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Topic: ABRSM Diploma in Performance - how to come up with a program?  (Read 12137 times)

Offline kwtam338

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My 12-year-old son did his ABRSM grade 8 last fall and is planning to do a diploma in performance some time in the future. I understand that one has to come up with a recital program. His teacher will surely help him to plan the program but as his father and a piano learner (I am just a beginner), I would like to have some influence. That's why I would like to try to come up with a framework and narrow down the selection of pieces a little for discussion with him and his teacher.

I have a few questions and wonder if you guys could give me some hints/pointers:

1) how do you select the pieces for the program and how do you sequence them? I am assuming it is not an entirely random process nor just a matter of personal taste.

2) a program note is required and so my questions are - how long should it be? What is the content supposed to be about? Would the program notes that we get from piano concerts be good references or would those considered to be too polished?

To avoid being accused of being too lazy, I have thought about some possibilities:
1) a program spanning across the musical periods ie a bit of baroque, classical, romantic, modern and perhaps contemporary - I think this one is just too conventional

2) a program with a core theme eg focusing mainly on Russian music and contrasting it a little with music from other places or a program which tells a story eg the life of a clown

3) a program consisting mainly of pieces that are seldom played - I am not sure if the examiners will appreciate this approach

Advice would be highly appreciated.

Cheers, Tam

Offline rohansahai

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The dipABRSM diploma requires a "generalistic" program, probably covering at least three different eras (Baroque, Classical, Romantic/modern/impressionistic). Where choosing the pieces is concerned make sure that your son really likes the pieces (perhaps the most important factor) and avoid too common pieces (i.e. no moonlight sonata, pathetique).
Choosing a Bach for baroque is probably almost obvious since it is a great favourite with examiners and is very good for pianism in general (a pair of sonatas by Scarlatti might be the alternative if your son does not like any of the Bach mentioned in the syllabus, but i would nevertheless opt for Bach.) Also, presenting the examiner with something different will help in grabbing his attention (for instance, a toccata instead of the traditional prelude and fugues).
Talking about program notes, make sure it is original and actually a work of your son (a little help is fine though), since there is a viva also, and the examiner will immediately gather how much effort has been put into it. CD notes can be a good benchmark, but yes, they are actually a little too refined for an early teenager. There are some guidelines given on ABRSM's website about the program notes for diplomas, so you can have a look.
No, you are not allowed to focus on a core theme (eg. Russian music) in dipABRSM (the program is supposed to be a generalistic one and the specialist option is given only in FRSM), so it is necessary to cover at least three periods.
It will be a good idea to add some rarely played pieces since it removes the premetitated look from the program. I'll put the program that i selected:
Bach: Toccata in E minor BWV 914 (7:10)
Beethoven: Sonata op. 10-1 in C minor (18:15)
Chopin: Nocturne in E major op. 62-2 (5:00)
Rachmaninov: Prelude in C minor op. 23-7 (2:30)
 
This Program is about 33 minutes in length, so probably you can add one short "show piece" from in or outside the syllabus (you are allowed 7 minutes from outside the syllabus).
Analysis of this program: The Bach is a very good selection since the toccata is a piece which was meant for public performance as well as opposed to the more obvious prelude and fugue AND it is a great piece of music ! The Beethoven is not that common a piece (though it is still played fairly regularly). Alternatives can be either of Mozart or Haydn ...(just choose the piece your son likes the most here..not much to debate about). The Chopin is a very underplayed nocturne, one of my favourites (and hence justifying its place there). The Rachmaninov is bombastic, fairly common prelude and a good performance of it can end the program on a very high note.
Now, if you want to add any other piece to this program, here are some likely options: A Schubert (impromptu, moment musical etc.) between the beethoven and chopin, a Debussy (Arabesque/a prelude /.....) between the Chopin and Rachmaninoff OR  perhaps a prokofiev at the end (Scherzo/March from the love for three oranges or any other piece). You can choose from within or outside the syllabus, it does not matter since most of these pieces ARE the level required for the examination. Any more specific questions...i'll be pleased to answer !!
Greetings,
Rohan.

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Offline kwtam338

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Hi rohansahia

Thanks very much for the detailed reply. Highly appreciated. I'd like to provide some feedback:

1) choosing pieces that my son likes - fully agree. Otherwise, it'd be a complete waste of time and effort.

2) Bach - yours is a very well thought out suggestion. I am not that familiar with the toccatas. I'll have to listen to some recordings first to see if the 914 or 912 is better for him. I have Gould's and Argerich's versions, I think. It is rather unfortunate that one can choose only from the toccatas and the preludes and fugues. I think my son would probably prefer the English suites, if he had the choice. He'll have to work quite hard on Bach because Bach is always very difficult and my son has not had enough training. So far he has played First Lessons in Bach Book 1 (all), 18 Little Preludes (all), a few 2 and 3-part inventions, and part of a partita (for his grade eight).

Have you got any suggestions on what pieces to learn so that he can play Bach better?

3) Beethoven - I love the op 10 /1. However, my son likes Haydn's sonatas far better. He had a little argument with his teacher when they discussed whether he should play a Beethoven or a Haydn sonata for his grade 8. He was convinced by his teacher and scored 27/30 in the exam. However, I guess he could have got a mark or two higher, had he played the Haydn. So, this time, he'll decide himself. Another possibility is Scarlatti. I have got the DVD Horowitz in Moscow in which he plays quite a few Scarlatti sonatas, which I really love.

Given the Scarlatti Sonatas in the syllabus, would you like to suggest a couple?

4) Chopin - yes, there's got to be some Chopin. I am convinced. My son started learning Chopin right after his grade 8 exam and has since fallen in love with Chopin. So far, he's learned two Waltzes. As for the nocturne op 62/2, I'll let him listen to it first. And the same for the Mazurka, which I suspect he would probably like. You know, for kids, the nocturnes are quite hard to interpret.

The syllabus has 3 Chopin etudes. Do you know what they are? The op nos are not specified.

5) Others - I think he'll definitely choose one Debussy prelude. He loves those preludes. He played one for his grade 8 and got 29/30. So, it'll be hard to tell him not to ...

I would actually like to have more rarely played pieces for him to consider. Have you got any more suggestions (although I think Rachmaninoff is a very good suggestion already)? Any composers whose style is close to Debussy?

OK, that's it. Hope to have some feedback from you. It's always great to have suggestions from more people.

Cheers, Tam

Offline rohansahai

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Hello again Tam,
The Bach i suggested (the e minor tocc.) is one i would prefer over the d major (912) because of the presence of a simply bombastic fugue, which i'm sure that your son would enjoy playing, considering that he likes Haydn. Definitely go for a Haydn sonata, in that case, too. However, for some contrast, try and choose a sonata which can offer a little contrast in the beginning compared to the Bach's finale (the fugue). I am not really familiar with them, so I can't give many suggestions.
Coming to the Scarlatti, I don't really think it would be a great idea to play a pair after the Bach...too much of Baroque never works (atleast for me) !
Chopin- Its not necessary to play the nocturne i mentioned...i am not sure of the etudes since they weren't there in the previous syllabus. Remember that you are allowed seven minutes from outside the syllabus, so you can choose out of the entire lot of them. In case you don't find one suiting your needs, you can even opt for some Schumann instead, or liszt.
Yes, Ravel is similar to Debussy, but most of his pieces are fiendishly difficult, and i'm not very familiar with the others !
Also, Scriabin preludes opus 11 - you can choose a pair from them too.
It would be a very good idea to add a modern... Prokofiev, Stravinsky et all.
And wait, i missed the Bach pieces you requested. The best way to improve Bach is .....you guessed correctly ... The WTC I and II (THE old testament, that is !!) .



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