The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Performers should announce encores | March 25, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

All around The Ear, even very knowledgeable people were asking:

“What is that piece?”

“Who’s the composer?”

After a recent and superb performance of the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under its longtime music director John DeMain, the renowned American pianist Emanuel Ax (below), who received a well-deserved standing ovation, played an encore.

And he played it beautifully.

Emanuel Ax portrait 2016

But he was negligent in one way.

He didn’t announce what the encore was.

So most of the audience was left wondering and guessing.

Now, The Ear knew the composer and piece because The Ear is an avid amateur pianist and knows the piano repertoire pretty well.

The encore in question was the Valse Oubliée No. 1 in F-sharp Major by Franz Liszt, which used to be more popular and more frequently heard than it is now. (You can hear it below played by Arthur Rubinstein in a YouTube video.)

On previous nights, Ax – who is a friendly, informed, articulate and talkative guy — also had apparently not announced the encores. But on Friday night it was the Waltz No. 2 in A minor by Frederic Chopin and on Saturday night is was the Nocturne in F-sharp major, Op. 15, No. 2, also by Chopin. Chopin is a composer who is a specialty of Ax, as you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom, which features his encore in an unusual setting pertaining to the Holocaust.

It’s a relatively small annoyance, but The Ear really thinks that performers ought to announce encores. Audiences have a right to know what they are about to hear or have just heard. It is just a matter of politeness and concert etiquette, of being audience-friendly.

Plus it is fun to hear the ordinary speaking voice of the artist, even if it is only just briefly to announce a piece of music, as you can hear below with Ax discussing the three concerts in Carnegie Hall that he did to celebrate the bicentennials of Chopin and Robert Schumann.

And it isn’t just a matter of big names or small names.

Emanuel Ax is hardly alone.

A partial list this season of performers who did NOT announce encores include violinist Benjamin Beilman, who played with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; violist Nobuko Imai, who performed with the Pro Arte Quartet; pianist Maurizio Pollini in a solo recital in Chicago; and a UW professor who played a work by Robert Schumann that even The Ear didn’t know.

Performing artists who DID announce encores — many of then by Johann Sebastian Bach — included pianist Joyce Yang at the Wisconsin Union Theater; violinist James Ehnes and cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio, both with the Madison Symphony Orchestra; UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor, who played sick but nonetheless announced and commented humorously on his encore by Scott Joplin, “The Wall Street Rag”; and violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, who played recently with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

So it seems like there is no consistent standard that concert artists learn or adopt about handling encores. The Ear’s best guess is that it is just a personal habit the performers get used to over time.

But the Ear sure wishes that all performing artists would announce encores, program changes or additions.

It just makes the concert experience more fun and informative as well as less frustrating.

Is The Ear alone?

Do you prefer that artists announce or not announce their encores?

Or doesn’t it matter to you?

The Ear wants to hear.

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5 Comments »

  1. I agree, Jake. I’d like to know.

    Comment by Kathy Lewinski — March 25, 2016 @ 9:31 pm

  2. Totally agree that this is a recent problem and frustrating for music lovers. When Hvorostovsky sang in Chicago he ended with an breathtaking folksong but no name. Luckily a patron from Siberia was behind me told us the title.

    Comment by Lynn — March 25, 2016 @ 11:57 am

  3. I kinda like the effect that the “left in the dark” has on us. We listen in a different way, curious to see how the artist makes this choice, how it adds to what has come before but in a sense cools us down. It encourages conversation among strangers in the audience, and furthers our own musical questioning. Here’s a possible middle ground…the rep at, for instance, the MSO table in the atrium could know and tell us as we walk out. Or the artist could let us know after the encore, clunky though that seems.

    Comment by Ronnie Hess — March 25, 2016 @ 9:30 am

  4. Couldn’t agree more, Jake – I often ask around to find out what the encore was, but it would be nice if the performer announced the title and composer. Then again, no one HAS to offer an encore, and perhaps we should be grateful that they do it at all! On another note, I wish Madison Symphony would list the names of the extras and substitute players in the program. What a disservice to those fine musicians!

    Comment by Kathy O — March 25, 2016 @ 8:00 am

  5. Absolutely right, Jacob! Announcing an encore is not just a matter of courtesy but an essential part of the musical experience. Denying the audience that simple bit of information is robbing them of a portion of the enjoyment of concert going.

    Comment by rafaelsmusicnotes — March 25, 2016 @ 6:42 am


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