Welcome to Classical.com's Concert Essentials Guide
Listening to classical music live is the best way to get the full nerve tingling, jaw-dropping experience. And the good news is, it doesn't have to be expensive. Many amateur orchestras and choral societies put on good concerts locally for a fraction of the price of a professional concert. The atmosphere won't be as intimidating, and you'll be supporting up-and-coming musicians. Concerts put on by County Youth Orchestras and University students are often a good bet. They may be a bit rough around the edges, but youthful exuberance more than makes up for this!
'There are two golden rules for an orchestra; start together and finish together. The public doesn't give a damn what goes on in between."
- Sir Thomas Beecham (conductor)
1) If you know what you're going to be hearing in advance, try listening to the music at home on CD beforehand. It tends to be the case that the better you know the music, the more you enjoy the performance. You'll also have an idea of how long it lasts, so you can pace yourself.
2) Turn off mobile phones. There's nothing more annoying or embarrassing than a phone or watch alarm going off in the middle of a quiet passage of music.
3) Wear comfortable clothes. Concerts often involve sitting still for up to 45 minutes at a time (longer for opera). You won't be expected to dress up in your finery, so why ruin the experience by wearing that itchy shirt.
4) To avoid embarrassment, enthusiastic clapping should only be undertaken when you're sure the piece has finished. Some people are rather stuffy about this, others don't mind clapping in between movements. The rule is that when a piece is made up of several sections (movements), you should only clap at the end of the last one. At most concerts, the orchestral manager will be in the audience, ready to start the applause off, so the easy rule to follow is this: just don't be the first one clap.
5) If boredom sets in, a quick read of the programme should re-kindle your interest. Well-written programme notes should guide you through the music and provide some entertainment.
6) Try and sit where you can see the performers. Seeing how the sound is produced is one of the most fascinating aspects of live performance. It might even encourage you to learn a musical instrument.
What to Spot
If there seems to be someone standing up facing the performers, waving their arms around trying to distract people, chances are this is the conductor. The conductor helps the orchestra prepare for the concert and uses gesture to encourage the performers to play the music in the way he/she wants.
Soloists: very often soloists stand or sit next to the conductor at the front of the stage. They often play without accompaniment in sections called cadenzas. For instance, in most concertos, there is a passage toward the end of each movement where the orchestra stops playing and the conductor stops beating. During this passage, the soloist has an opportunity to show off their dazzling virtuosity. Some cadenzas are written by the performers themselves, while others are actually improvised on the spot.