There are rules to attending orchestra concerts. An expectation for dead silence during and in between movements. No coughing, speaking, or cheering. Formal and modest clothing. A stark opposite to what it’s like to usually attend a typical concert. With this cold atmosphere, it’s understandable why people, especially young adults, are often uninterested in attending orchestra concerts. It fills our headphones when we study, before we fall asleep, or maybe as we’re heading to class, but it’s not a form of music that is seen live.
I played the violin for ten years and I didn’t love playing the violin on my own, but I absolutely loved the sound that came from performing within an orchestra. How, if you listened closely enough, you could distinguish the unique sounds of each section as they meddled to form one coherent song. Yet, for most of those ten years, I had little interest in seeing a professional orchestra perform. It seemed too exclusive and strict even for someone eager to learn about the music.
There were moments of my childhood and teen years where I would get to sit back and listen to a free orchestra concert during the summer in a park, or a trained violinist from the Philadelphia Orchestra would visit my high school to teach a master class. I held on to those moments where orchestral music felt welcoming and freeing, not stifling. When institutions make classical music accessible it can be inspiring and, at the very least, entertaining for young people. Luckily, the Philadelphia Orchestra is one of those institutions seeking to share classical music with people of all ages and backgrounds through a variety of free community and student programs.
Throughout February and June, the orchestra will perform six concerts as part of its 2020 Free Neighborhood Chamber Concert series in locations throughout the city, including the St. Francis de Sales church in West Philadelphia. Annually, the Philadelphia Orchestra performs a free Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute Concert. Throughout the school year, K–12 students can attend free matinees and are provided with transportation, if needed.
For college students, the Philadelphia Orchestra hosts a free concert each year to celebrate the launch of their eZseatU program which offers college students a season pass for just $25. For a fraction of the price of a single ticket, a student can have unlimited access to over 80 concerts. This year, the free kick–off event is on Oct. 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Conducting the orchestra is Kensho Watanabe, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s assistant conductor who was mentored by Yannick Nezet–Seguin, the current music director. Watanabe will be conducting Valerie Coleman's "Umoja, Anthem for Unity" and Brahms' "Symphony No. 2."
Although some of the formalities remain, there’s no set dress code for the event and the Philadelphia Orchestra has some non–intimidating tips on its website about concert etiquette.
The truth is that classical music doesn’t have to be unpopular. With an increasingly informal culture and economic accessibility, classical music can be a form of art for all to enjoy. You can learn more and reserve tickets at https://www.philorch.org/free-college-concert#/.