Yesterday Ausra and I went to an organ recital at St Casimirus church by Dr. Cristian Rizzotto and this inspired me to share some of my views on recital programming.
Imagine you are an organist who is invited to play an hour long recital. You naturally have to think about what music you will play.
There are various approaches to this challenge. Some organists prefer to play only famous organ pieces so that listeners perhaps would recognize them. Some - only unfamiliar ones - because famous pieces are boring to them. Some - play a mixture of familiar and new music. Some - dedicate their program to some theme or to one particular composer or historical period or country.
Whatever I choose to do I think one principle should always be kept in mind - a balance between a contrast and unity.
If I play music which is too unified in character, then after 15 minutes or less it becomes boring. If I play music which is too contrasting - then people can't focus their attention for a longer time and can't find some common ground which also results in a boring experience.
What do I mean about unified character? Well, it could be similar tempo (only fast, only slow), similar mood (only sad or only joyful), similar key (only major or only minor), similar dynamic level (only soft or only loud), similar pitch level (only high or only low), similar registration (only principals, only flutes, only strings or only reeds), similar writing style (only polyphonic or only homophonic music).
But again if too much contrast is also not good. It might sound contrary to the logic but if I mix all these elements too much without any order, then listeners can't find a unifying element of my recital.
When I improvise an hour long recital I always am conscious about the rule of contrast and unity as well. It doesn't matter that this music sounds for the first time and has never been written down before but listeners still can feel general idea pretty well.
But above all I have to be conscious of the rule of contrast. It's like scenes of a good movie. They usually last 1 or 2 minutes and they seem to vary between positive and negative charge.
So a lot of organ pieces are like that too. Every one or two pages you will find something new, something contrasting.
As in a slow movie you could have long slow motion scenes, in organ music too you could have one mood last for 5 or even 10 minutes. But that's rather an exception than a rule.
But of course, all of the above is my personal opinion and somebody else might have a different view.
What I find boring, other might find exciting and vice versa.
It's a fine art and not a science to program your organ recital well. I would say there isn't any silver bullet to this. One has to try out everything and figure out what works for them personally.
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