The Concert Experience

I’ve never been to an orchestra concert before. What should I expect?
A musical evening that will blow you away of course. Classical music ebbs and flows. Sometimes, it’s surging and powerful, booming with intensity — and, others, it’s delicate and ephemeral and everything in between.

What if I don’t know anything about classical music?
The beautiful thing about music, is that you need not be trained to appreciate and love it. ASO welcomes a wide variety of audiences ranging from the first-timers to the seasoned pros. If you’d like to learn more about the music you’re about to hear, we’ve got you covered. Our Music Director, Darko Butorac, hosts pre-concert talks beginning an hour before each Masterworks performance in the hall. We also have program notes, which give the backstory of the composers and tid-bits about the music itself.

What should I wear?
There’s no dress code! Most people attend the Asheville Symphony in business clothes or dressy-casual attire, but you’ll find people wearing everything from khakis to cocktail dresses. Some people enjoy dressing up and making a special night of it, and you can too. Our only request of our audience is to limit wearing too much cologne and perfume due to potential allergies of those around you.

Should I arrive early?
Plan to arrive 20 minutes before the concert begins so that you have time to find your seat and settle in. That way, you’ll have a few extra moments to absorb the atmosphere, listen to the orchestra warm up, and take a look at your program book. ASO concerts start on time, so, if you’re late, you may end up listening from the lobby. (If you are late, an usher will allow you inside during a suitable pause in the program as to avoid disturbing other concertgoers.)

You can park at the surface lots at First Baptist Church of Asheville, and ahead of each concert we’ll send an email to ticket holders explaining the parking situation. You can always call our box office with specific questions at 828-254-7046.

Is the hall accessible? How do I purchase accessible seats?
The U.S. Cellular Center offers limited Wheelchair Accessible and Companion, and Semi-Ambulatory seating in all of its venues. Accessible/ADA seating can be purchased from these designated locations online at  IMPORTANT NOTE: There is no elevator access for the balcony level of the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. Patrons needing Wheelchair or Semi-Ambulatory seating, or those who are unable to take stairs, should purchase tickets for the lower level of the Auditorium.

A limited number of USCC wheelchairs are available at the Facilities on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you need an assisted listening device or a wheelchair please bring driver’s license or another form of identification to give to the medic in exchange for the assisted listening device/wheelchair to the hall. Assisted listening devices and/or interpreters should be requested well in advance of the event date.

How long will the concert be?
It varies depending on the repertoire, though most concerts are between 90 minutes to two hours long, with an intermission in the middle. Take a look at your program for more details on each specific concert, as it may give you an idea of what length to expect.

When should I clap?
The first clap comes at the beginning of the concert, welcoming the musicians and the concertmaster as they take the stage. After the orchestra tunes up, the conductor (and possibly a soloist) will come on stage too, and the audience will once again clap to welcome them. Once the music starts, just listen and enjoy.

Most pieces are comprised of several movements, so often there will be time when the entire piece seems to end, but it’s just one movement of the whole piece. Hold your excitement until the end for a round of applause…standing ovations are highly encouraged. Another pro-tip is to check the conductor’s motions for clues.

When a piece is over, the conductor will relax — but, between movements, the conductor will keep his/her hands raised, and the musicians will remain focused on the conductor’s movements. When in doubt, wait for the reactions of other audience members before joining in.

What should I do with my cell phone during the concert?
Turn it off! The same goes for pagers, watch alarms and other noise-making devices. It’s a good idea to double-check your belongings and wearables before the concert begins (and again after intermission) to make sure they are all off.

Doctors and emergency workers who are “on call” during a concert can give their pagers to an usher, who will summon them quietly if they are paged.

Can I bring my camera or recording device?
Cameras, video recorders and tape recorders are not permitted in concerts. If you do have a camera with you and want a photographic souvenir of your special evening, ask someone to take your picture outside the concert hall before you go in.

What should I do during intermission?
Most intermissions are about 15-20 minutes long, which gives you time to socialize with your companions, visit the facilities or simply sit in your seat and read the program notes.

Can I bring my kids?
We love introducing kiddos to classical music at any age!

If they’re old enough to sit quietly for extended periods, take special care to tune into any impending noisiness. We suggest purchasing seats as close to the aisle as possible in case a quick exit is called for.

If your children aren’t yet old enough for the real-deal, build their interest by playing classical music at home through ASO Radio. You can find a link to ASO Radio at the top of the page.


About the Orchestra

What is a symphony orchestra, exactly?
A symphony orchestra is a collection of up to about 100 musicians who play instruments of four basic types:

  1. Strings: violins, violas, cellos and doublebasses. These players sit in a semicircle directly in front of the conductor and make up more than half of the orchestra.
  2. Woodwinds: flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons and other related instruments. These players sit a few rows back from the conductor, in the center of the orchestra.
  3. Brass: trumpets, horns, trombones, tubas and other similar instruments. These instruments are the loudest, so you’ll see them at the back of the orchestra.
  4. Percussion: drums, bells and other assorted instruments. This includes the kettledrums, harp and, on occasion, the piano. Some works use a lot of different percussion and others may have only a single musician playing the kettledrums — or no percussion at all. The percussion section is found at the back.

Why do the musicians wear formal black clothes?
This is part of a long tradition from centuries back. Sometimes, these days, musicians dress a little more casually — but they still try to look uniform, so that the audience can concentrate on the music. Soloists are the exception. They often dress differently, because they are the focus of attention.

Why are there more stringed instruments than anything else?
The sound of each individual stringed instrument is softer than a brass or woodwind instrument. But, in large numbers, these instruments make a magnificent and rich sonority.

What is a concertmaster and what does this person do?
The concertmaster sits in the first chair of the first violins. He or she acts as a leader of that section, but also plays a leadership role with the orchestra as a whole. This person is also the last orchestra musician to enter the stage before a concert, and cues the oboe to “tune” the orchestra.

Why does the entire orchestra tune to the oboe?
The penetrating tone of the oboe is easy for all players to hear, and it has a unique ability to easily sustain pitch. The oboe plays an A for all the players to make sure their A is exactly on pitch with the oboe’s A. This ensures they are all in agreement about the tuning before the concert starts.

Why do the string players share stands?
Fewer stands mean that the musicians have more room to play — and are less likely to bump into anything while performing. Strings play more continuously than the other parts, and page turns can often fall in inconvenient places where there should be no break in the music. Often, the player on the outside keeps playing, while the player on the inside briefly stops playing to turn the page.

Why does the conductor leave after every piece of music?
These breaks allow the conductor to relax between pieces and collect his or her thoughts before beginning the next piece. If applause is very enthusiastic, the conductor might come back on stage to bow or recognize some musicians who played important solos in the piece.

Why don’t the musicians smile while they play?
Some of them do! But, in general, orchestral music requires deep concentration — and these musicians are “in the zone” while performing. After the music is over, you’ll find that many of them smile broadly.