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Why did Grieg keep a pet frog in his pocket? How to write a good concert preview or review

19/05/2018

Written in the future tense, a preview should inform, enthuse and excite the reader about a forthcoming performance.

Apart from describing the practicalities, such as the time, place, how to get tickets, and who are the soloists, the preview should state what is being played or sung: is it a serious highbrow work, light music, opera or popular classics?

It should describe why the performance is taking place. It may be a regular, scheduled concert, something specially put on for a charity, or alternatively a memorial concert put on for a local musician.

In order to hold the reader’s interest, some new or unusual facts are needed. Is it the first time this music has been played? When was the ensemble formed and in what circumstances? What gave the composer the impulse to write this work?

If the writer fails to communicate anything interesting about the conductor, players or singers, there may be some appeal in describing something little known about the composer themselves. Mendelssohn was a prolific swimmer. Grieg kept a pet frog in his pocket while he performed. Dvorak was an avid train-spotter. That sort of thing.

By contrast, a review is like a glance through the rear-view mirror and should be written in the past tense. Some of the facts in the preview may have to be repeated to put the event in context.

But reviews dwell on the question “how did it go?” How did the orchestra, ensemble or choir perform? Was there a full house? Who attended? Were any civic dignitaries or celebrities present? Were there any slip-ups and how were they overcome? Who were the stars of the show?

Reviews of amateur events should be charitable and err on the side of kindness. We always focus on the positive, on the basis that our prime aim of encouraging classical music is shared between us.

Unlike trained professionals, the participants may have demanding full-time jobs. They may have to work their hobby round family and social commitments. They deserve encouragement and merit fulsome praise when they do well. Compared to other forms of live entertainment, amateur classical music or choral performances are cheap. Give these enthusiasts a chance.

Writing profiles of performers

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Author: Stuart Reed
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