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Things you need to know before going to your first classical concert

Things you need to know before going to your first classical concert

Karina Canellakis / credit: Masataka Suemitsu

From dress code to phone use, we round up essential tips for your first live classical music experience

You're a music fan. You love all kinds of genres, from hip hop to pop, to rock, reggae and EDM. But classical? That's something you don't understand.

If that sounds like you, never fear. Classical music concerts may seem forbidding and unfamiliar but in fact, they're places of wonder and inspiration. If you're a music-lover who wants to have your first classical concert experience, Scottish Chamber Orchestra's 2017–18 season is a great place to start. Here's a handy guide so you know what to expect.

What makes a classical concert different from other kinds of concert?
Classical concerts are all about exquisite music. Certainly, there can be an element of showmanship – but in general, they're nothing like a big stadium gig or a festival. People are quieter and more attentive than you might be used to, even at an intimate singer-songwriter gig.

But trust us: classical music fans know how to make a big noise and show their appreciation in style. At the end of any classical concert, there is usually a lot of clapping. After the ending of Beethoven's Fifth, it's hard not to want to punch the air and shout 'Hell, yeah!'. It would actually be cool if someone did that, but if you do, you'll get some very odd looks. Better off just applauding.

What happens at a classical concert?
There's a ritual. First, the audience files in and takes their seats. Then, the performers on stage enter in a certain order: if it's an orchestral work, the bulk of the musicians will come on, then the orchestra leader (principal first violinist), who gets the orchestra to tune up. Then the soloist enters, if there is one, and bows; and then the conductor comes on, because no matter who else is appearing, the conductor is the boss.

Is it okay to use my phone during a performance?
Look at it this way: you've come all the way to this venue to hear a concert of great music being played by skilled musicians, especially for you (and, all right, everyone else in the audience.) Could you not put yourself beyond external communication for a couple of hours, and turn that baby off? Like, off off? You can always turn it on at the end if you want to take a picture of everyone bowing.

What happens if someone makes a mistake?
Thanks to all that practice, they can usually recover. In 1999, the great pianist Maria Joao Pires was onstage in Amsterdam for a Mozart piano concerto, and when the music started she realised that she'd learned the wrong piece. After literally facepalming for several minutes, she pulled herself together and played the correct one. From memory.

I have a nasty cough. Will it disturb people?
Never mind other people: hadn't you better take something for that?

Actually, this is one of the handy things about breaks between movements. They are the perfect opportunity to sniff, blow noses, make adjustments to your person and generally join in the traditional way an audience signals appreciation, other than clapping: massed clearance of the upper airways.

Is there a dress code?
You can wear what you like to a classical concert – there's no dress code. Some people prefer to dress up, it's true. But if you want to head along in casual wear, there's no reason not to. It is all about the music, after all.

What if I lose concentration?
There's no 'if'. You will tune out, from time to time. Don't worry about it. The SCO's programme is structured in such a way that even someone who grinds their teeth all the way through John Adams's 2007-vintage, wonderfully barking Son of Chamber Symphony will unbend during Barber's Violin Concerto and be purring by the end of Schubert's Fifth.

So what can I expect from the SCO's 2017–18 season?
Well, it's the last from principal conductor Robin Ticciati, who's been with the SCO for the last eight years. For his farewell season, Ticciati has programmed a lot of classical masterpieces, from Bach and Handel through Mozart and Beethoven to Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein; contemporary works from John Adams and Pēteris Vasks. Plus, there's the world premiere of a new saxophone concerto by Scotland's own Sir James MacMillan, featuring the Australian virtuoso Amy Dickson. And the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara has the Scottish premiere of his percussion concerto, written for and featuring the great Colin Currie as soloist.

Are the concerts expensive?
It usually depends on where you sit and how old you are. The cheaper seats are at the back, but if you happen to be under 26 you can get into an SCO concert for £6. If you're under 18, you get in for free.

Anything else?
Stay hydrated. And if you're listening to Beethoven's Fifth and you get the impression that he didn't know how to end it, you're not the first. But most of all, enjoy yourself – classical concerts can be transformative experiences, and once you've had your first taste you'll be hooked.

Find out more about Scottish Chamber Orchestra's 2017–18 season at, follow on Twitter @SCOmusic, Instagram @scottishchamberorchestra and like on Facebook

Scottish Chamber Orchestra: Barber Violin Concerto

Karina Canellakis conducts Barber's Violin Concerto with 26-year-old Benjamin Beilman as the soloist as well as Schubert's Symphony No.5; and Adams' Son of Chamber Symphony.

Scottish Chamber Orchestra: Dvořák Symphony No 8

Robin Ticciati conducts Berlioz's Overture to Les Francs-Juges, Mozart's Piano Concerto No 27, and Dvořák's Symphony No 8.

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