By Frank Lloyd
Planning a recital?
Whether for your end of year exams, a concert in your local church, or as a professional looking for an all-in ‘tour de force’ programme, planning a recital can be for some a huge task, considering the many elements of a programme which need to be taken into account – not least building the stamina required to be able to get through it!
Recitals are hard, far harder in my view than playing ‘just’ a concerto, as you can be playing up to an hour or more of music in a full-length concert recital. Bearing this in mind, preparation on many levels is of utmost importance.
Like training running for a marathon, you need to start in plenty of time to build the necessary stamina and endurance. Unfortunately, there is no quick way to build playing endurance other than working on pieces and exercises that are taxing. Working the embouchure hard (but not beyond exhaustion) is the means in which demanding something from your body will result in it responding by building strength in the area you are working – in this case the embouchure. Demanding more = response & improvement.
As with any hard training regime, rest is an important part, as rest = recovery. We have to respect the muscles we are working and not demand/expect too much. Recognise the signals you are getting when you practice, and be aware that when you start feeling tired it’s time to take a break. Overdoing it will damage the muscle fibres, prolonging the recovery and lessening the training effect – and can even jeopardise the concert. In this respect, leaving anything to the last minute is a recipe for disaster, as too late is simply too late. Don’t put yourself under pressure by trying to do everything in a week. Plan your programme following the tips below, and start your preparation in plenty of time as this will lessen the stress when the concert approaches.
A part of your final preparation should be playing through the pieces in their entirety, and eventually the whole programme from beginning to end – not stopping for any ‘repairs’ or unscheduled breaks. This is emulating what it is going to be like on the night, and an important part of your preparation. Do not leave it until the day of the concert for this run-through! Plan it in at least one day before to let you recover! I find this personally an important part of stamina building in the days before the concert. On the day of the concert you should only need to ‘top and tail’ – beginnings and endings, to check the acoustics and balance in the hall, assuring you do not use up any of the hard-earned condition you have spent weeks building up.
Building this strength to play through the programme is of course directly associated with what you will actually be playing in the first place. Bearing this in mind, the first question to ask yourself should be: Where are my strengths? There’s little point in playing pieces that I find difficult when there are other pieces I can play really well. This also alleviates a certain amount of stress, as there’ll be a few pieces in the programme that I can be more ‘relaxed’ with as I know them well, in the knowledge they won’t take a lot of preparation and will help break up the more difficult pieces. Interspersing the more difficult with the easier pieces is a logical approach, not forgetting the musical element of the programme - how it flows and how the pieces complement each other and different styles/periods of music to be included.
Getting the recital off to a good start is important to help you settle your nerves and to get the audience ‘on your side’. In this respect, choosing something well within your capabilities is to be recommended. Any nerves can knock off up to 20% of your overall self-confidence so be prepared. If you try to play something that might only come off ‘on a good day’ then you are asking for trouble! Playing something a little easier but playing it really well is far better than tackling something more difficult and suffering for it! Not performing the first piece well will unsettle you and the audience alike. Choose it to help get you warmed up and settled, which will boost your self-confidence in preparation for the more difficult pieces later in the programme.
Consider putting the most difficult piece (i.e. R.Schumann Adagio & Allegro, long sonata) just before the interval (in a long recital) to enable you to do some loosening exercises in the interval to rid yourself of any tightness associated with a tough piece like that, and to regain some flexibility. In a shorter recital, for a 30min exam say, putting the hardest piece second is worth considering. Plan wisely when intending to put the strongest piece last, for what you play before this piece will have a direct influence on how well you will be able to play it – believe me. I tend to finish a programme with some lighter pieces, to send the audience home smiling (hopefully) and which are short but effective.
Suggestions for successful programme planning:
- Is my programme going to have a theme?
- What are the stipulations laid down in the curriculum for this recital (length, content)?
- Can I go off-stage between pieces/take a break?
- What are my strong pieces?
- ‘Must play’ pieces (in the curriculum/not yet performed but must this time!).
- What piece am I going to start/end with?
- Can/must I talk – introduce works, give some background history? (gives you more time to recover between pieces, but text learning adds to preparation time)
- How much rehearsal time am I going to get?
- What is my audience? (Conservative, or more discerning, i.e. music club, concert-going public?)
- How much music to programme? (overall timings to include any introductions, leaving stage between pieces and the interval)
- Contrasting pieces, flow and compatibility
- My strongest pieces/areas of expertise.
- ‘Must play’ pieces (‘romantic’ programme should have Adagio & Allegro or equivalent for instance).
- Definitive concert order!
- What have I already planned in the few days run-up to the concert?
As a postscript I’d like to say how important I feel it is to keep moving forward in the world of horn repertoire, playing new, interesting and challenging works whenever we can. And although the old favourites will always remain the staple of many a horn recital, there should always be room to introduce new works into our concerts that give the composers of today the exposure and recognition they need and a platform to introduce audiences the world over to the many great works being written for our instrument today.
Frank has been Professor for Horn at the Folkwang University of Arts in Essen, Germany for 20yrs and before that was 20yrs in London, building a career as a soloist, chamber player and pedagogue. His new CD ‘No Limits’ is a celebration of what he has achieved in his music career to date. www.frank-lloyd-horn.com