Do not let the big jewels and tuxedos intimidate you. A symphony concert should not be an esoteric experience. Music, after all, is not composed to scare people away. It has been composed to provoke listeners and to challenge them, but they still want to be heard. They are attention junkies, just like you. There are certain decorum on behavior and dress, but they are not there to turn people off; they are there to make the whole experience worthwhile and enjoyable.
What NOT to wear
I'm not a priggish Ms. Manners who is going to dictate the length of your hemlines or pleats of your pants. This is strictly unisex advice. I wear suits like its second skin, so who am I to tell others to wear what's appropriate to their gender stereotype?
First and for most, do not be frumpy. Iron your clothes. Wash your hair. Put on some deodorant, or even a fragrance. Concerts are formal events.
On that note – how formal is it? Well, that depends on your artistic spirit. Do not let the dowagers in designer gowns intimidate you. You can be conservative or creative. A nice suit or dressy separates are a safe bet.
There is some debate about jeans. I'm a pro-jean person, as long as the rest of the outfit is being a formal event. Simply wearing an IRONED blouse / shirt with dress shoes classes up an outfit. That means nix the sneaks. A number of retailers offer dressy jeans. They are usually in a darker wash. I would avoid any jeans that are artfully torn, ripped, and faded. To put it another way – your jeans should look like formal trousers. They fit, they look nice, and they are complemented with formal wear.
Do not wear your club clothes to a concert. Just … do not.
In the hall
The concert is now starting. You're banned, and excited to hear what this amazing new conductor or soloist has to offer.
Cell phone use
TURN OFF YOUR GODDAMN CELL PHONE! Is that clear enough? Oh, and do not text message, answer your phone, or check your messages during the concert. TURN IT OFF!
Be an active listener
Some may view classical music as boring. To the untrained ear, I imagine it's akin to listening to crickets. However, try to be an active listener. If you know the pieces ahead of time, research them. Look up the terms of the movements (allegro, andante, adagio, etc). While the orchestra is in full swing, pick out the theme, notice variations, let yourself drink in the details. Composers spent painstaking hours penciling in those notes, pay attention to them.
I say all that because a lot of concert goers just let the music wash over them. I want you to do the opposite. I want you to get involved. You'll appreciate it more.
When to clap
There is an issue of clapping between movements. A symphony is comprised of movements – some fast, some slow, some in particular forms. After each movement, there is generally a pause. DO NOT CLAP! Do not clap between movements. Look at the program ahead of time. Three movements, two pauses. Last pause – clap your heart out.
Intermission and cocktails
Now is your chance to schmooze! Do not let this opportunity pass you by! Get out of your seat – chances are you need a break from sitting for so long.
When getting drinks, I advise against strong cocktails (with lurid names) and shots. You've done so well at appreciating the music and the whole concert going experience, do not fall sleep now!
For conversation starters – do not talk about the weather. It's boring. Yawn! Talk about the music, silly! What did you think about that soloist? What was your favorite movement? If you like a particular part or piece, ask others if they felt similarly.
Encores and standing ovations
Each culture has a different view on both of these. In Switzerland, you've got to make the audience go into hysterics if you wanted an ovation. In France, they will stand up for anything. Use discretion. Do not be swept away by others sentimentality. If you were not moved, it's OK to stay sorted. If you were, and no one else is standing, feel free to shout out a Bravo! Egypt Bravissimo!
Encores are scary territory. For the musicians. Everyone loves to be appreciated, but there is such thing as over appreciation. I once sat through TEN encores of the Vienna Boys Choir here in Vegas at Ham Hall. The kids were cute, but come on now. It's past their bed time! Two encores is good enough. More than two, and it starts getting annoying. Without it's an egotistical, vain glorious soloist, there's no reason to bring them out a third time. They are working too you know. That's overtime!
You're ready to get out there and be an arts supporter! Just remember, music is as much for the average joe as for billionaires. If you can really appreciate the concert, you ARE high class.