Programming concerts…

Over the last few months I’ve had a few interesting discussions with people about concert programs. One upset me, and one didn’t – and I’m not sure why. It’s made me think a bit about things though….

One discussion was with someone who asked for something ‘modern and angsty’. They were approving the program, so we (me and my associate artist) felt that it was a valid point. I don’t really like this sort of music. I haven’t really liked it for many years now. Luckily for me, the person I was playing with said ‘I have something like this’, and played it in the concert. It seemed to go down really well – but interestingly, it wasn’t the piece that people came up and talked to me about.

The other discussion was with someone who, unprovoked, sent me a slightly shouty email, about how, in their opinion, I worked with too many of the same artists, and played music they didn’t really like. (Bizarrely, this was the one that upset me. They weren’t a concert promoter. They weren’t a professional musician. They were on a music club committee.)

Both of these things got me thinking – and this are my thoughts, in no real order.

I take a lot of time over the programs I devise. I think about keys from one piece to another, and if it’ll be jarring for listeners. I think about how I can link things, and what will go with what. Often the program people will hear in a concert will be the sixth or seventh version of what I start with. Various things get abandoned, or added.

do choose music that I like to play – and what my associate artists like to play. I’ll often program something because the person with whom I’m working has said ‘This is my favourite piece right now’. This generally means, because I love what I’m playing, I play it better. It becomes far more exciting for me, as a performer – and that changes things for the audience, I think.

I work with musicians regularly that inspire me. That means the relationship between us on stage deepens. We can play more organically together, and explore more complex repertoire. We hardly ever play the same thing (someone once asked me ‘Aren’t you sick of this by now?’, and it was only when I walked away they I realised they thought I was playing the same program over and over.)  when we meet again. Admittedly, it is the same sound palette – but with different music. But how many times have I listened to, say, the sixth Brandenburg concerto, or the Mendelssohn Octet? Does this make my umpteenth listening of the piece less than the first time I heard it?

And I don’t often program angsty stuff. I do play music by living composers (I have been criticised by one living composer that I don’t do this enough, but I try and put something in in every program I play…). I don’t like listening to it much – I find it upsetting. Perhaps this is my reaction to hearing upsetting stories of the kids I teach? I want something that is uplifting? I’m not sure. But I know I don’t really like it. It’s made me wonder why I listen to the type of music I do… Perhaps this will change over time. Perhaps not.

I am always a bit taken aback when I meet people and they say ‘Oh, I read your blog!’ – so I’ll ask you a question. Why do you go to concerts? Is it always for the same reason? I think I go to be taken somewhere. I remember once going to an ACO concert – I’d had a really tough week. And for the first time I felt my body relax. I sat and smiled. I cried a bit. And I left feeling totally wonderful. I also go to be inspired by the performers. I don’t go to be challenged. Not at the moment. Maybe that’s close-minded of me. Or maybe that’s just where I am at the moment.

Why do you go?