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 examples.

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.

Ask questions

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 composers.

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 granted.

Be yourself

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 classical music. 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.
Author: Javor Bracic
Comments [1]
Gianmaria Griglio - 2015-11-08 10:39
Quite an interesting article full of great tips. I would add: move around a bit, do not sit at a desk or in front of stand like a mummy reading from a piece of paper. Make it as interactive as possible.
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