Guest Article: Creating a Compelling Recital Program
This RMS guest article is written by Young Harris College Clarinet Professor, Dr. Justin Stanley.
Programming a recital that is satisfying for both the performer and audience takes thought, planning, and creativity. While there are many ways to create a successful program, the strategies in this article can serve as a guide in your performance planning.
The first step in the process is to consider the type of performance that will be presented. For example, is the recital part of the culmination of a degree program, a faculty recital, or a community performance at a venue like a nursing home or public library? Thinking about the format encourages us to better consider the expectations of our audience. It can also help to suggest the length, format and if the recital is to be themed or more traditional in nature. An all-Brahms recital or a new music recital are two examples of themed programs, whereas more traditional recitals might include varied repertoire from different styles and time periods.
After considering the recital format, select one or two “anchor” pieces that headline the program. In this context, an “anchor” piece is a substantial work that will most likely be a highlight. It is usually a work that the performer is excited to share and a work the performer can present convincingly. A sonata by Brahms, Copland’s Concerto, or Bartok’s Contrastscan be examples of “anchor” pieces.
Next, consider works that provide contrast in style, compositional period, length, and medium with the “anchor” piece. Variety helps to pique interest and encourage audience engagement throughout the program. While clarinetists have limited early repertoire upon which to draw, it can be effective to include a selection from the Classical period or a Baroque transcription if appropriate. Depending on the circumstances, programming at least one work for solo clarinet, a chamber work, a virtuosic piece (such as an opera fantasy) and at least one work by a living composer helps to ensure an interesting and varied program. Pieces, of course, can fit many of these categories.
To fill out the recital program, take care to select a mix of technical and lyrical works that fit well together and that showcase your strengths. Equally important is establishing balance in the program. The pieces should be manageable from a performance standpoint to ensure that the performer has the physical stamina to make it through the complete recital. While it is tempting to program several of the greatest showstoppers in one program, it may be challenging for the performer to give polished performances and for the audience to digest all the music.
Once the pieces have been selected, consider how to order the program. It works well to open with a striking piece that leaves an immediate impression. This piece functions as the “hook” that draws listeners into the program. Next, consider which work will close the program (and the first half if applicable). These should be powerful works that round off the program with pizzazz. Finally, intersperse the other works on the program in a way that can showcase the varied nature of a program and create an effective flow. For example, a contemplative and lyrical work fits nicely after a strong opener. These principles are not unlike the way in which a great author tells a story; there is an opening that gets us hooked, plot twists and surprises along the way, and a conclusion that leaves us wanting more.
Most importantly, performers should select works about which they are passionate. It can also be interesting to highlight connections between works on the program. These connections can involve similarities in historical background, musical style, compositional dates, commissioning circumstances, and the like. Not only do connections spark interest, but they also add depth to the program and can allow audiences to experience works in new ways.
When looking for sources of inspiration for a program, it can be helpful to consult recordings, The Clarinetjournal and composers’ websites. Luyben Music also offers an extensive catalog of clarinet works that is broken down by type and ensemble size on their website: www.luybenmusic.com/section.asp. This resource is especially helpful when looking for a work with a set instrumentation such as clarinet and guitar or clarinet and voice. It’s always fun to uncover unfamiliar gems to share with audiences.
Recital planning can be an exciting time full of possibilities. Allow yourself to be creative and enjoy the opportunity of designing a unique program that is reflective of your strengths and style.
Justin Stanley is an Atlanta-based freelance clarinetist and educator who serves on faculty at Young Harris College, the University of North Georgia, and the Atlanta Music Academy.
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