How do you select the works you will play in a concert? Should there be a theme? How do you determine the order?
I had researched this topic with a Swedish violinist for a master’s research elective at Utrecht Conservatory in 2008: how to programme live music for elderly audiences (summary 1 page PDF).
This morning Stephanie (cellist) and I (pianist) got together to decide exactly that. For this Friday’s concerts, we needed 30 minutes before the intermission and 15 to 20 minutes afterwards. It’s for an exclusive, affluent, historical house of elderly residents – about 10 to maximum 12 people in a cozy, intimate setting. We will play the programme twice in one day —- i.e. in two homes in the same town.
Selecting the pieces
We began with what we had worked on and performed before.
Fantasiestucke by Robert Schumann – 3 movements to be played attaca – virtuoso and exciting – not so well-known – best to end with it, before the intermission. 10 minutes
The rest of the pieces we had not performed but had sight read or practised together. We played each piece once and timed it.
Sicilienne by Faure – well-known, familiar – I had played the piano solo version as a warm-up at a previous concert and noticed the early guests liked it – 4’5″
Intermezzo from the opera Cavalleria Rusticana – well-loved – I had played the piano solo version in concerts with French horn and noticed the audience loved it. The cello-piano arrangement is much easier on the piano than the solo version. 2’56”
Salut d’Amour by Elgar – again, well-loved and well-known. The piano solo version is much more demanding than the cello-piano arrangement, so it’s a relief to hear something more beautiful but easier to play on the piano. 3’21”
Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise – very romantic and beautiful but sad – must be careful not to overdo it. 7’24”
La Cinquantaine by Gabriel Marie – unfamiliar piece but moving – important to have something that’s unfamiliar in a sea of familiarity. 4’56”
We added all the durations and fished for additional pieces to complete the programme.
Minuetto by Boccherini – familiar, light, joyful – a nice break from the more serious pieces – 3’53”
Menuett by Beethoven – similar to the Boccherini – well-known and light-hearted – originally for piano – 2’56”
Barcarolle from Offenbach’s opera Tales of Hoffman – easy but not my favourite – 2’41”
Chanson Triste by Tchaikovsky – 2’24”
Songs My Mother Taught me by Dvorak – the piano plays in 6/8 time while the cello part is in 2/4 time – 1’50”
Ordering the pieces
We put Schumann’s Fantasiestucke just before the intermission because it’s the longest and most virtuosic of all pieces. After the intermission, when everyone is rested we can challenge the audience with something more demanding: Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. This requires something lighter and joyful to follow – Boccherini’s Minuetto.
In deciding upon the sequence of works, we were constantly seeking a balance —- contrasting long with short, heavy with light, dark with light, and familiar with unfamiliar.
The final programme for cello and piano
Songs My Mother Taught Me – Dvorak
Minuett – Beethoven
Chanson Triste – Tchaikovsky
La Cinquantaine – Gabriel Marie
Salut d’Amour – Elgar
[Barcarolle – Offenbach —- may skip if not enough time]
Fantasiestucke – Schumann
Vocalise – Rachmaninoff
Minuetto – Boccherini
Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana – Mascagni
Sicilienne – Faure
Final step: research and write the programme notes so we have something interesting to say about each piece.