Johannes Brahms, ca. 1866

Recently, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra came to Carnegie Hall, for a concert in honor of Robert Shaw’s centennial. The esteemed conductor (1916–99) was the music director of the ASO for many years.

The program consisted of two works: Brahms’s German Requiem, which was a Shaw favorite, and a new work by Jonathan Leshnoff, an American. About this work, Zohar, I will write in my forthcoming “New York Chronicle” for the magazine. But I’d like to say something here about a programming conundrum.

When you perform the German Requiem, do you pair it with anything? That is, do you play or sing anything before it? (To play or sing anything after it is unthinkable, as this is a holy work, which must be the last word.) The Requiem is just over an hour long. That suffices for a concert. Or does it?

I will relate a memory. Years ago, André Previn came to my hometown, Ann Arbor, Michigan. I don’t remember with which orchestra or chorus. He was to conduct Brahms’s Tragic Overture—and then the Requiem.

Before the concert began, he came out to make an announcement: they would not play the Tragic Overture. Just the Requiem, for this reason and that. “The next time we come, we’ll play the Tragic Overture twice.”

At this, the audience laughed appreciatively, for Previn is one of the most charming of men.

Sitting in that audience, I was not so charmed. I was a little miffed. I wanted to hear the overture, as well as the Requiem. It felt to me like a bit of a rip-off.

Okay, flash forward many years. I’m talking with an official of Carnegie Hall. She tells me about a letter the hall received from a disappointed and miffed ticket-buyer. He bought a ticket for a concert and got only the German Requiem. He thought that wasn’t enough. He felt a little ripped off.

My Carnegie Hall friend thought the man was pretty silly. I don’t know that I would have written a letter. But I understood him.

And critics, who typically don’t pay for anything, should remember that others do. You know what a critic’s favorite concert is? A short one. We are in concert halls and opera houses night after night. But other people—ticket-buyers—may have other priorities.

Still, if you hear the German Requiem on an evening, and nothing else, that is a very, very good evening.

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