Programme notes in a digital age


For the last couple of months I’ve been busy writing programme notes for the RSNO. One of the issues being debated at the moment is, “Do we really still need commissioned programme notes in the digital age?” After all, can we not just look information up on Wikepedia or Google? Well, you could, but I think you’d be missing out on a lot, and here’s why:

  • Every concert is carefully put together – programme notes reflect this, making reference to other works in the concert and any links between them.
  • There may be a narrative to the season – for instance the RSNO and Prokofiev are both in their 125th Anniversary seasons. To celebrate this, they are performing a complete cycle of the Prokofiev piano concertos across two seasons.
  • Programme notes can maintain the ongoing narrative of this series.
  • An orchestra may have other events around a particular work or composer. These can be advertised alongside the programme notes.
  • By using the same writers on a regular basis, the audience come to recognise and trust individual writers.
  • House style – commissioned programme notes mean the orchestra has some kind of control over the style of writing, meaning the notes can be pitched how the orchestra would wish.
  • If, like me, the writer is also a performer, it is another way of building personal links between musician and listener.
  • Practicalities – if someone chooses to read programme notes on their phone or tablet during the performance, it’s horribly distracting for those around them.

So remember that by buying a programme, you are buying a “personalised” approach to that evening’s concert, which can only enhance your experience of the music.

2 thoughts on “Programme notes in a digital age

  1. Speaking as one of three co-creators of the website OperaScotland, we contribute a programme note to Scottish Opera giving the history of performance of the particular opera in Scotland. It’s a lot of work to establish the details, and of course for subsequent important performances too, but over time we feel we have been able to contribute to the awareness of operatic history in Scotland. Of course we think it makes the programmes more interesting too!

    • Another example of customising notes to a particular performance. I’m certainly happy about programme notes being posted online, too, but what I think is vital is that they are tailored to the performance. Adding to the historic timeline as you are doing is interesting and valuable work. I’ll have a look later!

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