Visit Your Local Station PBS Home
PBS Home Search Programs A to Z TV Schedules Shop PBS Station Finder
Continental Harmony
Continental Harmony
Sound Lounge
Teachers Guide
Online Toolkit
Film and More


"In the beginning was the beat, and the beat was the rhythm of God, and the rhythm of God became the harmony of humanity, and where there is harmony there is peace."

Clarence Grover, "Spirituality: An African View," in Essence Magazine, December, 1987

"Any great work of art…revives and re-adapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world–the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air."

Leonard Bernstein, "What Makes Opera Grand," in Vogue Magazine, December, 1958.

The Premiere

The composer has created a stunning piece of music. The performers have been rehearsing for months. The whole community is abuzz with anticipation for the first performance of the new work. Because you may already have plenty of experience in presenting concerts, this will focus on what makes presenting a premiere special.

In Advance

While planning for the premiere is going to look pretty much like planning for any concert, it will be unique because it will entail the public presentation of a new work of art for the very first time. As you work through the process, bear in mind: what is it going to be like for a member of the audience to hear something brand new? what will it be like for the composer? for the performers? Each of these constituencies is essential to the process of making new music come alive.

To make the experience the best it can be for everyone, make an effort to put yourself in their shoes.

For an audience member, think about:

the performance site itself

    how well will I be able to hear the music?
    how well will I be able to hear announcements from the stage?
    how will it feel to sit for two hours in these seats?

the music

    how will I learn enough about the new work to make hearing it for the first time a truly engaging experience?
    I know about the premiere, but what about the rest of the concert?

For a performer:

    will I have sufficient rehearsal time to feel ready to perform?
    where do I need to be when?
    what do I need to wear?

For the composer:

    where do I need to be when?
    how will I participate in the performance?
    how will I be acknowledged at the end of the work?

While the composer and the performers are already invested in the work, it will take an audience (people to hear the tree falling in the forest!) to make the music real. As such, a major part of your job will be to get people to the concert. In addition to the usual ways--newspaper, radio and TV announcements, calendar listings, posters, etc.--think about some creative ways to engage people in your community. Your composer may be one of the best ways to reach out to folks. In the weeks leading up to the premiere, can your composer speak to civic and professional organizations in your town? be present at civic events prior to the premiere? do workshops with students and teachers? Whenever the composer is presented to a group in your community, make sure that the date, time, and location of the premiere are mentioned. Can you make up small cards that can be handed out at these events? Remember also that people will attend the concert if they have a stake in the outcome. What are some creative ways you can build ownership in the concert?

In addition to reserving the use of a space for the performance, you’ll need to make sure that you have sufficient staff--paid or volunteer--to be sure that everything runs smoothly on the day of the concert. Will you need ushers? ticket sales people and ticket-takers? people to help backstage? a clean-up crew? It will be worthwhile to assess your staffing needs several months prior to the premiere. This may dovetail with the question in the previous paragraph: there’s no better way to build participation in the concert than to have people working at the event!

Every performing group has different needs with regard to the stage set-up for their concerts. Orchestras need chairs, music stands, and, occasionally, stand lights. Choirs need risers on which the singers stand. Conductors need a podium, music stand, and stand lights. You’ll need to obtain a concise list of these items from your performing group, well in advance of the concert. In many cases, the performing group may own all these items. But will they be responsible for setting them up on stage, or are they expecting you to do so?

If you're planning an outdoor concert you'll have some special issues to consider. Is the performing group used to playing/singing outdoors? How well will the music sound in the performance space? Will amplification be needed? What about lighting? Does the site have access to electrical power? If the weather turns bad, has an alternate location been secured? At what time will the decision be made to move indoors? Who makes the call?

To document your work you will want to record the performance. Depending on what services are available in your community, this recording may be anything from the most sophisticated microphone set-up with a Digital Audio Tape recorder, to a simple audio cassette or video tape recording. As part of the logistical considerations for the concert, you’ll need to determine from the person doing the recording what their needs are: access to power outlets, location to hang microphones, a table on which to place recording equipment. Next, you’ll need to be sure that the placement of this equipment will not be intrusive for the performers, the conductor, or the audience.

An alternative to recording the performance is to schedule a recording session. This will usually result in a better recording, especially if the performance took place outdoors. A recording session, however, entails additional time and money. You need to think about potential uses of such a recording: Will it be broadcast? Will it be published on a compact disc or will an excerpt be mounted on a Web site? Will it be used for fund-raising or other organizational needs? If future uses require a high quality recording, a recording session is well worth the expense.

In any case, the composer should be provided with a copy of any recording for his/her study purposes.

At the Concert

Many organizations invite the audience to attend a pre-concert talk. This can provide the composer, the conductor, or people from the sponsoring organization with the opportunity to describe the process which led to the premiere, and to answer audience members’ questions. The pre-concert talk can happen at the concert site itself, or in some other space nearby. Before you choose to do something like this, you’ll need to determine if this will work for your premiere, and if it is something that will add to listeners’ appreciation of the music.

As excited as you may be about presenting your commissioned work on a concert, it’s important to be sensitive to how much music an audience can take in. Generally, two hours is the outside limit for the length of a concert. This needs to include an intermission for people to stretch their legs and visit with their neighbors. Ideally, the first half of the concert should be slightly longer than the second half.

Where should the premiere fall within the concert? To a great extent, this will depend on the nature of the composition itself and the other pieces on the program. But by and large, the best points for a premiere are at the beginning and ending of each half. Remember, however, that the music director of the performing group needs to have the final say about this.

To make things run as smoothly as possible during the concert, some care and attention will need to be paid to how the performers (and the composer, if s/he will address the audience or be formally recognized after the performance of the composition) will get on stage and off, and how the performers will be placed on stage. It may be worthwhile to have a brief staging run-through as part of the last rehearsal prior to the performance. The last thing you want is for the performance to be delayed or lengthened because these logistics haven’t been rehearsed. Every minute used to move people or equipment around on stage is a minute during which the audience is just sitting there, waiting for the music to start.

Recognizing the Participants

In many ways, the premiere should be the culmination of your work with the composer. As such, you may want to have a reception tied in with the concert to honor the composer, the performers, and other people who have contributed to the composer’s residency and commission. This may include government officials, representatives from allied arts organizations, and financial supporters of your organization. A successful reception need not be extravagant. The basic ingredients are: an opportunity for some public recognition for the composer and other individuals, and a few simple food and drink selections.

A reception after the concert is when musicians will feel most comfortable. But talk with your composer, performers, and other honorees to get a better idea of what will work for them.

  pic2  pic3