Balance in repertoire on a recital program plays a key role in creating an enjoyable, memorable experience for the audience as well as the performer. Unbalanced repertoire can result in boredom from monotony and listener’s fatigue. Also, if most of the music is the same style or serves the same purpose, and an audience member or several members don’t particularly enjoy that type of music, then their overall experience with that program will be less than desirable. However, if there is a variety of music, their chances of enjoying most of the program increase greatly. A few elements to consider when choosing repertoire include style/mood/purpose, length, and the difficulty of each work.
Think about what role you want each piece on the program to fulfill. Does the recital have a theme, or will each piece create a different style or mood? Decide whether you want a particular piece to be educational – teaching the audience something new, historical/traditional – giving an well-informed performance of a repertoire standard or piece with considerable historical significance, or sensational – a piece that will dazzle your audience with virtuosic and/or extended techniques.
Length is another important factor to consider when selecting repertoire. Not only is it important to vary the length of works on the program, but it's equally important where you place pieces of certain lengths on the program. For example, I strongly advise against opening or closing the first half of the program with a lengthy work. Doing so can cause your audience to grow tired early into the recital. I would also advise against programming multiple lengthy works right next to one another. Spacing the lengthy works out will give your audience a better opportunity to process what they’ve just experienced. It also helps prevent them from getting restless during lengthy pieces that have heavy theoretical or emotional content.
Difficulty is an element of recital planning that doesn’t directly affect the audience, but rather the performer. Be sure to balance works that you are confident lie within your current ability level with those that will push you to the next level. My former flute professor, Amy Porter, would always encourage us to ‘bring the piece to your problems, not your problems to the piece.’ In other words, the music we choose should be the avenues to working through the areas we struggle with, rather than highlighting our deficiencies. Also, be realistic about the amount of time you have to prepare the recital and start on the difficult repertoire first.
CALL TO ACTION: Stay tuned for Part Two of this article, which contains more elements that shouldn't be overlooked!