This post begins a series on recital preparation that starts with picking your program, and ends with the performance.
As I mentioned in my post on "Priorities in Performance," I place a very high priority on audience enjoyment. This begins with deciding which pieces to play. During your student years, it's very important to cover many of the standards in the repertoire, and your teacher will help you pick your program. So, you have less freedom, and the audience might not get as much consideration in the process. Still, I think most performers want the audience to enjoy their playing, so this should factor into your decision-making.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't play avant-garde music that the audience might find hard to swallow, but perhaps give them a Mozart appetizer, and then allow them to wash down that Messiaen with a little Franz Strauss?
Here is a list of questions to consider, in order, as you are deciding on your recital program:
1) Which pieces do you want to play?
2) (For students) Which piece(s) haven't you played that you need to play?
3) What will the audience enjoy hearing?
4) What can you play well?
Then, once you have a list of works, you need to start putting the puzzle pieces together, and perhaps cut some if there are too many, or one that you just can't find a good place for. Which leads to the next question:
5) How can you arrange the pieces to create a nice flow to the program, providing contrast and taking into consideration your endurance?
Don't forget chamber music! This is a great way to provide variety for the audience, so it's not all horn and piano. (Unaccompanied works are great for the same reason.) Plus, chamber music gives you the opportunity to play some fantastic pieces, and to make music with others, which is a wonderful thing.
I actually keep a running list of pieces I want to play. I add to it whenever I hear something on recording or at a horn workshop that I'm interested in. Then when I begin planning my next recital, I start with that list. At this point, I mix in a few pieces that I've played before, and fit them together to make a nice program.
Next in the series: "Hitting the Woodshed."