Encores: Time to shine

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Throughout much of the last century, technically showy encores by Paganini and Kreisler were standard fare for violinists, but in recent years players have moved away from the established virtuoso works to embrace everything from solo Bach to folk tunes and contemporary commissions. Charlotte Gardner talks to top players about ...

Here’s a memory exercise. Cast your mind back to the various concerts you attended over the couple of years prior to Covid and ask yourself how many times you heard a firmly established artist play one of the old virtuoso encore standards by Paganini, Ernst, Kreisler, Heifetz and chums. Then ask yourself how many times their encores were solo Bach, or something entirely original. I, for one, have heard more of the latter two options, and when I have heard an old virtuoso favourite then it’s been from a young artist.

‘Encores have changed unbelievably in the last ten years,’ confirms Huw Humphreys, head of music at London’s Barbican. ‘I’d say Itzhak Perlman was central to reviving a lot of the old virtuoso encores in the 1970s and 80s, really setting the standard. Now, depending on what they’ve played in their main programme, it feels as though people are leaning more towards having fun, while at the same time concentrating on the sheer beauty, simplicity or musicality of what they’re playing.’ He continues, ‘For some artists, the idea of just coming on stage and playing the first thing that’s popped into their head has also gone completely. People are putting so much more advance thought into their encores, because it reveals more about themselves than perhaps a staple like the Sibelius Concerto does. The logical extension for some has actually gone beyond a single encore to appearing in full post-show foyer events.’..

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