6 Things You Can Do to Make a Lecture Recital More Fun
Let’s say you agree that classical musicians need to do more to engage today’s audience.
How would you go about involving your listeners in the music you play? Here are some
Start with the music
Do not begin your performance with a reading of the composer’s biography. That’s what
Wikipedia is for! Unless you can fish out some funny or fascinating anecdote as an opener,
save the biographical details for later.
When you do present verbal information, never be satisfied with cold, unrelated facts.
Beethoven’s years of birth and death mean nothing unless you put them in the context of
the French Revolution and what it meant for him. Chopin’s years are only interesting if you
mention the state of his homeland at the time and what an emotional impact it had on him.
Debussy’s visit to the world exhibition in Paris is meaningless, unless you can demonstrate
how the Gamelan music he heard there permeates his musical language.
After you play a piece, don’t give everything away by telling the audience what you think.
First ask your listeners if they liked the piece and why. They may notice some interesting
things, which you can then play again and discuss in greater detail.
Ask the audience to be honest about what they didn’t like. An interesting discussion may
arise spontaneously between two opposing camps, only if you let them. Don’t take sides too
early. Find a way to accept differing opinions. But never cater blindly to what your
audience wants. Some music comes as an acquired taste. Our role as classical musicians
today is not that of entertainers, rather it is more akin to museum curators.
Shroud the performance in mystery and discovery
Be as creative in your presentations as you are in your musical interpretations! Let’s say
you wish to play Beethoven's 32 Variations in C minor and Schubert's late C minor Sonata,
and you'd like to highlight the similarity between the main themes of these two pieces. The
usual way would be to tell the audience about this similarity, and then play the two themes.
Another way would be to play the two themes first, without telling the audience who the
composers are. You can call them Theme A and Theme B. Then ask the audience to tell you
what they have noticed - what are the similarities and what are the differences? Tell them
who the composers are only after they have created a clear picture of what each example
sounds like. This way the audience makes their own discoveries, while enjoying the process
of listening in an investigative fashion.
Allow your audience to draw their own conclusions
You will occasionally get comments that you didn't expect and which do not fit your vision
of the piece. Be careful not to jump to correct them. Try to investigate why your listener got
that impression in the first place.
It happened to me in the very same example with Beethoven and Schubert that a lady in the
audience said Theme A (Beethoven) was somehow more feminine than Theme B
(Schubert). I was perplexed. Usually we think of Beethoven as the more decisive and
stereotypically masculine than the gentle Schubert. But these are generalizations found in
obsolete music appreciation books.
The reality is that Beethoven’s theme comes in a high register, and is accompanied only by
thin chords. Schubert’s theme on the other hand starts an octave lower and is accompanied
by a fuller sonority. This lady, exactly because she was not stultified by bad music
education, was able to listen freely and was attuned to the associations of the actual sound.
Put the genius in perspective
One of the teachers who most radically changed the way I thought about music was Mr.
Mark Shapiro. His conducting classes were full of witty, yet profound remarks and brilliant
thought experiments that served to shed new light on the masterworks we were learning.
In one of his mind games, he’d pick an extraordinarily brilliant detail in a piece and change
it so as to make it ordinary and conventional. After hearing what the “corrected” version
sounded like, we learned to better appreciate the boldness and genius of the great
It is not difficult to write music, but writing great music takes audacity. Take a moment to
identify the strokes of genius in the music you play. We musicians often take them for
This one is obvious. Do ask yourself these questions: Why do I want to play this kind of
music and not that? What is it about this particular piece that turns me on and sparks my
imagination? Is there a deeper underlying human experience that this music conveys?
When I play or listen to music, there are moments that give me such immense pleasure that
I immediately wish to share them with the whole world, and initiate everybody in the joy
that I feel. Any aspiring classical musician today needs to ask her/himself these questions
constantly, and share the answers with the world.
Follow Javor Bracic on HELLO STAGE and enjoy this video od excerpts of his conversation-recital, The Art of Listening - we highly recommend it!
The Croatian pianist Javor Bracic is the first prize winner of international piano competitions in Italy,
Croatia and Belgium. He gave a critically acclaimed solo recital at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall
presented by New York Concert Artists. His first CD album Tribute to Haydn was released by Labor
Records, and his performance was broadcast on WQXR. He was invited to give recitals and perform at
festivals and conferences throughout the USA, Europe, China, and South Africa.
Javor has given a series of concerts for the humanitarian organization "Yehudi Menuhin's Live Music
Now" which brings music to nursing homes and hospitals. He has also given a series of conversation-
recitals under the title the Art of Listening aimed at promoting the interest in and understanding of
Javor has a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the University of Mozarteum in Salzburg, as well as a
Professional Studies Diploma from Mannes College in New York. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate of
Musical Arts at the City University of New York, studying with Ursula Oppens and Richard Goode.