Written for the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) by Michael Steinberg – who worked for the Orchestra from 1979 until his death in 2009 as a program annotator and writer of the SFS’s program book – these program notes are overall generally informative.
The opening paragraph, while it may be useful and/or relevant to the American public, it does not provide the program notes with an interesting hook. Beginning with some basic background information on Richard Strauss, the writer uses this to move into a segment where he essentially name drops. There are too many names and orchestras listed which makes it unnecessary. Tacked onto the end of this first paragraph is a list of the orchestration for the work and in an awkward bold, breaking the flow set up during the paragraph, the duration of the work is provided.
It may well have been that within the program booklet itself, this opening paragraph would be towards the end of the program notes. Thus the way in which the notes are read changes.
From the second paragraph, the program notes continue with biographical information on Strauss. Although the wording of the first sentence of this next paragraph is clunky and overall does not benefit the piece of writing, the following however gives a clear understanding in a brief description of Strauss’ development as a composer.
The style of writing however does not benefit the flow of the article. The sentences veer on the side of too long and there are too many uses of brackets which end up fragmenting the information. Word choice and description of the music reads as though the author almost had a lack of words available, which isn’t an ideal situation. For example;
“…after two twitches from the cellos, the oboe has a solo of fifty-seven measures in a fairly leisurely tempo and with not so much as a single sixteenth-rest.”
While the information is interesting, the trivial facts and material included in the article don’t provide any of that wow-factor that you’d generally expect from program notes. In fact, the story detours within the article seem unimportant and awkward.
As this is an online resource, it would be useful for audiences to include hyperlinks to other resources within the website. On the SFS database, they had numerous program notes; it would create a more polished page if mentioned works that had program notes themselves where linked to. The only other improvement that could be made is including a list of concerts and the repertoire it was performed alongside for a clearer context of the concert and music.
Steinberg, Michael. 2016. Strauss, R.: Concerto for Oboe and Small Orchestra. San Francisco Symphony. http://www.sfsymphony.org/Watch-Listen-Learn/Read-Program-Notes/Program-Notes/R-STRAUSS-Concerto-for-Oboe-and-Small-Orchestra.aspx