Thoughts About Repertoire

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

Concerts need to be a visceral experience full of wonder, expectation, imagination and potential.  As much as I adore the mainstay orchestral literature, unless there is a compelling reason to undertake yet another concert from the pantheon of “great works”, we should really do less commonly heard repertoire if only to discover what lies outside this realm.

With this in mind, please use the three sub-menus under the Repertoire tab, as above, to view different types of concert programs.  They are divided into three categories – each designated by a rosette – as indications of suitability for different audiences.

This is a continuous work-in-progress, so revisit these pages from time-to-time to see what new ideas and programs I have designed.


Why is this important?

Kevin_Purcell_2Now, with over thirty-five 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 the art of 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.  Consequently, orchestral personnel around the world continue to struggle with, and adapt to, the consequences of the core importance of orchestras and orchestral music being eviscerated by mass-media consumption of entertainment filled with music of little intrinsic worth.

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.  Equally, we have a responsibility of not falling into the trap of dumbing-down orchestras to being merely utility services to perform music that postures to be more than trivial.

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 to dictate to us!

Indisputably, the charm of orchestral music (and Opera) 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, for download and, now, available freely (and for free!) on interactive and non-interactive streaming platforms 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 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.

Kevin Purcell

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