'For many years I would play a Sarabande from one of Bach’s Cello Suites after my concerto performances. Particularly after, say, the Elgar or Dvořák concertos, which have such distinct emotional narratives, it’s better to have calm and quiet in that moment rather than topping up the previous emotional journey with further fireworks, which can distract from the central performance.

Now I tend to play an encore with the whole cello section, such as Pablo Casals’ Song of the Birds or the second movement of Grieg’s Holberg Suite arranged for six cellos. Often a concerto can be more like a symphony with a solo part, so rather than pushing the rest of the orchestra aside in the encore, it’s nicer to be more inclusive.

For recitals I like to play something really obscure which can work nicely as a palette cleanser after, say, a Brahms sonata. There’s a piece by Silvestrov that I like to play – I’m not sure it even has a title – and it’s more spatial, which contrasts nicely to the dramatic narrative that has come beforehand. Of course, when I was younger and at the beginning of my career it was more important for me to show my guns off with technically challenging repertoire. So I would choose Popper’s Elfentanz or Martinu’s Rossini Variations, but I gradually developed the philosophy that the dessert shouldn’t necessarily rival the main course. Certainly, it should offer something delightful, but it shouldn’t begin another story.

I think the choice of encores may have changed in recent years as the role of the soloist is changing. There’s no longer that singular, star cult. Instead, the soloist is a kind of magnified communicator between the orchestra and the public, an ambassador for the orchestra. So, the encore becomes an opportunity to make a statement about how you view your role in that context.

Nowadays you see eight-year-olds who can play so virtuosically – in a way that wasn’t possible for adults not so long ago – so virtuosity has become a ubiquitous normality. Playing the Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante was at the time only possible for Rostropovich, and then slowly other cellists began to climb that Everest and now everybody plays it at the end of their Masters. So the general rise of technical wizardry has meant that virtuosic encores no longer have that jaw dropping effect. Instead of creating another firework I therefore like to create a moment of intimacy.'

Photo: Manfred Esser / Haenssler Classic

BBC Music Magazine's April 2022 issue features an article on the uneven history of encores.


Charlotte SmithEditor of BBC Music Magazine

Charlotte Smith is the editor of BBC Music Magazine. Born in Australia, she hails from a family of musicians with whom she played chamber music from a young age. She earned a bachelor’s degree in violin performance from London's Royal College of Music, followed by a master’s in English from Cambridge University. She was editor of The Strad from 2017 until the beginning of 2022, and has also worked for Gramophone Magazine and as a freelance arts writer. In her spare time, she continues to perform as an active chamber musician.