The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: We should hear more encores, especially at outstanding chamber music concerts. Plus, a FREE Farmer’s Market organ recital is this Saturday at 11 a.m. | August 11, 2017

ALERT: This Saturday at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will offer another FREE Farmers Market Organ Concert. The program, which runs 45 minutes, features music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Felix Mendelssohn, Charles-Marie Widor and Louis Vierne. The organist is the prize-winning Madison native Adrian Binkley.

By Jacob Stockinger

Two weeks ago, the Willy Street Chamber Players gave The Ear yet another reason to like them and be a fan.

After the season-ending program of Schubert, Osvaldo Golijov and Mozart was over, while the audience was cheering, standing and applauding loudly, two members of the young chamber music group played an encore.

The encore was “Julie-O” by Mark Summer. It was written for one cellist, as you can hear in a performance by the composer in the YouTube video at the bottom.

But this time it was performed by the two cellists of The Willys — Lindsey Crabb and Mark Bridges (below).

They agreed to play an encore only reluctantly – after some prodding by other members of The Willys, by guest clarinetist Michael Maccaferri (of the Grammy-winning group eighth blackbird) and, of course, by the audience.

But there shouldn’t have been any reluctance.

The Ear thinks we hear too few encores after so much memorable music-making.

Certain student recitals at the UW-Madison come immediately to mind. It sometimes seems that the protocol of student recitals prohibits encores, but The Ear has been told by faculty members that such is not the case.

What also comes to mind is the lack of encores at chamber music concerts by larger ensembles – piano trios, string quartets and piano or string quintets and sextets.

And rarely do you hear encores at the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or Madison Opera except when they are played by concerto soloists.

But why not?

The Ear recalls that several years ago the Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez, performing the aria with notoriously difficult nine high C’s in the aria “Ah! Mes amis” from Donizetti’s opera “La Fille du Regiment,” then quickly repeated the same passage to frenzied approval.

What are encores but a way of saying: “You liked me, so now I like you.”

Encores are not immodest bragging. They are a reward, a gift, a way for the performer to say thank you to the audience for its attention and appreciation.

Maybe every individual or group should have some kind of encore in the back pocket and ready to go. It could be a short movement or even a section of a movement, perhaps a coda or finale.

It seems to The Ear that many instrumentalists, especially pianists who have such a rich repertory, would do well to have four encores ready: one fast and one slow, one loud and one soft.

That way, the encore can underscore —  by either complementarity or contrast — the piece or pieces that preceded it and called for it.

Have you ever wanted to hear an encore and been frustrated?

What do musicians themselves say about playing encores?

Are there unwritten guidelines or an unstated protocol about when to play encores?

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. I like encores because I get to here tiny pieces rarely played. I have the feeling these are pieces the artists play for themselves.
    I was surprised recently to see the encore listed on the program!

    Comment by Janet M — August 13, 2017 @ 10:34 am

  2. We have already devalued the standing ovation. In some situations (e.g. American Players Theatre) the standing ovation is obligatory. I can’t remember the last time I went there without a standing O. It seems every Madison Symphony Orchestra performance ends in a standing O but of that I’m less certain. The encore is already obligatory in rock and most other popular music. Let’s not make it an obligation in classical music, too. Most student recitals are very thoroughly rehearsed – after all, they are being graded on them – and, while there are times I might have wanted more, the program was planned for a reason and to throw something else in (or to rehearse something else so they can appear to toss in a spontaneous encore) seems superfluous. I think Kathy O said it well, and in fewer words than I.

    Comment by Steve Rankin — August 11, 2017 @ 5:10 pm

  3. I’m not a performer but as an attentive listener at a concert, I have been actively involved with the carefully thought out and beautifully performed program described by Kathy O, above. I would rather leave with that impression than have some “extra” music played. I think the best appreciation one can give music performers is to attend their concerts regularly and bring others! I am speaking mainly of chamber music. For soloists with an orchestra, I do like hearing that person play an encore alone. But it still depends on whether it complements what has just been performed.

    Melinda Certain

    Comment by Melinda Certain — August 11, 2017 @ 2:10 pm

  4. As a performer, here’s how I feel at the end of a performance: I just gave you an hour of carefully prepared selections in a program designed to flow from beginning to end. And now I need to thank you for listening with some little fluffy thing to show that I like you, too? Encores are like standing ovations – very seldom warranted or necessary.

    Comment by Kathy O — August 11, 2017 @ 1:31 pm

  5. What I love about encores is that they can be a graceful way of ending the night — the performer/soloist says one last thank you/goodbye, with usually a slower piece that brings us back down quietly to earth. But sometimes, after a performer has given an exhaustingly difficult performance, I think it’s a kindness to let her/him just go home.

    Comment by Ronnie Hess — August 11, 2017 @ 9:02 am

  6. There are times when I’d love to hear
    the soloist just play one thing more,
    and other times when it feels like overload. I prefer the soft, gentle pieces
    rather than the fireworks.

    Comment by Ann Boyer — August 11, 2017 @ 5:37 am

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