FIRST TIMERS’ GUIDE
Welcome to the San Francisco Symphony!
We’re excited you’ll be joining us. Here’s some information about the music we play and the concert experience at Davies Symphony Hall. We look forward to welcoming you!
WHAT KIND OF MUSIC DOES THE SF SYMPHONY PLAY?
We offer many different kinds of concerts throughout the year.
The Orchestral Series includes music from the 1700s to the present day by composers from around the world. These pieces are written down and then brought to life by the orchestra and conductor. Some are purely musical, with titles like Symphony or Concerto. Others tell a story, and might have titles like The Rite of Spring or La mer (the Sea). The SF Symphony also offers summer, holiday, and special concerts, often in collaboration with artists from other genres, as well as a Film Series where the Symphony plays movie scores live to the picture on the big screen.
In addition to orchestral concerts, the SF Symphony presents solo and small ensemble performances. The Great Performers Series and Shenson Spotlight Series showcase guest artists in recital, while the Chamber Music Series features SF Symphony members playing together in small groups.
WHO ARE THE MUSICIANS IN THE SF SYMPHONY?
The Symphony includes more than 100 musicians who play string, woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments. These musicians studied their instruments intensively from a young age, often attending top music schools and performing with orchestras around the world, before winning a highly competitive audition to join the SF Symphony.
Esa-Pekka Salonen is Music Director of the SF Symphony, and he conducts many of the concerts each season. Other performances are led by guest conductors, who visit for a week at a time and bring a variety of musical perspectives. Many concerts also feature a guest artist playing a concerto (a solo work accompanied by the orchestra), and some concerts also feature singers or the SF Symphony Chorus.
HOW SHOULD I CHOOSE WHICH CONCERT TO ATTEND?
You can visit the calendar and look at a few concert descriptions to see what’s coming up. Most concerts include three or four different pieces. If you recognize one of the composers, that might catch your interest. Or if you like a particular instrument, you might look for a concert with a guest artist who plays it (violin, cello, and piano are often favorites). The San Francisco Symphony has also made many recordings and videos which can offer a preview of our live performances, and most pieces are easy to find on popular streaming platforms.
HOW DO I GET TICKETS?
WHERE SHOULD I SIT?
Davies Symphony Hall has good acoustics and sightlines in every section. The Orchestra level can put you closer to the musicians, while the Loge and Tiers (balconies) give you a bird’s-eye view of the entire stage. Terrace seats put you behind the orchestra, which lets you watch the conductor face on.
WHAT SHOULD I WEAR?
We encourage you to come as yourself in a style of your choice—there is no right way to enjoy the Symphony! You’ll see a wide range of fashion among our audience members, including business, cocktail, casual, and creative attire. Only the Opening Gala is more formal, and holiday concerts can be fun and festive.
CAN I USE MY PHONE?
Going to the Symphony can be a great reason to unplug for a while. We ask that you silence your phone and put it away while the Orchestra is playing. This helps create the best performing environment for the musicians, and the best listening environment for the audience. Photos and videos are allowed before and after (and during applause), but recording or taking photos during the music is prohibited.
WHEN SHOULD I CLAP?
You should clap to welcome the conductor onstage, and then whenever an entire piece is finished. Some pieces have multiple movements (smaller pieces intended to be played as a set), and it’s traditional not to clap in between them, though sometimes people do. If you’re unsure, just wait to hear if lots of other people clap, and then join in!
CAN I BRING THE KIDS?
It’s important that all our audience members be able to sit quietly, usually for about an hour at a time. We find our Orchestral Series concerts are typically enjoyed by kids twelve and older. For younger children, we suggest the Music for Families Series, which offers an exciting introduction to live orchestral music. Certain summer, holiday, and film series concerts are also good for younger children.
IS FOOD AND DRINK AVAILABLE?
We have a range of food and drinks available for purchase pre-concert and during intermission. Alcoholic beverages can only be served to those 21+ with a valid ID. We kindly ask that all food and drinks are finished before entering the hall.
HOW CAN I LEARN MORE?