Symphony 101

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Symphony 101: A newcomer’s guide to PRISMA

Whether you’re joining us because you love the music, or simply to appease a significant other, we welcome you. To enhance your PRISMA Festival experience we’ve created this handy guide to the symphony.

Unless you’re performing, feel free to leave your tuxedo or evening gown at home! We want you to be comfortable at PRISMA, so there is no official dress code for any of our performances. Most concertgoers arrive in what you might call “business casual” or “cocktail attire”… but this is a summer festival, so jeans and flip-flops are totally fair game, too. You do you.

We recommend arriving at least 30 minutes before showtime. That way you can join us in the hospitality tent for some delicious 40 Knots wine and get comfortable pre-concert.

That depends on your auditory preferences and mobility needs. The Evergreen Theatre is relatively intimate, with just over 700 seats. Sights and sounds are generally good from anywhere – some people like the front row; others like the centre, or the very back two rows. We recommend sitting a few rows back from the front, to allow sound to blend and your eyes to be level with the stage. If there’s a pianist, go for the left side so you can see their fingers! And for wheelchair and walker-accessible seats, there are multiple locations along the mid-theatre walkway.

Always! This gives our performers a break and our audience a chance to stretch their legs, socialize, and make a trip to the hospitality tent. At PRISMA, intermissions are between 15 and 20 minutes in length.

Maybe! Classical music is kind of sneaky like that, entering our psyche in all sorts of ways without us even knowing it. Think of all the films, television shows and commercials you’ve watched in your lifetime, and how many of them have featured the sound of an orchestra. You’ve likely heard something on this year’s program at least once before, even if you can’t identify the piece by name.

It all depends on the program, but the average PRISMA concert typically clocks in at around 120 minutes with a 15-minute intermission – maybe a little longer on opening night. Usually, the largest work comes after intermission in the form of a full symphony.

Some people love knowing the backstory of each piece; others like to be surprised. We recommend emcee John Silver’s excellent program notes for a synopsis of each piece and the inspiration behind it. Maestro Arnold is also known to tell the backstory of a major work before the first downbeat. We also provide audio tracks next to each of the pieces listed in our Concerts section, in addition to a Spotify playlist of our repertoire each festival.

The notion of clapping at the wrong time can strike fear into the heart of even the most seasoned of symphony-goers. (For the record, we totally sympathize with this special breed of anxiety, and we know how easy it can be to get caught up in the moment!) The music world has come to the general consensus that clapping after the end of a piece is a given, but how do you know that the piece has actually reached its end? We advise the following precautions:

  1. Make sure to count the movements as written in the program. (And remember, pauses between movements are intentional… so don’t let those fool you!)
  2. Watch the body language of the conductor. When their arms go down and their body turns around, it’s time to clap. (But if the performers still have their game face on, it’s probably a sign that there’s more to come!)
  3. When in doubt, just wait a little longer. Follow the flock, and listen for the torrent of applause around you. Then, go nuts!

Right. Well, it’s also customary to clap for the concertmaster as they enter the stage, and for the conductor as they walk to the podium. A good general rule is to applaud for just about anyone who enters from stage right – including the concertmaster, conductor, or any soloist. At PRISMA, even our stage crew has been known to accept the occasional round of applause as they jockey harps or pianos into position!

The ringer? Definitely! But let’s face it: electronic devices are a part of modern life. So, if you feel compelled to Tweet your whereabouts (…remember to use our #WeArePRISMA hashtag!) or Snapchat a video clip to a friend during the concert, then do so. We just ask that you do it discretely and make sure that anything capable of emitting noise or causing a distraction is set to silent mode for the duration of the performance.