I remember a long time ago, when I was still studying with Ben Kaplan, I was asked to give a recital in a local venue in North London and was trying to sort out the repertoire for the concert. I told Ben I wanted to play Beethoven’s sonata Op.110 and will never forget his response:
‘Darling, you and I love this work and know how great it is, but people generally don’t like to listen to fugues’. I was so disappointed as up until then I had never thought that there is someone that could not like a piece of music which I did. Actually, I had never even questioned it!
20th Century Music
If a fugue can be difficult for the audience, what about 20th century music and beyond? Bartok’s Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, which alongside Liszt’s Dante Sonata and Beethoven’s Appassionata I have performed in over 50 different occasions, it is always a challenge for the audience, despite being one of the masterpieces of the piano repertoire. Even a Hungarian friend of mine, who said that he knows all the tunes in the piece, said he still doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about! To most people it just sounds like a ‘bunch of random notes’. Having said this, I performed this work in the City (at the St Anne’s Music Society) a few years back and after the concert a group of City workers came up to me and said they actually came to the concert because of the Bartok as they were huge fans of the composer.
On another occasion I was asked to replace Janacek’s 1.X. 1905 Sonata by the promoter of a concert and another promoter told me that Barber is not suitable for his society’s audience. It makes me wonder if given the chance, the audience would appreciate how fantastic Barber’s Fugue is! After all, in its premiere at Wigmore Hall on November 1950 by Robert Wallenborn the audience liked it so much that he had to repeat it.
‘Composing’ a concert programme
I feel it is necessary to consider the audience when deciding on the programme, but also performing works that we like, even if we turn some people away. There are so many great pieces and it is a real shame if they don’t get their say in our concert halls.