For a decade now, virtually every solo recital I have played has involved multiple woodwind instruments. I enjoy the variety and the challenge, and audiences are always duly appreciative and complimentary.
However, I do wonder sometimes about the novelty aspect of using multiple woodwind instruments in solo “classical” performance. Often well-intentioned (and much-appreciated!) audience members will tell me something like, “It’s so amazing that you can play all those instruments!” That’s nice of them, but would they say something similar at a single-instrument recital? “It’s so amazing that you can play that instrument.”
I’ve leveraged the variety a couple of times recently to do composer-themed recitals, one of music by Debussy and one of music by Telemann. On a single instrument, I would mostly shy away from playing an hour of music by a single composer. Such a thing could be done, but to make it a real success would require both a very engaging performer and an appropriate audience: for listeners with a casual appreciation of classical music, an hour of Bach flute sonatas or an hour of Brahms clarinet sonatas could be a bit of a drag. My recent Telemann sonata included music performed on six different solo instruments, two of them relatively rarely-heard (recorder and EWI), and that seemed to be enough to keep the audience on board.
But were they on board purely because of the composer’s and performers’ art, or was it the feat of instrumental derring-do that held their interest? Of course I would like for my performances to stand on their own, regardless of how many or how few instruments I use, but it’s hard to tell when the audience is distracted by the parade of shiny objects. I’m not bothered by having a gimmick per se, but I don’t want it to be the only thing holding the performance together.