience. I think it's something that people need to start considering. To be completely honest I think that sometimes the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th movement of sonatas are boring. Play what speaks to you, and you will appreciate it more, as will your audience.

June 20, 2005 at 07:14 AM · On the flip side:

Maud Powell, who is considered to be the very first American born violin virtuoso, had a philosophy of not programming what she thought audiences wanted to hear.

Being a concert route violinist during a time when there weren't concert routes and variety shows were the big thing in entertainment (early 1900's), people weren't as interested in recitals but she stuck to her guns. "I never play down to the public taste" she said. In doing so she introduced the concerti by Tchaikovsky, Dvorak and Sibelius and 11 others using this philosophy. A music journalist (Edith Winn) in reviewing Powell said that she played the same programs in the South and the West and she did in Boston or New York.

I think that's a good philosphy. Play what's in your heart. Play what you are going to play well. Play what will educate the audience. Play what you want to play, but don't program something soley because you think they'll want to hear it...that's what auditions are for.

But then again, if you want to impress your classmates a Paganini caprice couldn't hurt.

Good luck!


June 20, 2005 at 07:06 AM · I think it would be lovely if you played a movement from solo Bach, perhaps without repeats if it would seem too long for your audience (this is also common University audition material), and then either the first or last movement from a sonata (also possible audition material) and then a show piece...something fast with impressive sound. If you are doing a full hour long recital and needed more material, I think playing the slow movement from a concerto (a concerto is definate audition material) would be nice right beofore the the sonata and after Bach. There are some lovely slow concerto movements in Mendelssohn or Goldmark or even Tchaikovsky that aren't so long as to 'bore' a non-classical person, and can be so beautiful if you put your all into it. How exciting! Good luck.

June 20, 2005 at 06:11 PM · Preston, I do not think that I can agree with you there. From the timeline you are suggesting, it looks like Maude Powell comes from a drastically different time when the average person was probably far more acquainted with instrumental music than the average person of today.

Today, if there isn't a singer most people tune out and start day dreaming. I think it is a challenge, and a fun one at that to rise to the occasion of captivating an extremely discerning audience. An educated audience is easy to play to... pick just about anything, play it well, and they will love it.

The average modern audience in a high school is a much more challenging audience, and I truly think that it would take a tremendous performer with clever programming to captivate them. I do not think this is debassing the aesthetic, which might be your suggestion.

June 20, 2005 at 03:52 PM · What used to be in fashion and now seems to be coming back: in the first half, you might have a couple of sonatas/sonatinas, depending on the length you want. Then for the second half, short pieces, of a good variety. Perhaps a number of dances -- a sarabande from Bach, and a gypsy dance, or a waltz, or a minuet, that kind of thing. There are all kinds of these pieces that have been written/arranged by virtuosi, so there's a lot of showy stuff to take advantage of.

A program like this will take advantage of the endurance/attention span of an average semi-musical audience. The longer pieces come first, when the audience is expecting something serious. Then, before they can get bored and restless, the shorter, fun pieces allow them to rest their brains. :)

June 20, 2005 at 05:41 PM · Pieter,

I agree with you in this case of the average high school. But at the same time I think one can be clever and subtle in the choosing of a program so that you can educate the audience as well as entertain them. For example; instead of programming a Haydn or Beethoven or even some beautiful French sonata, can you imagine what the kids would think if an Ysaye sonata was programmed? Or maybe a flashy excerpt of Bartok?

I had the same dilema at my highschool graduation where I was in charge of programming the music for the entire weekend (I went to a boarding school so graduation was a huge event where parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and your neighbors dog would show up). For the most part I planned stuff that was very "known" and "safe", but decided for my own contribution to play the Ysaye Ballade. It was the only number that got a standing ovation the entire weekend.

Regarding Maud Powell. I understand what you are saying about our modern audiences and if it doesn't involve Britany Spears or that yodaler Jessica Simpson. However, in a time where there was little European high culture in the land, Powell had an extraordinary challenge not dissimilar to what we face today. Only her challange was greater I think because now all one has to do is call the local arts council or community board and have a public recital relatively well attended. But can you imagine traveling where the peoples biggest focus is breaking the land with oxen in time to plant before the rains. That's who she was reaching in those smaller western towns. And those town in the south that were only interested in their homegrown entertainment (variety shows, Vaudeville acts, fiddling etc.) were filled with the people she wanted to educate.

Either way, I think we are pretty much on the same wavelenth in the sense that we both agree an audience shouldn't be bored, and certainly should not be beaten over the head with a music history lesson in the form of a recital. But like I said before, I think with a little creative programming it's possible to educate as well as entertain.



June 20, 2005 at 06:07 PM · I think that for most people Ysaye could be too much to swallow, maybe except for the Ballade and no. 6. I could see the average person finding Ysaye to be too "esoteric".

My initial approach which I outlined before could serve to educate. Like I said, give them a movement from a sonata that is accessible, a few show pieces, maybe Sarabande from the D-....

June 20, 2005 at 06:22 PM · I don't think a Ysaye or Bartok sonata would be easy on the ears for a "semi-musical" audience. They like to hear pieces that have a melody that can grab you right away, not to complicated, something in the romantic genre. With Ysaye and Bartok, you have to listen to them over and over to really appreciate them. A Bach sonata or partita, usually keeps the audience engaged. The Brahms d minor sonata is very popular with audience, and people usually like the work upon first listening. And a showpiece always keeps the audience awake, something on the lines of Bazzini dance of the goblins, Saint-Saens Intro and rondo, or Sarasate Gypsy airs and carmen fantasy, again nothing to overstated like Ernst, or Paganini, but something that has a nice melody line, and not to complicated for an average musically intelligent audience member to understand.

June 20, 2005 at 06:21 PM · Pieter,

Talking in generalizations is meaningless. Classical music is perhaps the greatest achievement of man. If the audience is bored its the performer's fault not the music's.

June 20, 2005 at 06:56 PM · Well their are certainly more "audience-friendly" pieces than others. For instance Tchaikovsky, Bruch, Brahms, and Mendelssohn concerti all are listener friendly, I'm sure everyone upon first listening fell in love with all of these pieces. Beethoven is a very complex concerto that took me repeated listening, and studying, to finally understand. The Berg concerto left me bored when I first heard it. You have to study his life, the full score, and listen to it again, and again in its entirety to finally appreciate the masterpiece, it's the same with Bartok or any other comtemporary composer. And all the performances where done by top ranked soloists, so it was not that the performer left me bored, it was the writing of the concerto. It takes a great deal of maturing, and listening to understand classical music, no matter how great the performer. If you play a recording of David Oistrakh playing a Mozart concerto, for an AVERAGE high schooler who probaly has never listened to a classical piece in his life, they will get bored, after 10 seconds, I guarantee you. But, can we honestly say it was Oistrakh's fault for leaving the listener bored? I don't think so.

June 20, 2005 at 07:04 PM · I agree with Geoff (of course :)

For my senior recital I played Beethoven's 7th Sonata, Wieniawski D Major Polonaise and Ravel Tzigane.

June 20, 2005 at 07:13 PM · Not the greatest achievement, but it has its rightful place somewhere between fire and Wal-mart.

June 20, 2005 at 07:41 PM · Jim: HAHAHAHAHA!

Rick, regarding your comment that "They like to hear pieces that have a melody that can grab you right away, not to [sic] complicated, something in the romantic genre. With Ysaye and Bartok, you have to listen to them over and over to really appreciate them."

Now that IS playing down to an audience. I think we can give the listeners more credit than that. I have had GREAT success playing works like Ysaye to audiences that you would never suspect would enjoy it. I've even played it at nursing homes and had people say things like "I just never knew a violin could do all those things!" or "I've always hated violin...until tonight". I think the more we pander to an audience the more we dilute the bulk of classical music. Why is it that Cannon in D by "Pakabell" is loved by so many non-educated musicians? Because it's "pretty". Why is is hated by so many educated musicians? Because we have pandered to the tastes of audiences for so long by over-playing a piece that is "pretty" but has little sustaining power to hold the interest of a musically educated and inquisitive listener. (Don't get me wrong, it is a lovely and clever little piece, but please don't ask me to play it at a wedding...*grin*)

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I would prefer to play something the audience will respond to but has not heard before. For instance, a friend asked me to play at her wedding and instead of play Canon in D like she asked I suggested a "quartet with soloist" arrangement I had transcribed of the 2nd movement of the Prokoffiev violin concerto #2. She LOVED it and was so glad I had suggested it instead of the Cannon. But you see, if I had just gone along with her suggestion she would have been happy...but in ignorance.

Creative programming is what it's all about...give them something they will respond to. Sometimes it's even OK to program something that they will respond to with strong distaste...that's better than disinterest isn't it?


June 20, 2005 at 07:41 PM · sorry....double post

June 20, 2005 at 08:05 PM · I think a good recital should have 4 different kinds of pieces

1)solo - somthing with only you on stage, solo bach comes to mind, id probably start with this

2)slow and lyrical like the slow movement of any great concerto, Oistrakh used to play the slow movement of the tchaik at his recitals, i think that is an effective piece of music

3)exotic - something gypsy like brahms hungaran dances, bartok roumanian dances. or ravel tzigane... something like that

4)something flashy - paganini and wieniawski come to mind as favorites

June 20, 2005 at 08:38 PM · I'm getting sick of Tzigane. I probably hear it at every recital of every violinist under 20.

Mr. Herd - I can guarantee you that in the classical repertoire you will find something less enjoyable, maybe even boring, if even the greatest violinist of your choice plays it.

Music is one of man's greatest achievements, to say that only about classical music is to be ignorant of other phenomenal creation, and is to me nothing more than pseudo intellectualism and cheap sophistry. I am not accusing you of these things yet, but your assertion sounds all too familiar.

June 20, 2005 at 08:39 PM · What would really be a hit is Kreisler's variation on Rac's Rhapsody of paganini blah blah... no 18.

Any audience will love it... very simple melody, very beautiful. It's probably what many people would associate with the violin.

June 21, 2005 at 08:24 AM · I think it is OK to program in something less familiar to the audience. But in my opinion, the ending of a recital must be definitively so.

For example, do not begin or end with Prokofiev, even though it might be a great work. It would be safer if you elected to end with a Wieniawski or Sarasate showpiece, for instance.

I love playing Kreisler for encores. They're short, easy to listen to, and not that hard to play.

For my senior recital, I played the Bach Chaconne, a Beethoven and Grieg sonata, and ended with Sarasate's Zigeneuweisen.

The Bach Chaconne was a HUGE mistake in retrospect. I opened with a piece that put the audience to sleep. Very few people can maintain a non-musician's interest when they play such a long work by Bach. I suspect I chose it more for vanity...

June 21, 2005 at 10:42 AM · I am having my final-year recital tomorrow, playing the Beethoven 1st Sonata and the Debussy Sonata. I think the 'ideal' program is one where you enjoy the pieces and feel comfortable playing them---this will certainly come across in your playing. I don't agree with choosing pieces just for their 'wow' factor---a final year recital is such a good opportunity to show you friends & class mates just exactly what you've been practising for every lunchtime for the last 6 years, and it probably hasn't been exclusively learning showy pieces. It's important to play something that means something to you.

June 21, 2005 at 04:30 PM · Mr. Viljoen,

I did not say anything about other kinds of music so please do not assume that i dont think it is a great achievement as well. However, I don't agree with all this talk of the "average" high schooler because that is a huge generalization and is really stupid. That's besides the fact that none of us knows enough people to actually have insight into an "average" high schooler (And if you think you do then thats just silly).

June 21, 2005 at 05:20 PM · Heck, I'm in high school, and I know what some of my "non musician" friends think of classical music, even some of the people who are in the music program.

Either A) Classical music sucks, it's so boring, who listens to that.

or B) Classical music helps me sleep better.

That should tell you about what the "average high schooler" thinks about classical music. No one is making generalizations, I'm speaking the truth. It is true that America is not informed in classical music as they were before mainstream music like rock and roll became a hit.

June 21, 2005 at 05:13 PM · Rick what im trying to say, is that by knowing the kids in your high school, you dont even know an 100000th of the population. I know many high schoolers who do like classical music. Neither one of us can discuss the average because we dont know enough people. On another note, talking about people as an average is definately a generalization. :)

June 21, 2005 at 09:19 PM · Sometimes it's allowable to say the average this or that without having actual data to back it up.

I just want to say "unsophisticated" audiences are the easiest to please. They'll flip out over an arpeggio. Live, they'll like any good music that's played well. It's interesting how they'll hear different things in it than a more informed person does, but they'll both like it.

June 22, 2005 at 03:16 AM · Play music you love. That's what will win an audience, so long as it's not altogether inaccessible.

My senior recital program:

Debussy Sonata

Bach g min Siciliano and Presto

Mozart A maj Sonata k. 526

Wienawski Scherzo-Tarantella

June 22, 2005 at 10:53 AM · I think that your programme should suit your audience. If you are playing to an audience who know what to expect, give it to them good! However, to a school audience, I would give them fairly standard fare - nothing too way out or demanding. It will definitely turn them off. I once had a brilliant teacher who insisted on making her students play very non-standard, pretty off-the-wall stuff, to show their abilities and educate her audience. She ended up renting out large concert halls, playing to an audience of very few, as people - including grannies and uncles and aunties, just started making excuses not to come.

When I play casually for non musically educated friends, they politely admire Bach, Ysaye, Sibelius vn concerto etc etc, but the Mont Czardas leaves them baying for more. Very sad, but very true.

Whatever you do, finish up with a rip roaring, flashy showpiece - again it may be sad (or not) but it's true. They'll go home happy, having enjoyed maybe the only classical music concert they will ever attend in their life.

As regards educating people, you have to do that gently - there's no point in handing a child Shakespeare if he can barely read. Wait until he is well practiced and emotionally ready before you do that!

June 22, 2005 at 03:10 PM · Another consideration to add--specific to a high school senior recital type performance--is that the audience probably isn't coming just to be entertained. "Audience" here probably refers to mostly friends, family, aquaintences, teachers, and the like, who are coming to support you and see just what this violin thing (that dominates 95% of your conversations and thought processes) is all about--in other words, to experience YOUR interests. I might avoid "weird," 20th-century-type stuff, but beyond that... it's up to you. A couple movements of Bach instead of the whole thing is just fine. Another thought I had: if you are planning to use the same music for college auditions, it is VERY EXTREMELY HIGHLY likely that you will be asked to have the first movement of a "standard" concerto. If you don't want to do that at the recital, fine, but make sure you do have something in your current repertoire. For my senior recital I played: a complete Beethoven Sonata (no. 5, "Spring"); three movements from the Bach D minor Partita; the first movement of either the Mendelssohn or Buch concerto (I forget which); and some small, "fun" piece (I forget what that was too... maybe one of the Kreisler-arranged Slavonic Dances?).

Good luck, and have FUN with it!

'Erie (-:

June 23, 2005 at 04:57 AM · JP, see my blog :)

June 24, 2005 at 08:29 PM · Only complete works. That is more impressive, and more professional. You wouldn't go hear an artist play a recital, and hear them only play 2 movements from a partita or sonata!

Since you are auditioning for college, colleges mostly want to hear a concerto, some Bach, and a show piece.

Some ideas for a senior recital may include:

a show piece

a romantic piece

some chamber music (a sonata such as Ravel, Debussy, Franck)


a short show piece (Paganini, Prokofiev)

a short lyrical piece (Mozart?)

For my senior (college) recital I played:

Chausson Poeme

Prokofiev March

Wieniawski Polonaise in A

Mozart Adagion in E

Franck Sonata in A

However, since you have college in mind, I would prepare a complete solo Bach sonata or Partita for your recital.

Since you don't want to put a concerto on your program (and I agree) you should be learning one on the side for your audition.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal
Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Classic Violin Olympus

Coltman Chamber Music Competition

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Jargar Strings


Violin Lab



Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine