How controversial is my recital programming?

March 17, 2018, 1:27 AM · Greetings all, My intention is to play a free violin recital that will be open to the public in order to raise funds for the local animal shelter (through voluntary donations), and also to have a goal for whipping my playing back into shape and getting serious about practicing. I know the Prokofiev and the Chausson are not actually recital pieces, but I just love the heck out of them and I studied them previously (with my former professor) so I'll be reviving them. In fact, the only piece I'd be learning completely fresh is the sonata.

My intention is to share music that is dear to me but I don't want it to backfire and end up irritating people who'd prefer a more standard program or worse: causing people to walk out because it's too long. So, what do you think?

Faure Sonata #1
Chausson Poeme
Prokofiev concerto #1
Wieniawski Polonaise in A Major

Replies (40)

March 17, 2018, 1:54 AM · Is your audience likely to consist mainly of music-lovers or animal-lovers? If the latter I'm afraid I think your program is way too highbrow.
March 17, 2018, 6:28 AM · Will animals be present too, beside human ones?
March 17, 2018, 6:36 AM · Where will you be doing this?
Edited: March 17, 2018, 7:28 AM · I love the's captivating. I was listening to it this week.

When the music is too "low brow" some complain about how the taste of people is leading to the demise of interesting music. Conversely, when the music is too "high brow" they imply that some people dont deserve to be exposed to interesting complex music. Somehow people's ability to learn to appreciate is put on the side and assumptions take the leaf (typo: lead ..but I'll leave leaf because its more poetic)

In my opinion, theres too much assumption. Also it's not exactly Weber that you'd be playing :p

March 17, 2018, 9:15 AM · The first half seems a bit long. Perhaps trading one of the first 2 for something slightly shorter.

I wouldn't say "high-brow", but I have found that non-classical music lovers don't last as long/have the attention span wanted for 45 min at a pop.

March 17, 2018, 9:44 AM · I wouldn't say it is controversial, but it's much too long and you start off with a heavy piece. My suggestion: Chausson Poeme, Wieniawski Polonaise, (short intermission), either the Faure sonata or the Prokofiev concerto but not both.
March 17, 2018, 10:01 AM · In general, I think mainstream audiences don't have much appreciaton for classical music. They will listen, but I don't think they will care much about it.

I would throw in more mainstream pieces (Thais, Czardas, Vocalise) with a few pop arrangements in betweeen. And I dare to say people will be more happy to hear rolling stones or ac/cd than Rachmaninoff.

March 17, 2018, 1:07 PM · Wow, so many great responses. Thank you! I think what Mary and Duane said makes a lot of sense. I will replace the Faure sonata with something shorter and lighter. To answer Andrew's question: I am tentatively planning on doing this at the recital hall in the Lincoln performing arts center in Fort Collins, CO. To answer Steve's question: the audience will be a mix of music-lovers, animal-lovers, local musicians, philanthropists and a bunch of my own friends. I have a local donor who's volunteered to donate a generous sum to the humane society for each signature in the guest book and she is bringing the type of people she hangs out with. So, a pretty mixed group.
March 17, 2018, 2:03 PM · Your program seems reasonable. Agree completely with Mary Ellen.
Edited: March 17, 2018, 3:42 PM · I basically agree with Mary Ellen, but I would probably suggest that you drop the Poeme or the Prokofiev concerto rather than the Faure. You haven't learned the Faure before, which gives you something to work towards, and it's the only work on the program that is actually *intended* for violin and piano. Whatever pianist you're working with will probably be grateful to have a work in which they're not dealing with an ungratifying and complex orchestral reduction.

I'd actually suggest doing something else, which is to start with an easy-to-listen-to but enjoyable work that's no more than 5 minutes long (one of the lightweight Kreisler works, perhaps), then the Faure. Intermission, then the Wieniawski, then other lighter violinistic works -- Kreisler, Sarasate, etc. -- or if you really really really want to perform it, the Prokofiev. No more than an hour for the whole program, including the intermission. (25 + 15 + 20 minutes, say.)

I think the Prokofiev with piano is hard listening for anyone unfamiliar with the work, especially because they won't be mentally filling in the orchestral colors for the piano reduction. Also, the piano reduction is a b*tch for the pianist.

The longer intermission (I suggested 15 minutes) should have refreshments, and big donation boxes right at the refreshment table. You want people to hang out, mingle, and donate, which means giving them plenty of time. I'm assuming that part of the point of this exercise is to introduce all these various people to each other, and a longer intermission facilitates that.

Actually, on thought, if you're not super into the Faure, try substituting a lighter sonata -- a Mozart or Beethoven sonata, for instance.

One of the issues with your original program was that you had three basically impressionistic works on the program -- the Faure and the Chausson are both very French and of a particular era, and the Prokofiev also has that kind of watercolor feel to it, albeit Russian-inflected. If you want to keep your audience awake, play things that are more tuneful and showy.

March 17, 2018, 4:24 PM · A mixture of tuneful/showy and whatever else you want seems the most reasonable, I think.
March 17, 2018, 4:25 PM · Thank you Lydia. I really appreciate your thoughts. I've decided to prepare everything that's been recommended, and then choose which ones to keep when I start working with a pianist, that way I'll have options and back up plans, and I'll be able to let the pianist in on the decision making as well. I'll probably try to keep Prokofiev unless I can't find a pianist who's willing to do it just because I think if more people were exposed to Prokofiev,they would realize that he was a very melodic and accessible composer if people just give him a chance. Thank you so much for your thoughts. I will take everything you've suggested into consideration and make sure I've got some Mozart, Beethoven, Sarasate and Kreisler up my sleeve as well.
March 17, 2018, 9:13 PM · Unless you've got a professional pianist in your pocket who knows the Faure already and can bring it to performance standard quickly, I'd suggest figuring out your pianist now, and giving them plenty of time to learn it. If I recall correctly, the piano part is extremely difficult.

Doubly so because unless your pianist is attached to a major conservatory, there's a goodly chance they'll need to learn the Prokofiev, too, and they'll at least need to casually glance through the other accompaniments (though if you pick warhorses, chances are a professional pianist that frequently accompanies students will already know them).

Edited: March 18, 2018, 1:09 AM · Excellent recital program and it’s for a worthy cause. I don't really agree with the other people commenting on this. Back in the day Heifetz and Kreisler gave recitals almost 2 hours in length. I'm not sure if there's really a 'correct' length for a recital. The Prokofiev D Major concerto is actually a rather short work - it's just about 20 minutes in length. It’s nice to see people doing programs with a sonata in addition to a couple of showpieces and a concerto. It kind of reminds me of the programs you'd see on a recital at Juilliard or MSM Precollege back when I was a student. More often than not today’s violin recitals have turned into sonata marathons which are complete snooze fests. Since you’re doing the concerto in the 2nd half I’ll also recommend taking a look at the Prokofiev-Heifetz March from the opera ‘The Love For 3 Oranges.’ It might make for a nice encore. Good luck on the recital!
March 18, 2018, 2:00 PM · Not sure how controversial, but personally I'd love to hear it; three of the four are among my favorites too (as a listener). Really glad to see you playing Fauré No. 1. Wish this (and the Lekeu sonata) was played more. As mentioned, hope your pianist is up to the task! I can see the piano reduction of Poeme working well, but I'm having problems imagining the Prokofiev. I'll have to look for a performance of it. Good luck!
March 18, 2018, 4:42 PM · I agree with Nate that Heifetz played long recitals, and I sure was glad Joshua Bell played a long recital when he came to Blacksburg because that's not happening every day, and it was an expensive ticket, and I just love love love violin music.

But -- correct me if I'm wrong -- isn't the ability to hold the audience's rapt attention among the defining features of a top-level soloist like Heifetz or Bell? Wasn't Heifetz, in particular, known for this?

Also remember that it takes more energy to perform than it does to rehearse. Do you have the stamina to go the distance with all of that material and maintain your concentration? If so, well, then maybe you should go for it.

One thing about shortening your program a little is that then you've maybe got a nice piece in your back pocket and you can start building your next recital a little sooner!

Finally I agree with what Lydia said about the Faure -- the piano part is tough. Make sure there is enough time for your pianist to learn it otherwise the ensemble will not come together well. Look for someone who has performed it before.

March 18, 2018, 6:34 PM · I respectfully disagree with Nate, and I agree with Paul.

Around here, concert presenters for classical recitals, outside of major venues like the Kennedy Center (i.e., where Bell or Hahn or the like play) typically schedule 1-hour programs, or maybe 90 minutes at most. Indeed, it's relatively rare to hear longer orchestra concerts, too -- 90 minutes is more the norm there also.

Audiences seem to be favoring shorter programs, regardless of the artist. And it must be kept in mind that in this case, you're trying to attract donations. People who might not want to spend 2 hours at a concert they're not sure they'll enjoy, will probably give you an hour for the sake of the charity. If you have an intermission after 20 or 25 minutes, they can donate, maybe socialize, and leave before the second half if they decide this isn't their cup of tea.

I do agree with Nate that an all-sonata program is a snoozefest, and I also wish people would do more showpieces. I'd argue that the Poeme next to the Faure is also a snoozefest, though. If you want to keep your audience awake, you need some tunes and/or some pyrotechnics to watch.

The point about stamina is really important. Right now you're neither practicing a lot (or so you've implied) nor performing a lot; from your bio, it sounds like you're an amateur. I dunno about you, but under performing circumstances, I'm tired by the end of a major work like a full Romantic sonata. The Prokofiev is indeed only 20 minutes, but it's effort and concentration and a full performance of it would leave me tired, too. Your proposed recital sounds nothing short of exhausting.

March 18, 2018, 7:19 PM · I really need to clean my glasses. Initially I thought I read "rectal programming". For a short time I was in a world I didn't want to be in.

The day they make rectal programming a part of my learning curriculum is probably the day I stick to my other instruments.I am familiar with "anal retentive" lots of violinists likely fall into that category.

All joking aside, Michael that is a really nice cause and I wish you the best in it.

March 19, 2018, 2:21 AM · But don't forget the audience! People tend to like what they know.
March 19, 2018, 2:54 AM · I, for one, would love to go to a recital with that programme and I applaud that you are doing such effort for a good cause.
I think that in a live performance the music itself is only a part of the experience and if you can transmit the passion and love that you show in your post while playing, people will appreciate it, even if they don't know the piece.

I have seen it many times here, where not many have any classical music knowledge. A passionated player charms the public wether they are lovers of classical music or not.
Tell us later on what you finally played and how did it go.

March 19, 2018, 9:28 AM · I agree to maybe drop the Prokofiev from this one (great piece). The Chausson does great in piano reduction, and the Faure is, as people have mentioned, really difficult for the piano. I would consider something a little lighter and clearer as a palate cleanser - Maybe Mozart, Handel, Bach (keyboard/violin), Schubert or something along those lines. At the end, you could throw in a little lyrical bonbon.

Then again, if you really like your program, that might be more relevant than anything else.

March 19, 2018, 10:10 AM · The reason I asked about your venue had to do with potential audience size. I would think Ft. Collins, CO is certainly sufficiently populous to attract an audience to fill the Lincoln Center's Magnolia Theater for your desired program - especially if you are fairly well known there.

But I do think a couple of "bonbons" in the program would be welcomed and I almost agree with Lydia - I think about 90 minutes is a good start-to-finish duration.

March 19, 2018, 11:37 AM · Also worth thinking about if you're a procrastinator: Preparing less repertoire makes it more likely that you will reach the point where you feel ready to perform your program, rather than it being theoretically in the future. :-)

Indeed, consider setting a date now. It will give you a hard deadline to shoot for.

March 19, 2018, 11:41 AM · One more idea... Think about doing some animal-themed music! The violin transcription of the Swan from Carnival of the Animals, Kreisler/Rimsky-Korsakov Hymn to the Sun (from Cor d'Or), Dinicu's Lark, etc.
March 19, 2018, 1:08 PM · Just turned pages for a 3-sonata marathon concert yesterday. This recital had a theme–French sonatas–which held together relatively well. Still, it was on the longer side for a casual audience. (although I was on the edge of my seat the entire time! page turning joke...)

Your program offers more variety of style and substance but as everyone else pointed out, it's long. If you love Prokofiev, why not learn one of his sonatas instead of the Faure? (I think one was technically written for flute but is often played by violinists). You could still play Poeme, the Wieniawski, and learn something short and lovely for an encore (Sicilenne by Faure, maybe, or the Heifetz arrangement of Beau Soir...)

Edited: March 19, 2018, 11:15 PM · These are all really good ideas. Thank you, Andrew. The Magnolia Theater is my intended location. I've played chamber music there before. The acoustics are nice and there's a very good piano nearby. Lydia, you've been so kind and so helpful. That thought regarding less repertoire to make this goal more attainable did occur to me, but fortunately since so much of this repertoire is being revived instead of freshly learned, I think it's not too much of a stretch. I like the idea of the animal-themed pieces and I played those before so they're all good things to consider. Katie, I love that Sicilienne by Faure. If I don't find a transcription of it I would consider transcribing it myself. It's pretty special. I like the Prokofiev sonata you suggested, but I think the piano reduction for the first concerto is pretty effective. I played it with a pianist once and I remember liking the piano reduction. Maybe it's a different reduction? I'm using the International Edition edited by Oistrakh.
March 20, 2018, 3:58 AM · @Timothy Smith, just wait till you turn 50.
March 20, 2018, 11:03 AM · @Paul, Gotcha. I only use doctors with small fingers.
March 20, 2018, 11:55 AM · Michael, you're in luck:
Edited: March 21, 2018, 12:18 AM · Well David, though I am not a working professional, I know what good playing is supposed to sound like. I would not be considering a program that I did not think I could render to an acceptable standard, at the bare minimum. I'm not really sure what you're implying, but my obligation is to present a program that is thoroughly prepared, thoroughly rehearsed, and played with confidence, skill, and love. That's exactly what I intend to do. I do care, and that's really all I can do about it. If my playing offends anyone despite my rigorous and thorough preparation, then they may leave my free recital and do something they'd rather do instead.
Edited: March 21, 2018, 1:28 PM · Michael, what I am saying is that, from the perspective of a member of the audience and an amateur violinist, the program is too long and too ambitious.

I am sorry if my previous post offended you. I wish you well.

March 21, 2018, 6:56 AM · Animal-linked pieces: Canary Polka, Ox Minuet, Flight of the Bumble Bee, The Trout ...
March 21, 2018, 6:56 AM · Animal-linked pieces: Canary Polka, Ox Minuet, Flight of the Bumble Bee, The Trout ...
Edited: March 21, 2018, 3:03 PM · OK, David. I'm not offended, I just don't understand how being an amateur violinist means that my program is too ambitious. If it's too long I understand, and that's not subjective. However I don't think the fact that I rely on other means for my income has anything to do with it. What pieces on my program are you suggesting are too ambitious? I've performed the Wieniawski and Chausson before, and the Prokofiev is not new to me. I studied all of these as a music major in college. My original question about controversy was with regard to playing pieces with a piano reduction on a recital (that normally would be played with an orchestra). If what you mean by "too ambitious" is that people might think there will be an orchestra, I'll make that clear by listing the pianist's name. I can make it clear that this is a violin recital and not an orchestra concert. Is that what you meant?
March 21, 2018, 2:42 PM · Michael, your program looks AWESOME!!! Although in some ways we seem to be playing for the audience, which leads to endless speculation and controversy about what would be "best," as an artist you are expressing the music inside of you and will make your best performance by playing exactly what you most want to play! Don't play for the market, play what is your most heart-felt and authentic choice of music. People can tell when the artist is most committed to their work, when it becomes inseparable from who they are.
March 21, 2018, 9:43 PM · Thank you, Will. I really appreciate that.
Edited: March 22, 2018, 7:01 AM · Michael, “Too long” and “too ambitious” are related. To my amateur ears, one’s playing is, let’s say, less than consistent if the program is too long. That is the case among even first tier soloists who could “revive” most pieces in the standard repertoire.

Also, if the objective is to raise $$, you may want to consider whether an average donor would sit through a two hour(?) program of Faure, Prokofiev et al.

Edited: March 22, 2018, 8:45 AM · Eh, David--if they don't want to sit through it they can discreetly leave. It's not as though they're going to ask for their money back. And the uninformed "average donor" isn't going to know enough about the program to predict its length.

To me, it appears that a full recital is an exercise in humanity--you're taking risks, putting yourself out there, connecting with the audience in an unusually intimate way. I imagine, too, that it's a feat of physical and psychological endurance, like running a marathon. One take, one afternoon/evening, no do-overs.

In her recital last weekend, my teacher's right hand cramped up as she was starting the last movement of the last sonata and she almost dropped her bow. She calmly indicated to the pianist that they needed to restart...and they finished triumphantly, to thunderous applause. Faure didn't suffer, in the end.

Sure, there are shorter, more audience-friendly programs that Michael could choose--but I doubt the program itself is what will draw people in (or push them away).

TL;DR: absolute perfection is not ever going to happen. Informed listeners will adjust expectations accordingly. Less informed will notice less.

(This is, of course, assuming that Michael prepares adequately and isn't writing musical checks that his fingers can't cash...which should be our working assumption here. )

March 29, 2018, 12:14 PM · There are always outlier audiences on both ends of the spectrum - on one end you have a cold crowd and you wonder why they even bothered to come. On the other end the crowd is made up of classical music fanatics and they would love the concert even if you played Gavinies, Dont, Fiorillo, Kreutzer and Sevcik double stops with no break.

In my experience at least (Washington DC area and south of DC in Maryland), the vast majority of audiences are at the concert to enjoy the music, and having seen what the program was before deciding to come are open to listening to what they saw. There are a lot of good suggestions here, and I do think it's better to leave audiences wanting more than less, but I don't think it's fair to say that what you are contemplating is at all unreasonable.

I think that the Prokofiev Concerto is a good choice, because even though it may not be quite as immediately melodic as #2, it has some great effects and strikingly original passages which experienced live will likely be quite enjoyable for most people there. It's not the same as listening to a recording obviously. The scherzo can basically stand in for a really cool showpiece. I would prefer Prokofiev over Faure but that's just my preference - Prokofiev is one of my favorite composers.

March 30, 2018, 4:42 PM · My intention is to share music that is dear to me but I don't want it to backfire and end up irritating people who'd prefer a more standard program or worse: causing people to walk out because it's too long. So, what do you think?

Even if they're not irritated, people might be tired or bored, and some show up and leave at the intermission regardless. I suggest moving the Prokofiev to the first half so that it's more likely to be heard, and for both of you to have the energy to do it justice.

You're also much better off leaving the audience wanting more than having heard more than they'd like to at the time.

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