With the start of the 2016-17 Seattle Symphony season, it’s the perfect time to puncture some of the myths about the concert-hall experience. for instance: No, you don’t have to dress up.
Many lovers of classical music — especially fans of the edgier stuff — feel that they’re under pressure to explain that, no, their taste isn’t as stuffy or expensive as some people seem to think it is.
You don’t have to dress up to attend. (The Seattle Symphony’s 2016-17 season opens Sept. 17 with a celebratory gala that’s dressier and pricier than its ordinary fare — especially if you opt for the cocktails-and-formal-dinner fundraising package.)
You don’t have to read music to enjoy it. (Full disclosure: I don’t — although I feel bad about it.)
IF YOU GO
Opening Night Concert with Ludovic Morlot and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, 5 p.m. Sept. 17, $48-$103. “Morlot Conducts Beethoven & Prokofiev,” 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22, 8 p.m. Sept. 24 and 2 p.m. Sept. 25, $22-$122. All concerts at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
Even the so-called hard-and-fast rules, like refraining from applause between movements, aren’t as hard and fast as they seem. I have a live recording of the world premiere of Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in Amsterdam in 1939 — and the audience applauds at the end of every movement.
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That’s not the custom these days, and you can usually tell when you’re at a concert with classical music novices: they’ll start applauding and then lose steam when the rest of the audience doesn’t join in. But not always. If Seattle Symphony maestro Ludovic Morlot and his band really hit it out of the ballpark, even the crustiest crowd may get carried away clapping, too.
As the classical music season gears up, it’s time to puncture some of the myths about the concert-hall experience. To supplement my case, I called on Morlot himself and Symphony subscriber Erica L. Gomez to throw in their two cents.
MYTH NO. 1: It’s too expensive
No, not really. Single-ticket prices at the Seattle Symphony range from $22 to $113, with a large number of $37 tickets available. Single-ticket prices have risen $5-$10 over the last five years, but the Symphony still offers some amazing deals. A “Create Your Own Season” package, offered through Sept. 17, lets you get four tickets for the price of three. At its “Tuning Up!” festival this past June, every ticket was $25. Compare that with upcoming concerts at the Paramount: Sigur Rós is $75.75-$171.25, Brian Wilson is $51.25-$121.25 and Temple of the Dog is $94.25, not including handling fees.
When she moved here 10 years ago, Gomez went to the Seattle Symphony’s website and realized she could then buy a seat in the third tier for $15 to $17. “I could … experience world class art for an evening,” she wrote recently on her blog, “and forget about my problems. The Symphony has had my loyalty ever since.”
MYTH NO. 2: You have to dress up
I’ve seen jeans and T-shirts at the Symphony. I’ve seen tuxedos and evening gowns. I’ve also seen men indulging their inner popinjays and women taking glorious steampunk turns. Me, I wear khakis, my shiny golden thrift-store sports-jacket and whatever shirt in my closet looks less wrinkled.
“The first time I went,” Gomez says, “I did dress up needlessly. And I was delighted to see that I didn’t have to. And now I regularly go in Converse. And I like it that way.”
Morlot likes it that way, too: “Many times I’ve said, ‘Come as you are’ — and that includes what you’re wearing and who you are. You know, you always are going to have a few patrons complain about this — the fact that someone is wearing torn jeans and sneakers. But at the end of the day, you actually come to experience a concert for what’s onstage, not in the house.”
MYTH NO. 3: Concert-hall etiquette is oppressive and intimidating
It’s true that classical music lovers generally shut up and listen. The experience is intensely communal. But that doesn’t mean you can’t react.
You can chuckle at the wit in the music. You can gasp at moments of liftoff. You can give a gratified groan at the close of a particularly satisfying movement. Still, the general agreement is on delayed gratification — absorbing the rhythms, textures and climaxes, and holding off erupting into loud, vociferous pleasure until the end.
If this sounds a bit like certain bedroom activities, well that’s half the point. It’s an aural-sensual-cerebral intimacy. And just as in the bedroom, you don’t want to be yacking about Zillow prices or your children’s extracurricular activities.
The biggest etiquette issue may be: To clap or not to clap? How should audiences respond during the pauses between movements?
“I think it’s really unfortunate that applause between movements is discouraged,” Gomez says. “I think it’s delightful. I think it was definitely part of the original intent of many pieces of music to inspire applause, and I wish it was something that we did. I’ve seen it happen spontaneously a couple of times at Seattle Symphony, and to me it just heightens the experience.”
Morlot adds: “We’ve all been in those situations where suddenly you listen actively to something. It doesn’t happen just by coincidence. It happens because something really strong is happening in front of you. … You come in, you’re just being yourself, and suddenly you’re captivated by what’s grasping you. So in that sense, applause between movements doesn’t bother me whatsoever.”
Ringing cellphones and the crackle of candy being unwrapped, however, are a big no-no.
“I prefer someone that would stand and boo and react to a musical performance with passion,” Morlot says, “than someone opening a bag of crisps as you give the downbeat.”
MYTH NO. 4: No one who looks like me will be there
The mix of young, middle-aged and old will vary with specific programs, but at every concert there’s a wide age range. And when Morlot programs something a little outside the standard repertoire — Messiaen’s “Turangalîla-Symphonie,” John Luther Adams’ “Become Ocean” or the “Tuning Up!” festival — the crowd starts skewing under 40.
Ethnic diversity isn’t quite so prominent — but it’s not entirely absent either. You’ll hear a variety of languages being spoken, too. The main point is: everyone is welcome, and the Symphony does all kinds of outreach to find new listeners.
For Gomez, the absence of people like herself initially was a stumbling block. She was self-conscious about being the only “young brown girl in the Third Tier Box” when she started attending the Symphony a decade ago. “It was not the single axis of race,” she emphasizes. “It was the intersection of being a young, single woman, plus race.”
If you are looking for more a mixed crowd, some Symphony series fit the bill better than others.
“I think ‘[untitled],’ ‘Untuxed’ and chamber [music] bring a different intersection of people,” Gomez says. “And I love it.”