Top Five Encores that Overshadowed the Performance

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Like petit fours or post-shave hot towels, encores are those little extras that leave a lingering impression in the mind. Periodically, performers such as Jascha Heifetz, Itzhak Perlman and, most recently, Hilary Hahn have given the encore renewed respect by giving these pieces that are usually left off the program full billing. However, sometimes the encore overshadows the scheduled performance. Here are five noteworthy encores that eclipsed their programs: 

1. Beethoven's Instant Reprise

The conventions of the encore weren’t as codified as they are now in concert halls when Beethoven premiered his Seventh Symphony in December 1813. In one of the composer’s final conducting appearances, Beethoven led performances of the highly anticipated Wellington’s Victory alongside the Seventh. It was the second movement in the latter, the Allegretto, that made the strongest impression, earning such an ovation that the movement was immediately played again, before finishing the final two movements of the symphony.


2. A Complete Goldberg Variations

It seems to be a joke that any pianist would ever play Bach’s 45-minute Goldberg Variations for an encore. Surely he or she would have only picked one or two selections from the opus. However, Rudolf Serkin actually launched into the entire piece for an appreciative audience in Berlin in 1921. Not knowing what to play for an encore, he asked his fellow pianist Adolf Busch, who facetiously suggested the Bach tour de force. Serkin didn’t question him. By the end of the recital, Serkin said he and Busch were two of only four people left in the house.


3. Evgeny Kissin, Encore Machine

The Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin doesn’t shy away from encores; often back-loading his concerts with three to five extra pieces. But his 2007 showing at Carnegie Hall outdid his normal finales, with an unbelievable 12 encores. Following a program of Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert, Kissin tossed off works, one after another, to an adoring audience. Reviewing the concert, which finally ended at a quarter to midnight, New York Times critic Vivian Schweitzer wrote, “sometimes the best things in life come to those who wait.”


4. When Nine High Cs aren't enough

Rumors that the Metropolitan Opera would forego its legendary ban on the bis, opera’s equivalent of an encore, swirled on the eve of the premiere of its 2008 production of La Fille du Regiment. At the time, the last person to have performed a bis on the house stage was Luciano Pavarotti during his 1994 run in Tosca. But the star tenor in La Fille, Juan Diego Florez, kept operagoers guessing as to whether he’d end the drought right up to the end of his opening night rendition of “A mes amis!” After successfully tossing off all nine high Cs written in Donizetti’s score, Florez launched into a repeat performance. The audience and critics went wild, spurring global coverage of his unprecedented act.

5. Schnabel Rebels Against the Practice

Artur Schnabel, the great pianist of the first half of the twentieth century, was known for his interpretations of Beethoven and Schubert, great intellect, serious demeanor, and an “almost total avoidance of the lighter side of the repertory” (according to the New York Times). He was also notable for his lifelong refusal to play an encore. Schnabel preferred that his concerts hew exactly to the printed program. As explanation, he said, “Applause is a receipt, not a bill.”

Weigh in: How do you feel about encores? A perfect treat? Too much? Please leave your comments below.


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Comments [9]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

I am very much in favor of encores which may often open up new areas of the music menu, especially if the concert's unified theme does not venture far from the concept. I have sung three solo and one joint recital concerts in the main hall, the Isaac Stern Auditorium, in Carnegie Hall. The three solo concerts were all three hours long, my solo TEN LANGUAGE CONCERT on Sunday April 24, 1955, my ALL-WAGNER CONCERT on Father's Day, Sunday JUNE 18,1995 and my WAGNER--THE EPIC AND THE LYRIC CONCERT on Thursday May 28th, 1998. Although the scheduled programs were long, the audiences were enthusiastic and called out for encores. My collaborating pianist accompanists were prepared at each concert for many encores. The artist that has a wide repertoire and has the stamina and technique to pursue the course of a long recital without a diminution of quality performance should be encouraged to satisfy the audience's appetite. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, opera composer [ "Shakespeare"and "The Political Shakespeare], and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. My singing may be heard at the RECORDED SELECTIONS venue on my website in 37 out of the 100 selections that I have sang in four three-hour-long solo concerts in the main hall, the Isaac Stern Auditorium, of CARNEGIE HALL. On last Sunday October 27th at 5 PM, at the NEWLIFE EXPO at the New Yorker Hotel I sang my fourth concert in New York of the series "The 300 Greatest Love Songs of Broadway Musicals, Movies, and The Grammys." The 300 Love Songs on ten DVDs recorded live on the VALHALLA RECORDS label will be obtainable commercially on February 14th, 2014, Saint Valentine's Day.

Nov. 09 2013 02:06 PM
george shea from Los Angeles

I don't see any harm in them. After a really first rate performance,
an audience appreciates an encore. It annoys me when the encore
is somehow obligatory -- like the undeserved standing ovations
that greet so many better than average or even mediocre performances
in theaters and concert halls, especially here in Los Angeles -- from
which I am writing you.

Nov. 08 2013 01:48 PM

After a performance of Sorabji's four-hour "Opus Clavicembalisticum," John Ogdon offered to repeat the entire work as an encore.

Nov. 08 2013 12:27 AM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Jay you are 100% correct, watching the video above I was beginning to wonder when all the changes took place in the Met, and I was just there last Friday.
A little bit of closer editing of the blogs presented here would avoid confusion.
As a retired journalist I know that you cannot believe everything you see in print, mistakes happen, but with such a small number of blogs posted an error like this should not have happened.
However it was a joy to listen to and replay the video of Florez, hope to get to see him live soon. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Nov. 07 2013 06:27 PM

The Juan Diego Florez video is from the Teatro Carlo Felice, not the Met. I wish there was a video of the Met encore!

Nov. 07 2013 03:47 PM
Andy B. from Lower Merion, PA

Encores should be used in the right time and place, but not for the performer to shove hi or herself on the audience.

I once heard Yefim Bronfman in Philadelphia give an intense recital consisting of a longer Beethoven Sonata (I think it was op.2 #3, which is very demanding), a set of eight or so Rachmaninoff preludes from op. 23, a new premiere piece by Esa Pekka Salonen (which was very long, loud, and intense) and there was something else on the program. The audience was enthusiastic. At the end Mr. Bronfman came out and apologetically but graciously waved away the applause as if to say something like "Sorry, I can't play any more."

On another occasion, I heard Andras Schiff conducting and playing the piano with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, including one of the Mendelssohn concerti. He played an understated Schubert's Moment Musicaux in F minor--a beautiful touch to close things out.

I think one or two encores is a pleasant way to finish off, and leave the audience with some extra goodwill in hand. It's nice if the encores have a special touch--a mood or quirk, or a connection with the artist.

Nov. 07 2013 03:15 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

Not really related to this thread but then that's because there's no place else to inform WQXR of a possible concern.

Yesterday I heard a piece from the Goldbergs by Jeremy Denk on "Q." I checked the ArkivMusic link and was taken directly to the specific recording - with the indication that WQXR would receive some compensation for the link. I couldn't make the purchase then but today I did. However today the link did not go directly to the Denk recording, instead going to a general page with a carousel that did have the recording. When following that link there was no longer any indication that WQXR would receive some compensation.

I did a little adjustment on the link to ensure at least the "Q" reference box would be part of the page from which I made the purchase, but who knows what's going on? It all probably means nothing and ArkivMusic does provide some remuneration whether WQXR is mentioned or not, as long as the original link is from the WQXR site.

Regarding the Denk Goldbergs, from what I heard yesterday, he played with Goulden clarity.

Nov. 07 2013 10:18 AM do I feel about encores. Shortly after Leontyne Price retired from the Met I went to one of her first recitals on her tour. This was at Tanglewood. Usually at Tanglewood I would sit on the lawn with friends and have a picnic meal or snacks. Knowing Leontyne was performing alone with a pianist a friend and I decided to sit in the Shed. After a wonderful performance she did many encores and the encores were the best of her performance. She begged off of doing "Summertime," however, she brilliantly sang Doretta's Aria, one of my favorites. What a wonderful and gracious lady she was that afternoon.

Nov. 07 2013 09:28 AM

Adolf Busch was a violinist, composer, and Rudolf Serkin's duo partner (and eventual father-in-law). He probably could play the piano to some degree, but it is misleading to refer to him as a pianist in the context of this anecdote!

Nov. 07 2013 01:13 AM

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