Written by Keith Stubbs, Head of Education at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, 2008

Who are you writing the review for?

As with any piece of writing, the first thing to think about is the reader. In the case of a Bachtrack Young Reviewer Programme review, the chances are that the readers will be other young people. There might be quite a large range of knowledge of classical music: some will be expert musicians, others will be novices and won’t understand any of the musical jargon.

What do you want to tell them?

You can write about any aspect of the concert: the musicians, the pieces played, the sound, the atmosphere, how it all made you feel. The most important thing is that your writing should be lively, vivid and interesting: you want to give your readers a taste of what it was like to be there. Choose the things that excite you most: they’re sure to be the easiest ones for you to get across to your readers.

There are some things that you’ll definitely want to mention: what were the main works being played, who were they composed by, and who were the main performers (especially the conductor and orchestra if there is one, and any soloists). You’ll particularly want to mention any new works that are being heard for the first time.

Before the concert

Have a look at the concert programme in advance. Do you know these pieces well already, or is there anything that might benefit from a little homework? For instance, if a piece tells a story, or has words, it might be worth reading these beforehand: this is particularly true for opera or choral music, where classical singing styles can make it difficult to hear the words. That way, when you’re in the concert hall, you can concentrate on the music and get the most out of it.

If there’s a new piece on the programme, get there in time to read the programme note, and try and find out a bit about the composer’s other music, so you’re not entirely surprised by what you hear.

During the concert

Listen to the concert with as much concentration as you can. Some critics make notes, but it can be hard to do this without distracting other concertgoers or the performers, which you simply mustn’t do. Others simply rely on their memories, and you may find this easier.

If it’s a work you know, listen out for anything unusual: is the performance faster or slower than you expect, or louder or softer. If it’s different from what you’re used to, do you like it this way? Do you think it’s the way the composer would have wanted it? Try to remember anything that sounds particularly beautiful, or exciting, or any moments that feel special – a particularly grand climax, say, a specially magical hush, or the way someone lingers over a tune. Try and get a sense of how the rest of the audience is responding, too. Is there a real sense of excitement – or is everyone bored stiff?

After the concert Think over your reactions. Was the concert a success? Did you feel you’d enjoyed or been moved by the performances? Which bits stick in your memory as particularly special? Did one performance in the concert stand out from the others? Or was one a disappointment? Try and put your finger on why – you’ll need to explain this to your readers

Writing it up

Try to do your writing the day after the concert (or the same day if it’s a matinée): that way, it will be fresh in your mind.

Don’t be shy about expressing your views, but unless the whole thing was dreadful from beginning to end, be constructive. Real performers, even great ones, make mistakes (that get edited out on their CDs), and it’s easy to get trapped into mentioning all the smallest errors and bad parts, and lose the fact that the vast majority of the piece was played beautifully. It won’t make you sound clever, and won’t make for an interesting review.

Being a published reviewer gives you the change to really influence whether your readers will go and listen to more classical music. When you write a review, be constructive, be entertaining, be fair and be yourself.