Thoughts About Repertoire

As opposed to just making lists of the music I have conducted, know well, and generally maintain in my working repertoire, I devise repertoire as complete packages of music that I like to see go together.  In my opinion, a  list of repertoire isn’t of itself very enlightening.  Conversely, how pieces are placed next to one another in a concert program is far more revealing on so many levels.

I just assume that orchestra managements assume that any conductor worth his/her salt knows the standard concerto and symphonic repertoire and  – when called upon to do it – simply does it.

To be entirely transparent, when I am asked to do a concert these days, and presented with a program of overture, concerto and symphony, I am more inclined to graciously decline an orchestra’s invitation (irresepective of which ensemble it is).  Why?  Because we really can’t continue to be so unimaginative with how we design concerts for audiences.

Concerts need to be a visceral experience full of wonder, expectation, imagination and potential.  As much as I adore Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and the boys (the absence of women composers is an ongoing travesty), unless there is a compelling reason to undertake yet another concert from the pantheon of the orchestral canon, we should really do something else!

With this in mind, please use the six sub menus under the Repertoire tab, as above, to view different types of concert programs.  They are divided into various categories of specialisation, with indications of their suitability for different audiences.

Opera repertoire (inc. Musicals) can be found under the Opera tab.

Slightly More Seriously

Now, with over thirty years conducting behind me, I find it increasingly surprising how little change has occurred in the presentation of live performances of symphonic music.

What has changed, is that the world has moved on from believing in the innate value and relevance of orchestras; including the pertinence of conductors and conducting, to working within a perceived value-driven framework. No longer is there an implicit understanding of the importance of orchestral music, fragmented as it has become by an unprecedented proliferation of choice of music and entertainment in people’s lives.  I think this reality is fundamentally difficult to swallow, and orchestral personnel around the world continue to struggle with, and adapt to, the consequences of this truth.

I believe orchestral music is now more important than ever – and especially to – our children. This music has an essentialness; a DNA-like life strand rooted deeply within the psyche of human beings, once exposed to its ineffable charms. We have a responsibility to ensure the profoundities expressed in orchestral music are heard.

Rather than being challenged by the reality of ‘downloading’ and ‘streaming’ being the dominant modality of participation in music – with embedded algorithms designed to remove the obstacle of choice by automatically selecting music for us  – we should take both the lead and the initiative in designing music presentations that are surprising, imaginative and meaningful experiences with real impact for audiences – and in doing so, make use the proliferating technology to assist us not dictate to us!

Indisputably, the charm of orchestral music has been tarnished over the last seventy or so years by the the over-exposure of select masterworks endlessly regurgitated in live performance at the expense of so much other wonderful music.  Conversely, quite astounding amounts of ‘other’ music has been recorded that exists on CD/DVD or for download, which hardly ever makes its way to the concert platform. The paradox that there is ‘music good enough to record but not good enough to perform’, is utterly peculiar to the orchestral world.

With orchestras all over the world struggling to understand how to sustain (let alone build) audiences, the orchestral field risks being beset by a learned, if not increasingly ingrained, attitude that there is something in itself wrong with orchestra music. As an industry, we need to avoid the all too prevalent mistake in orchestral music being perceived as just another marketing ‘brand’. Fundamentally, this devalues what we do and why we do it. When we allow this perception, at its worst, orchestral music (and opera) personnel revert to inward looking practices: fall back onto previously and outmmoded solutions, and forget the importance of  imagining new possibilities with recent, ignored, or otherwise forgotten repertoire.

The music is not the problem: the way we fail to reveal this music most assuredly is. Ultimately the challenge is not to sustain audiences, but to greatly expand and create new ones.


With Classical Music, we need to fundamentally change our thinking to understand that:

• People want to be involved with Classical Music. When they have something to be involved with, then they take ownership of the EXPERIENCE. In so doing, they become ENGAGED.

• People love to go on journeys of DISCOVERY: to walk over the next hill to see what’s there. To get there, they need to see the road in front of them. If we give them a map and some pictures, they will happily set out on that journey. This is the art of STORYTELLING.

• With DISCOVERY comes the desire to look around. When people arrive at the destination, they want to know why it was important to get there. So, we need to give audiences CONTEXT, both during the journey and when they arrive.

As a conductor, this is my philosophy. This is what I do.

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