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Top Five Encores that Overshadowed the Performance

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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.