Opinion: Concert etiquette and program notes

Posted on: March 5, 2020

“Not long after the brilliant pianist Yuja Wang played her Feb. 16 recital in Orchestra Hall, reader emails began arriving,” writes Howard Reich in Sunday’s (3/1) Chicago Tribune. “Listeners took issue with Wang’s decision not to play the afternoon’s music in the sequence listed in the program book.… Readers complained that they could not be expected to have an ‘encyclopedic knowledge’ of the piano repertoire; that it was ‘a challenge’ to decode what was happening; that Wang did nothing less than ‘insult’ the audience by leaving it in the dark. All of which raises a fundamental question: What does an audience expect and deserve to know? … At top-notch classical recitals and symphonic concerts, program notes not only detail the repertoire’s order but copiously document the music’s historical context and background…. At most jazz events, the opposite occurs.… Each audience brings specific expectations to a performance…. There’s nothing conventional about Wang, whose large repertoire and comprehensive technique give her license to play with our expectations.… But judging by the frustration some listeners felt … Wang may be wise to adjust her approach…. Simply identifying the music would be a meaningful concession to listeners, who simply wish to know and learn more.”