An FAQ Guide for Newcomers (Welcome!!)
If you're reading this page, that means you're hopefully joining us soon for a concert, and we love that. We care a LOT about growing our audience and making sure people who are newer to classical music and/or orchestra concerts have a great experience so ultimately you come back again, and all of the questions here came from a group of new attendees that told us what they wanted to know before coming. Have a question that's not answered here? Send us a message on Facebook, Twitter, or by email, and we might even add the question to this list.
Where do you perform, exactly?
The California Symphony is based in Walnut Creek, performing throughout the year at the Lesher Center for the Arts, and in recent years, we've expanded our footprint to include performances in Oakland, Concord, and Napa. Our goal is to continue to reach new audiences and perform in new venues, better living up to our name to serve the state!
What's a good seat?
We get asked this a lot, and most people will tell you that because the Lesher Center is a fairly intimate venue (only about 800 seats compared to typical concert halls which are double or even triple that size), there really is no bad seat in the house. That said, the two best locations are in the center, not too close to the front as that helps the sound blend a little better by the time it hits your ears (plus you can see more of the players when you're not right up by the stage), and at the front of the balcony (including box seats), so that you have better sight lines to see the entire orchestra from more of an aerial perspective. Lastly, if there is a piano soloist performing, people like to sit more towards the left side of the house so that you can see the pianist's hands as they perform.
- The best deal comes when you don't wait until the very last minute to order tickets. We never offer last minute discounts because we don't want to undercut patrons who already purchased their seats. In fact, prices actually increase based on demand as the concert date approaches. In other words, as the house gets more full, prices go up accordingly. Most of our concerts are at or near capacity, so whenever you see a concert you'd like to attend, you save by not waiting (and of course you have better seats to choose from as well).
- Another way to save is to buy in bulk. This can be either in the form of season tickets, where we often have deals such as "3 concerts for $99," or in the form of group tickets, where you save 10-20% depending on the size of your group and can even come for free if your group is of a certain size.
- If you're a student on a budget, be sure to bring your student ID and get any seat starting at $20.
What do I wear?!
More than anything, we want you to be comfortable when you join us for a concert, so dress in a way that works for you. Some people love dressing up and going out—if that's you, do it and you won't be the only one, we promise. If you prefer to be more casual, then you probably won't be the only one dressed cassually, either. What you won't see a lot of is black tie. For our Sunday afternoon concerts, even the orchestra wears suits and ties instead of all-out tails and cummerbunds. For our evening parties and special events though, bring on the ritz. In short, you do you, and we're just glad you're joining us.
How do I get a drink at the concert?
Like most venues, we have multiple bars throughout. But here's where we're different than a lot of other orchestras: we have partnered with the Lesher Center to allow patrons to bring drinks inside the theater (woohoo!). No more waiting in line before the show or at intermission only to have two minutes left to wolf down your cocktail and dash to your seats. Bring your drink with you and sip while you listen—it's ok! One more tip: the Lesher Center bar staff allow you to pre-order your drink(s) for intermission. Before the concert begins, visit the lobby bars to place your order, and then when you come out for intermission you'll see your drink ready, literally with your name on it.
How can I study up before I go?
We try to make concerts self-containing, meaning at the performance itself you will learn a little from your program book as well as from the Maestro as he sometimes briefly introduces the pieces from the stage. If you want to study up ahead of time, we have multiple ways to help you do that:
- The pre-concert talk with the Music Director starts one hour before the performance, is free to concert attendees, and lasts about 30 minutes, so you have a half hour between the talk and concert to get a drink, use the restroom, mingle, etc. During the talk, Maestro covers topics such as why he programmed the particular pieces on that concert, things you should listen for during the performance, and information about the composer. Often, the soloist performing that date will join the talk for all or part, so you get to hear first hand from the amazing artist you're going to see later in the evening.
- Listen to the season playlist on Spotify. Compiled by Music Director Donato Cabrera himself, the playlist is full of his top picks of the best recordings of the pieces the orchestra will be performing.
- On each of the concert overview pages on this website, we've linked to each piece's respective Wikipedia entry. That idea came straight from a concert first-time attendee who said he looked up all the Wikipedia pages before he came and it would be really cool if we could help by linking to that info. So we did, and we hope it's helpful.
How long is a concert?
Concerts vary in length depending on how long each piece is in the program, but usually range from about 100-120 minutes. Generally, most concerts will open with an overture or other shorter work about 10 minutes or so in length. That's usually followed by a concerto with the soloist for another 20-30 minutes, and then comes intermission for another 20 minutes. The second half of the performance is often a full symphony of multiple movements, totalling 40-60 minutes depending on how long the composer wrote (and how fast the conductor conducts!). This isn't always the format, and you'll see that some of our concerts have multiple shorter pieces and no long symphony at all, but it gives you an idea of what to expect, at least in terms of overall length of the concert.
Where do I park?
The most popular option is the Lesher Center parking garage, located adjacent to the Center on Locust Street. The garage is operated by the City of Walnut Creek and rates vary depending on the time of day and other events taking place in the area. Usually fees range from $3 to $6 per day. The Lesher Center is also within walking distance to the Walnut Creek BART station.
When do I applaud?
This can be a controversial question, and here's why: In the early days of classical music the audience was rather rowdy—clapping, talking and even shouting during the performance. Then, at some point during the 20th century, this changed, and the social norm became to applaud only at the end of the piece and never between movements (in other words, clap at the end of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and stay silent during the breaks between movements 1, 2, 3 and 4). The trouble with this is for people who don't know this unwritten rule about when to applaud, at every concert someone inevitably claps after the first movement and then feels weird because they're the only one, or one of a few who somehow missed this secret memo. We decided that it's kind of awkward, and not even true to the origins of classical music, so our policy is that when you have an emotional reaction to the music that you want to express, do it. If you love a movement of fill-in-the-blank symphony and want to cheer for the performance you just heard, do it! Note: not every orchestra feels this way, so don't take this policy as the rule of thumb everywhere. At the California Symphony though, if you're enjoying what you're hearing, we'd love nothing more than for you to show it.
Do you hate phones?
Somewhat similar to the answer above, we're a little different than a lot of other orchestras on this question. What we don't like are phones ringing or making other noises during the performance, or when your phone is blowing up so much it practically looks like strobe light—just like people don't like those things at the movie theater. What we do like is people having fun and sharing that experience with others, so take your selfies, check in on Facebook, and just make sure your phone is on silent out of consideration for the performers.
What else should I expect?
People watching! And awe! But not necessarily at the same time, although that's not out of the question we suppose. As we talk with new attendees, we hear time and again that some really love seeing other people of different ages (younger and older) enjoy the concert in their own ways, and that they didn’t realize that element (i.e. people watching) was going to be such a part of the experience. The other thing we hear often is that seeing a live orchestra—whether producing a giant wall of sound or playing such difficult, technical passages all in synch—would be so awe-inspiring. There is something about the live experience that just can't be beat, people say, and that's music to our ears.
Making Concerts Fun
Free pre-concert talk begins an hour before the show