This post is based on some notes for a resource/book I am working on, kind of a "survival kit" for composers. The idea of this text is to provide information about the auxiliary talents of composers - recording/production, stage management, etc. - geared mainly toward students. This section focuses on planning concerts and recitals. Much of my advice may seem like common sense, but I have attended many recitals with terrible pacing where pieces were simply programmed in the order they were submitted, alphabetically by name, etc. These are preliminary notes and I would love to read more comments to help me flesh this out.
Sometimes you may be planning a recital for all of your department's composition majors, or maybe just yourself and a few friends. Instead of throwing pieces on a program haphazardly, think about the flow, order, and length of the show. Just like a composition, the program needs to have a strong beginning, middle, and end.
Most contemporary music concerts err on the short side, since (we've been told) our music is not overly audience-friendly. However, composition programs are blessed with variety in style and instrumentation that can (perhaps) keep things more interesting than recitals of only brass, only strings, etc.
Many pieces of music start and end with a bang. The recital you’re planning could do this as well (but doesn't have to!). “Bang” could mean the loudest piece, fastest piece, or piece with the largest forces. Separating similar pieces is generally a good idea, as well – two slow pieces in a row might cause a lull in interest, two pieces for the same instruments (string trio, then string quartet) might seem too similar sonically.
To me, the worst part of student recitals are the set changes. Too few people take these changes into account! Some changes are made so that the number of chairs on the stage exactly matches the number of players. As long as there are not too few, I see no problem here. Take a cue from percussionists – they often set up little stations all over the stage for each of the pieces on their recitals, at least for each half of the program. The pleasure of a quickly-flowing concert will far outweigh the distraction of four momentarily unused chairs on the left of the stage.