FIrst Timer's Guide

Classical music can seem daunting to some first-time concertgoers, but there’s no reason to stress. Relax and enjoy the music. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about classical concerts, intended to help make your first visit to the San Francisco Symphony a pleasing and memorable experience.

1.  What is classical music?

The term "classical music" covers a wide range of musical styles spanning hundreds of years, from a Bach concerto to a Brahms rhapsody, from a 19th century Schubert symphony to a contemporary tone poem by John Adams. Generally, classical music is played by a symphonic ensemble comprised of strings (violins, violas, cellos, and basses), woodwinds (clarinets, oboes, flutes, and bassoons), brass (trumpets, French horns, trombones, and tubas), and percussion (drums, xylophones, and bells), or some combination of these instruments.  

2. Will I enjoy the concert?

Absolutely. Classical music is exciting, surprising, and often funny. When you hear Haydn’s "Surprise" Symphony, you’ll know why he called it that. You’ll find yourself hanging on every note of the third movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Ives' Three Places in New England will make you laugh. Strauss' s thrilling Also sprach Zarathustra will fill you with a sense of awe.

3. Will I recognize any music?

You’ll probably recognize far more than you would have imagined. Many of today's popular songs, television shows, and movies use or are based on classical themes, including the “Lone Ranger” theme (Rossini's William Tell Overture), the Bugs Bunny cartoon "What's Opera, Doc?" (Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries), United Airlines television commercials (Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue), and many others. 

4. What exactly is a subscription?

A subscription series is a set of pre-selected concerts that you can purchase as a package. When you purchase a series/package, you become a subscriber (you have purchased a subscription). Subscribers enjoy many benefits that single-ticket buyers don’t, including lower ticket prices, sitting in the same seats for every concert in their series, and ticket exchange privileges.

5. What's the difference between a concert and a recital?

At a concert, the entire orchestra plays, led by a conductor. At a recital, only a soloist— usually with a piano accompanist—performs. Recitals are more intimate than symphonic concerts. Artists in recital can be found on our Great Performers Series and certain Special Event concerts.

6. What should I wear to a San Francisco Symphony concert?

Contrary to what many people think, formal attire—such as tuxedos and evening gowns—is not required at Symphony concerts. In fact, most people only wear formal clothing to our Opening Gala. At our other concerts, most concertgoers wear business or cocktail attire.

7. When should I clap?

Generally, you clap only after a piece is finished. For example, if you're listening to Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, which has four movements, it is appropriate to clap only after the last movement. You can look at your program book to find out how many movements a piece has. Usually, there is a 15- to 30-second pause between movements. So, in the case of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, you know you're hearing the Finale after three pauses. If you’re unsure, you can wait for the rest of the audience to clap before you join in.

8. What about other noises—coughing, cell phones, pagers?

Please silence cell phones and pagers before entering the concert hall. Noises such as a pager going off or a cell phone ringing are very distracting to your fellow audience members, the conductor, and the musicians. Recording the concert is prohibited.

Coughing can be an unavoidable problem. But there are ways to avoid coughing during the music. If you feel a cold coming on, please bring lozenges with you. During winter months, free cough drops are located throughout the lobby. Any usher can direct you to them. The next step is crucial: Unwrap them ahead of time. Unwrapping a cough drop during the music makes more noise than you might think. If you don’t have a lozenge and you need to cough once or twice, please try to wait for the end of the movement. Also, please don’t talk while the music is playing. Being sensitive to your neighbors allows everyone to have a more pleasant concert experience.

9. Can I bring the kids?

We recommend that you don’t bring children younger than twelve to our regular subscription concerts, which tend to be too long for young children. Kids of all ages, though, will enjoy our Music for Families series, Concerts for Kids, Holiday programs, and many of our summer concerts.

10. How can I learn more about the San Francisco Symphony?

We provide a number of free programs that allow concertgoers to learn more about the Symphony and the music it’s performing. They include pre-concerts talks given before most Orchestra concerts and open rehearsals; post-concert question-and-answer sessions with some of the world-renowned musicians who grace our stage; and lively podcasts and program notes that can be accessed online a week before most concerts. Other terrific online music resources include: Keeping Score and SFS Kids.  These programs are designed to enrich your symphonic experience.
 

Watch MTT's TED Talk

Music and emotion through time. 

Michael Tilson Thomas traces classical music through the development of written notation, the record, and the re-mix.

Patron Services

We are available to assist you:
Phone: (415) 864-6000
Email:
patronservices@sfsymphony.org
In Person: Grove Street, between Van Ness and Franklin

Box Office Hours:
Mon - Fri: 10am–6pm
Sat: noon-6pm
Sun: 2 hours prior to concerts

Mailing Address:  
Patron Services
Davies Symphony Hall
201 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102
Fax:  (415) 554-0108