Since summer tends to be a period of less performance opportunities for me, I have traditionally used this season as a time to plan recital programs for the upcoming season. Currently, I am selecting repertoire for a solo recital to be performed this fall in the Memphis area. This will be my first solo recital in nearly 6 years, but I am looking forward to it. As I was thinking through possible repertoire, I began to consider the various methods of building a program that I have used over the years as well as those that have been intriguing to me in their possibilities.
The standard method of putting together a classical recital is to present material in chronological order, making sure that each historical period is represented. This academic approach has a definite advantage. Since compositional techniques became more complex throughout the ages, such a method creates a diverse program that will keep the audience's attention. On the flip side, however, the recital can feel like an academic exercise in its rigidity. Additionally, performing works from every historical period on a single program can create difficult transitions and extremely differing technical requirements for the pianist.
Another common approach to planning a recital is the thematic approach. These recitals often come with catchy titles that put the audience at ease and make the performance a bit more accessible by a general audience. Some titles that I have performed or that I am currently developing with chamber ensembles include "Bodacious Bombshells" (works by female composers whose last names begin with the letter B); "Mixed Up Composers" (compositions that SHOULD have been written for the flute); and "It's Howdy Doody Time" (pieces for the child in all of us). Such programs can become very annoying if planned in close proximity to one another. My experience has been that many of these recitals require lots of research to find the music and often result in the selection of inferior repertoire that fits the prescribed parameters. While I DO enjoy thematic recitals, I recommend planning these over time in order to find the best repertoire rather than trying to force music to fit the theme.
The final two methods are similar to each other and ones that I have not yet used personally. The first is the common approach of presenting an entire program composed by a single composer. The difficulties arise from two contrasting scenarios -- either there is simply too much music to choose from or there's not enough. The other (and the one that I find most interesting) is based upon a single date. How interesting it would be to prepare a concert of works that were all published in the year 1901 (the one I'm currently exploring). This method allows for the continuity of period, but opens lots of variety by traveling around the world musically. I chose this year because of my love for Ravel's Jeux d'eau. Currently, I am examining works published in that year in the United States, England, and Germany. As my search continues, I'll expand to other countries.
How about you? What's your favorite method for planning a recital? Is there an approach you always thought would be interesting to try, but never had the opportunity? I'd love to hear about it!