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Programme Planning

Vox Humana

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In another thread Goldsmith commented that good programming seems rarer than good technique. This pricked my conscience a bit since I've always felt that I haven't much of a clue.


Generally I aim to begin with a shortish piece of easy listening that will grip the audience's attention and end it with something loud and flashy. Fair enough, I hope. It's what comes in between that's the problem. I try to provide a variety of musical styles that will display the different resources of the organ, but sometimes it feels a bit like a chocolate box selection rather than a programme. I suppose including a major work helps to provide some focus, but I'm often not sure where best to place it.


One of the most original openers I have heard was a recital Simon Preston gave somewhere in London back in the late 60s. For his opening item he coupled together a Ricercare (or something) by Frescobaldi with the opening Fantasia section from the last movement of Hindemith 1 (with barely a break in between). It worked very well.


What do you think is the key to a successful programme? How do you make it all hang together?

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What do you think is the key to a successful programme? How do you make it all hang together?


I don't pretend to be any great authority but my considerations go as follows:


1) Audience/building/organ/time of day

2) What other concerts in series, who playing what

3) Logical sequence of keys

4) Strong contrast between first and second piece, if poss in same or similar key (eg Guilmant Scherzo Symphonique segue into Durufle Scherzo, or Flor Peeters Concert Piece segue into Sweelinck Mein Junges Lesbian hat ein End)

5) Apart from the beginning and/or end, as quiet as possible.

6) No stuff that is overdone, and absolutely no Lefebure-Wely under any circumstances whatsoever, even if life itself depended on it.


For shorter concerts, I try and find a theme - scherzos (mostly less well known ones), illustrated history of the chorale prelude, something like that.


For longer concerts, I build up to a "big" central work like Franck Chorale 2 and then try and gently bring it back to earth again.


In either case, I'll talk about 3 or 4 pieces at a time then go off and play them. If the console is miles away or invisible I'll often suggest having no applause or rotten vegetables between individual pieces, instead waiting until the end of the group I've just introduced.


It won't do for the Albert Hall but it seems to work for the town hall, and, though I say it myself, I do get a fair bit of good feedback about programme content (which is probably a polite way of saying the notes were crap).

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As someone who has, and will, only ever given one organ recital, I have the utmost respect for those who manage to overcome their nerves to put their reputations on the line. Nonetheless, I have in my time sat through far too many recitals that have been ponderous, dull, and quite simply boring. Oh dear!


The problem is that much of the organ repertoire was written for liturgical use, where it should remain. Taken out of context and played at a recital, what may have been a moving accompaniment during Communion or other such pauses during a service does run the risk of turning the audience catatonic. :rolleyes:


So, if a quiet work is desirable at a point in the programme, it should be something along the lines of Vierne's Naides from the 24 Pieces de Fantaisie which is a delightful and quietly registered work but which keeps moving, rather than something hypnotic by Messiaen where if you are lucky you get a chordal progression once ever minute. B) I may be exagerrating, but you should get my drift.


Finally, for those not of hard hearing, the Tuba or en-chamade reed should only be used sparingly!

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