First Timers' Guide

2014/15 SEASON
Read our concert guide to discover a new season of music as the repertoire, soloists and conductors for Season 2014/15 are announced.

We’d love to welcome you to a concert, and there’s plenty to choose from whether you want to hear tunes you already know or try something completely different.

If you’re thinking of coming to a CBSO concert for the first time but aren’t sure what to expect, we’ve answered some frequently asked questions below. If you’ve got more questions, get in touch on 0121 616 6500, or on facebook or twitter – and do share your thoughts after the concert too.

CBSOWhat exactly is classical music?
Like all music, defining western classical music is difficult. It's sung or played on western classical instruments, usually without amplification, and can be anything from a short song for just one singer, to a piece lasting several hours for hundreds of performers. And although it's sometimes called "serious" or "art" music, it can express any human feeling.

The CBSO and its choruses mostly perform music written in the western world between 1700 and the present day. In general, it's music that was written to be listened to, rather than danced to or played in the background. It's music that lasted for generations, and still sounds as fresh and enjoyable as when it was first written. And whether it's happy, sad, soothing, romantic, thrilling, uplifting, funny or heartbreaking, above all, it's always emotional.

You'll see us performing some more surprising music too, from Queen to Ella Fitgerald, film music to favourite show hits. It might not have been written with a full symphony orchestra or a concert stage in mind, but you're guaranteed an incredible experience when we give it a little extra musical sparkle.

How do I know if I’ll enjoy it?
The easy way is to try it! Many people like to test the water with one of our Friday Night Classics - featuring everything from opera and musical hits to great film themes.

But all our concerts are full of great music explore our 2014/15 Season highlights here.

What pieces are you playing that I’ll recognise?

  • 18 Sep: Beethoven's Symphony No. 5
  • 8 & 9 Oct: Bruch's Violin Concerto
  • 2 Nov: Holst's The Planets
  • 10 & 13 Dec: Elgar's Enigma Variations
  • 22 Jan: Ravel's Bolero
  • 19 Feb: Dvorak's Symphony No. 9
  • 20 Feb: Bizet's Carmen
  • 16 & 18 Apr: Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • 23 Apr: Elgar's Cello Concerto
  • 29 & 30 Apr: Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique
  • 6 & 7 May: Haydn's London Symphony

What are all those instruments?!
A full symphony orchestra is an impressive sight on stage - but everyone's there for a reason!

CBSO CellosAt the front of the stage are the string instruments. On the left hand side of the stage are the violins, which often play the melodies, followed from left to right by the violas and cellos, and finally, at the back on the right, the double basses - providing the orchestra's bass line. If the piece requires it, there might also be a harp, usually sitting near the violins.

CBSO WoodwindBehind the strings sit the woodwind instruments, usually in two rows. In the first row come the flutes and oboes, and behind them are the clarinets and bassoons. Depending on the piece being played, you might also see the piccolo, cor anglais, bass clarinet or contrabassoon. Each has a distinctive sound, adding to the orchestra's incredible range of musical colours.

CBSO HornsBehind the woodwind you'll see the brass instruments. On the left of the stage are the horns, and (from left to right) trumpets, trombones and finally the tuba. These are amongst the most powerful instruments in the orchestra: they don't play all the time, but when they do, it can be overwhelming.

CBSO PercussionPercussion
At the very back of the stage come the percussion, dominated by the distinctive copper-coloured timpani (or kettle drums). But the percussion section contains anything that can be hit to make a sound - from the tiny metal triangle to the huge bass drum.

Find out more about our players on and off the stage.

Check out our family-friendly guide to the orchestra.



CBSO Chorus And where do the Choruses fit in?
We’re extremely proud of our three symphony choruses and two community choirs, which cater for all abilities and ages and give their members the chance to sing with the Orchestra

What should I wear?
Whatever you feel comfortable in! We believe that the most important thing is that you enjoy your evening, and you're just as welcome in jeans and trainers as a suit and tie.

When should I clap?
It can often be difficult to know when you are 'supposed' to clap. It's traditional to clap at the start of the concert when the leader of the orchestra and the conductor walk on stage - but it's not compulsory. After that, though, you generally clap only once the piece is complete (rather than between the separate sections, or "movements" that often make up a classical work). If you don't know the piece, your concert programme will tell you how many movements there are in a particular piece.

There is normally a 10-20 second pause between movements, so you should be able to work out which movement you are hearing. If that doesn't work, wait for everyone else to start, and then join in! Most of all, don't worry about it!

Which concerts are suitable for children?
Our concerts for families are a great day out for young and old alike, and are the perfect way to discover the joy of live music. Notelets concerts at CBSO Centre are specially devised for pre-school children and their families, with lots of participation and chance to get up and move to the music. Family concerts in Symphony Hall feature the whole orchestra, and a presenter to bring the music to life for all ages.

Families are welcome at all our concerts. Check our family ticket deals here, and just ask when booking if you need more information about what to expect.

How can I find out more about classical music?
There's no right or wrong way to enjoy music, and nothing you need to know first. But our programme books (£3.50) contain a short guide to each of the pieces in our concerts, as well as information about the performers. Our pre-concert talks are also designed to help you find out more, with performers, composers and enthusiastic experts sharing their insights and answering questions - and they're completely free.

Keep an eye on our audio and YouTube pages throughout the season for more insights into the music and behind the scenes glimpses of the Orchestra.

What about accessible facilities at Symphony Hall and CBSO Centre?
Symphony Hall and CBSO Centre are both fully accessible for people with disabilities. Infra-red systems for the hearing impaired are available on request in both venues, and audio concert programmes can be ordered direct from the CBSO by calling 0121 616 6500.

And refreshments?
Symphony Hall is well served for bars for interval drinks, which can be pre-ordered before each concert, and there's also the Coffee Terrace, which is open before the concerts too. If you'd like a meal pre or post-concert, check out our recommended watering holes

Any other questions?
Please call us on 0121 616 6500 or email us on We love to welcome all our concert-goers, so if you've already bought your ticket, come and see us at every concert at the CBSO information desk at Symphony Hall on the ground level, opposite door 2b.

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