If you’re new to orchestral concerts you might be wondering what to expect. We answer (nearly all) your questions here.
What music do you
The music we play comes from a huge repertoire that begins in
the 18th century and extends to music of our own time. The
best-known composers are the ones who've been around long enough to
have had their music performed and recorded more often than anyone
else: Mozart, Beethoven stand out as the leaders, followed by
composers such as Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Mahler. But - and this is
the amazing thing - there are many, many more composers and so much
music that no one person can possibly know it all. It's a continual
process of discovery.
Sometimes we let our hair down and collaborate with artists from
other musical genres. When that happens you'll experience the blend
of an orchestra with the sounds of pop or jazz or electronics. But
mostly the music you hear in an orchestral concert will have been
written with the unique sound of an orchestra in mind.
The orchestral sound comes from a combination of instruments
that became standard during the 19th century. More than half the
orchestra (about 60 musicians in the Sydney Symphony) play string
instruments and these provide the distinctive core of the sound:
violins, violas, cellos and double basses. The remaining
instruments add 'colour' across the sound spectrum. They are the
woodwinds (flutes, clarinets, oboes and bassoons), brass (horns,
trumpets, trombones and tuba) and percussion (including the timpani
or kettle drums). The harp and the piano often make an appearance.
Less frequently you'll see saxophones or a guitar, or even
something exotic like a viola d'amore.
Meet the Musicians
The Sydney Symphony
symphony, and a concerto?
If you look at what any orchestra performs over the course of a
year, you'll see two genres of music dominate: symphonies and
Symphonies are the big fat novels of orchestral
music: they are large-scale works for the full orchestra and
they're normally divided up into four distinct sections - we call
them movements. Movements are like musical 'chapters' -
distinguished by changes of speed, intensity and mood. As you
listen to a symphony you'll hear a musical drama unfold. The
symphony often occupies all of the second half of a concert program
and be anything from 30 to 90 minutes long.
A concerto places a featured, solo instrument
at the front of the stage and the excitement and drama comes from
the dialogue between the lone soloist and the full orchestra.
Concertos are also divided into movements: usually just three in a
fast-slow-fast pattern. The concerto is typically heard before the
interval and it's a chance to enjoy the virtuosity of classical
music and to hear a soloist who's at the peak of his or her
recognise the music?
Over the years the orchestral sound has managed to infiltrate
just about all aspects of Western life. So the likelihood of you
recognising at least some of what we play is very high.
Orchestral music is used all the time in film and television
soundtracks, classic cartoons, advertising, theatre and ballet, as
well as at weddings or funerals, and at sporting events. Ravel's
ecstatic Bolero, for example, enjoyed a boost in the 1980s
when it turned up in a Bo Derek film and then in a prize-winning
routine for ice skaters Torvill and Dean.
Some orchestral pieces have become very famous, even beyond the
world of classical musicians and music lovers. You'll almost
certainly recognise the opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony
or the 'Ode to Joy' from his Ninth Symphony, or the beginning of
Richard Strauss's Thus Spake Zarathustra (used in 2001
- A Space Odyssey). The Ride of the Valkyries by
Wagner might ring a bell (Wagner also gave us the 'Here comes the
bride' tune), as might Handel's 'Hallelujah' chorus from
Messiah or the 'O Fortuna' chorus from Carl Orff's
Carmina Burana. If you've ever watched Looney Tunes you've
probably heard the William Tell Overture and countless
other classical pieces. And you must have heard buskers playing
Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik…
But even if you don't recognise the music, there's the thrill
that what you're hearing might just become your next 'favourite'.
How do I find out
more about the music?
When you go to a pop concert, chances are you know the artist's
music really well - you own an album or two or more, you've have
heard them on the radio, you know their 'story'. So what you hear
will be familiar, and that's a good feeling. Most people agree that
the greater your familiarity, the greater your enjoyment.
The same applies for orchestral concerts. But the range of
orchestral music is so vast that even the most experienced
concert-goer is often hearing something for the first time. So what
can you do?
Listen in advance
The concert event pages on our website include short samples of the
music, featuring some of the big tunes or most famous moments.
That's a good way to decide whether you might enjoy the music
before you buy a ticket. From there you can often find complete
recordings online, through YouTube, streaming services or
downloads. Or pick up an old-fashioned CD recording if you
We publish detailed and insightful program books, which are
available free at most of our concerts. You can read the program in
advance by downloading a pdf version in the week of the
Experienced concert-goers use the program books:
• to navigate the concert: the program list towards the front gives
useful information such as how many pieces will be played, how long
they are, who the performers are, where the interval falls, and so
• to follow the text and translation during the concert when the
orchestra performs music with singers or choir
• for background reading, including descriptions of the music
and information about the musicians
• to find out more about how the different pieces on the
program relate to each other - the 'curator' viewpoint.
We offer free pre-concert talks 45 minutes before nearly all our
concerts at the Sydney Opera House and City Recital Hall Angel
A talk makes an illuminating and entertaining introduction to
the concert, and it also helps your ears make the transition from
the distractions of daily life to the intensity and focus of an
Check the event page for more information and to find out who's
speaking before your concert.
For selected concerts during the year we offer podcasts prepared by
our pre-concert speakers. These audio features of about 10 to 20
minutes allow you get your ears around the music and explore a
particular theme or aspect of the concert. Listen at your desk, at
home, or perhaps on the way to the performance. If we make a
podcast for a concert, we'll link to it from that concert's event
page. [link to the podcast area of the site]
What should I wear?
We want you to be comfortable - there isn't a rigid dress code
for our concerts and jackets and ties are not compulsory.
Most people regard attending a concert as a special event and so
dress for the occasion. Some wear the clothes they wore out to
dinner before the concert, some come in the clothes they wore to
work (suits, professional), some people enjoy the opportunity to
dress up. But keep tiaras and ultra-formal wear in your wardrobe
for when gala attire is specifically suggested.
There are free and secure cloak rooms on the Box Office levels
of both the Sydney Opera House and City Recital Hall Angel Place:
please leave briefcases, large bags, overcoats and umbrellas
What if I arrive
If you arrive after the performance had begun, the ushers will
admit you to the auditorium at an appropriate break in the music.
Meanwhile, you can see and hear what's happening on the screens in
the foyers. When you do enter, please enter quietly (the floors are
wood) and follow the ushers' instructions.
Other conditions of entry are published and available at the
point of purchase and on the back of your ticket.
concert etiquette I should know?
All the basic principles of good manners apply in concert halls,
but because concerts are a listening experience there are
two special things to keep in mind:
1. In classical music the silences are important. The space
between different sections of a piece of music, a pause or even a
very quiet passage can have a huge emotional effect. Concert-goers
try not to spoil these moments.
2. A concert hall is an acoustic chamber designed to project even
the quietest of sounds throughout a huge space. That's great for
the music. But remember, throat-clearing, whispers, lolly wrappers,
jangling jewellery, dropped programs, mobile phones and alarms will
be heard by everyone in the hall.
Here are some simple tips:
• turn off all electronic devices. Being 'unavailable' makes
you more mysterious and attractive.
• unwrap cough lozenges while the orchestra is tuning up, or choose
brands with waxed paper wrapping rather than plastic or blister
• if you really need to clear your throat or make some other noise,
cough into your elbow or muffle the sound with a handkerchief. Try
and wait till the loud bits. Nothing kills the mood like 200 people
with 'miner's lung' during an adagio.
Can I text or
We would love you join in our conversations on twitter @sydsymph. If you do follow
us you'll notice that we often live-tweet from the pre-concert
talks, as well as before and after concerts and during intervals,
and sometimes during broadcasts and webcasts.
But we have one simple principle that we follow without fail
when we're listening to the orchestra in the concert hall and we
invite all our fans to adopt it too: If it's tweetworthy, it's
worthy of our full attention.
So please leave your mobile device turned off when the music's
When do I clap?
The short story
One of the conventions of classical music - at the moment anyway -
is that concert-goers choose to hold their applause until the music
has finished, even if the piece is in several sections or
movements. In practical terms, this means there will be moments of
silence (between movements) when the musicians stop playing but no
one applauds. And then at the end of a piece, the applause will
So how do you know which is which?
Our advice: wait for the conductor to turn around at the end of
the final movement. We also include estimated durations in our
program books, and that's another good way of establishing whether
the piece is really over - some composers such as Tchaikovsky have
been known to play tricks on the audience!
Behind the convention
In Mozart's day people clapped for two reasons: if a section of
music ended loudly, or if they liked it a lot. That meant they
sometimes clapped before the end of the piece (as still happens in
jazz performances today).
Then a composer called Mendelssohn came along in the 19th
century, followed by Wagner, Mahler and a bunch of others. They
didn't like their creations to be broken up by applause because it
'murdered the mood' and they composed pieces that were intended to
be listened to in rapt silence from beginning to end.
Studio recordings in the 20th century meant that music lovers
became even more accustomed to hearing complete musical works -
even music by Mozart - performed without any applause. They began
to expect the same experience in the concert hall.
And that, in a nutshell, is why most concert-goers nowadays
don't applaud between movements. (Instead they clear their throats,
which some consider even more distracting!)
Can I bring my
Children under the age of eight will probably find most of our
evening concerts heavy going. But we love seeing children enjoying
music as much as anyone else in the audience. And so we suggest
these options for kids:
• We program Family Concerts with children and parents in
• Our Meet the Music series is a great way to introduce older
children to concert-going, and we often see high school students at
our Discovery series as well. Both these series begin at 6.30pm and
include some spoken presentation.
• Each year we also give outdoor concerts with popular
programs in venues such as Sydney's Domain, Sydney Olympic Park and
Parramatta Park. These are great, relaxed ways to introduce
children to the music we play.
• In addition, our Education Program runs concerts for
schoolchildren of all ages. If you are a teacher or home-schooler
visit our Education section.
If you'd like to ask about the suitability of a particular
concert, feel free to call our box office.
Can I take photographs
or make recordings?
Taking of photographs or recordings of any kind is a breach of
copyright and is not permitted in the hall.
Flash photography is also highly distracting to performers as
well as your fellow concert-goers and is a bad idea for that reason