Guide to Classical Music
The top five misconceptions about going to the Symphony
- Everyone wears tuxedos or evening gowns.
- You should clap after every movement of a piece, even that one piece they always play at the beginning where a violinist stands up and everyone plays the same note.
- Classical music isn't meant to be enjoyed – it's meant to be appreciated.
- It’s good to leave your cell phone or your pager on during a performance – especially if you answer the phone and carry on a complete conversation.
- Coughing adds to the music – it's like a new percussion instrument.
Allow us to clear some things up. We want your first experience with the San Francisco Symphony to be faux pas-free. So, we've put together some tips for the first-time concertgoer.
- A Symphony is: a classical musical composition of complex harmonies written for the variety of instruments that comprise and orchestra.
- The San Francisco Symphony was founded in 1911
- Nearly 600,000 people hear 230 concerts and presentations each year.
- The San Francisco Symphony has a history of education program that dates back to 1919.
- Adventures in Music is provided by the San Francisco Symphony at no cost to the schools. It reaches ALL San Francisco Unified School District students between grades one through five.
- Over 11,000 individual donors from throughout the region join businesses and foundation s in supporting the San Francisco Symphony.
The San Francisco Symphony's FAQ for the First Time Attendee
So you're First-Time Attendee – don't worry about it! The following are answers to frequently-asked questions about Symphony-going, designed to make your first trip to the San Francisco Symphony a pleasant one.
- What is classical music?
The term "classical music" can mean anything from a Bach Concerto to a Brahms Rhapsody, anything from an Adams tone poem to a Schubert Symphony. 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 thereof.
- Will I enjoy the concert?
Absolutely! Classical music is exciting, surprising, and oftentimes funny. When you join us in the concert hall, you'll learn why Haydn called it the "Surprise" Symphony, you'll hang on every note of the third movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, you'll giggle at Ives' Three Places in New England, and you'll be in awe of Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra.
- Will I recognize any music?
Odds are, you'll recognize far more than you realize. Many of today's popular songs, television shows, and movies include or are taken from classical themes, like 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 more.
- What exactly are seasons and series?
By season, we mean the months from September to May or June, when our regular subscription concerts take place. Therefore, the 2007-08 season runs from September 2007 to June 2008, with concerts taking place almost every week in Davies Symphony Hall. A series is a set of pre-selected concerts that you can purchase as a package. When you purchase a series, you become a subscriber (you have purchased a subscription). Subscribers enjoy many benefits, including lower ticket prices than single ticket buyers, sitting in the same seats for every concert in their series, and ticket exchange privileges.
- What's the difference between a concert and a recital?
At a concert, the entire Symphony will play, led by a conductor. At a recital, only a soloist -- sometimes with a piano accompanist -- performs. Recitals are very intimate, whereas concerts are intended for larger audiences. Artists in recital can be found on our Great Performers Series and certain Special Event concerts.
- 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.
- When should I clap?
Generally, it is considered proper concert etiquette to clap only after a piece is complete. This means, for example, if you're listening to Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, which has four movements, it is appropriate to clap 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 in between movements. So, in the case of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, you know you're hearing the Finale after three pauses. If all else fails, you can always wait for the rest of the audience to clap before applauding.
- What about other noises -- coughing, cell phones, pagers?
Please turn off 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.
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 there are no lozenges in hand and you need to cough once or twice, please try to wait for the end of the movement.
Also, it is customary not to talk while the music is playing. Being sensitive to your neighbors allows everyone to have a more pleasant concert experience.
- Can I bring the kids?
Children under seven are not recommended to attend our regular subscription concerts -- the programs tend to be too long for children. However, while our subscription concerts are perfect for adults, kids and their families will enjoy our Music for Families series, Concerts for Kids, Holiday programs, and some of the weekend-matinee Summer in the City concerts.
- How can I learn more about the San Francisco Symphony?
SymphonE-News is our free online newsletter with information about upcoming events, interesting people, and tips to enrich your listening experience. You can sign-up online.
Symphony Basics & Styles of Classical Music
The conductor is perhaps the most important aspect of the symphony. The conductor is responsible for making interpretative decisions, such as how fast a particular passage should be played, and or how aggressive certain parts of the music should be. The
conductor literally directs all of the members of the symphony by holding them together. Without the conductor, the music would sound disorganized.
Baroque ERA 1600-1760s
The Baroque era describes an era and style of music between the early 17th Cenury and the late 18th Century. Such composers include Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, and Percel. The Baroque era marks the point at which the orchestra evolved and began to enlarge. The
concerto was the most popular form played in this era and symphonies were yet to come.
CLASSICAL ERA 1770s-1820s
The Classical Period falls in between the Baroque and Romantic periods and refers to the late 18th Century roughly 1730s-1820s. Such composers include Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, and Mozart. Mozart, however, is more of a transitional composer writing
almost a combination of baroque and classical. In fact, early Beethoven symphonies often sound similar to Mozart’s style.
ROMANTIC PERIOD 1820s-1900
The Romantic Period took shape all across Europe and was characterized by stressing strong emotions as a source of aesthetic experience. The Romantic Period is also characterized by the heightened contrasts of high and low emotions.