August 21, 2003
Vol. III, No. 25
"Turn It Around; Try Upside-Down!"
The pipe organ has received a fair amount of press lately but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that recital attendance is still down. In fact, this has been going on for so long that we pretty much take it for granted. When something isn't working, though, we should take the opportunity to rethink it. Here is my contribution:
What is it with this tradition of structuring recitals chronologically? Perhaps it began innocently enough but in today's society, it only serves to reinforce the silly notion fed to consumers that newer is better. That wouldn't even be so terrible if Bach's music was actually programmed proportionally to his importance. Unfortunately, he usually shows up in a tiny, obligatory slot at or near the beginning of the recital. Using Bach's music simply as a point of departure denies the music's value as a destination, minimizes his contributions to the repertoire and shortchanges the audience. It is impossible to overstate the quality and significance of Bach's organ music so how about saving the best for last?
I'd like to suggest that we start programming recitals in reverse-chronological order. This would position the most contemporary piece at the beginning of the recital and the program would work its way back in time toward Bach. If you think this won't work because you register preludes and fugues as chamber pieces, you're really missing out on some fun. Bach can 'out-finale' any composer who came before or after him. Register large!
As I see it, while reverse-chronological recitals don't address the larger problem of all composers being treated equally, they would represent a much-needed improvement in what until now hasn't been working. Consider standing the typical recital model on its head. Your audience will surely enjoy the view.
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