Frequently Asked Questions
What do I wear?
For our evening concerts, people tend to wear business casual, business formal and cocktail wear. You might not see many people in jeans, but wear what is comfortable when dressing for a night at one of New Hampshire's premier entertainment venues, the Seifert Performing Arts Center.
How long is a typical performance?
The length of our concerts varies somewhat, but a typical performance of the New Hampshire Philharmonic lasts a bit under two hours, including one intermission. Most other events run about the same length, some a little shorter, some a little longer.
When do I clap?
This is a great question, and it requires an involved answer. (There's a whole book out about the subject, with just that title.)
Long ago, when many of these great works were premiered, there were no CDs, no recordings, so this would be one of the few chances to hear these great works. Audiences would sometimes burst into applause at the end of movements, and sometimes demand that the orchestra repeat the movement - right then and there.
The drawback to this enthusiastic approach is that composers generally put a great deal of thought into how a piece as a whole fits together. Often the end of one movement sets up the beginning of the next movement. So applauding between movements, before the entire piece is actually over, can disrupt the mood and flow of the whole piece.
So over time, the concert hall experience changed. Over the last seventy years or so, a consensus seems to have formed that it's usually best to be fairly quiet after a movement ends, and then to save all that pent-up enthusiasm for the end of the piece as a whole.
A good approach these days is to watch what the conductor does. If his arms are raised and his back is turned, he's probably getting ready to launch into the next movement, and you wouldn't want to miss a note of what's about to happen next.
But of course, sometimes the playing is just so sensational that immediate applause is the only possible response. So if you just loved a movement, and it doesn't disrupt the mood of the piece as a whole, by all means, let us know through your enthusiastic response.
We're glad you're in the concert hall. Your enthusiasm is why we are playing.
What exactly does the conductor do up there?
The conductor on the stage is a study in multi-tasking.
Out of silence
Out of silence, sixty or more musicians have to begin playing as one - with the right tempo, dynamic and mood. A seemingly simple task, but rife with complications, subtlety and potential disaster, the conductor gets the orchestra to begin playing.
During the performance of a piece, the conductor is thinking on several levels at once. A conductor has to be fully present in the moment, as the sound is actually happening. His physical gestures have to be completely appropriate to the music as it is being played. But the conductor also has to be thinking ahead, to get ready to signal a musician about a tricky or exposed entrance, or show the orchestra a new tempo or mood, and the conductor must show this change perhaps a second before the musicians actually make the new sound. So the conductor anticipates what is coming next and indicates points of transitions to the musicians. At the same time the conductor is keeping track of the longer term pacing of the piece.
Setting the framework
A conductor develops a conception of the framework of a piece of music, holds that conception of a complicated and lengthy piece in his or her head, and steers the orchestra towards a performance of that conception.
At the most primitive level, the conductor beats time to show the orchestra how fast to go. This is a relatively trivial part of what a conductor does as a whole. Well-prepared members of the orchestra already know how their parts go, and are expected to play in tune, with the correct rhythm, tempo, and dynamic.
Every reputable conductor knows by heart a commonly accepted core of gestures that govern beat patterns and dynamics. The artistry of conducting comes in altering these gestures subtly to indicate changes of mood. A conductor guides the orchestra through all means available - waving fingers, hands or arms, leaning, crouching, jumping, dancing, smiling, glaring.
Demonstrative breathing is a useful way to get the players to enact the music together. If you listen closely, you'll hear a conductor take dramatic intakes of breath. In successful cases, you'll also see and hear the orchestra members breathing in at the same time. It's an engrossing method for insuring that all are fully inhabiting the music. One way to think about a conductor is that he or she impels the musicians to pass energy back and forth across sections, and ultimately to the audience.
A performance by a conductor is an intensely physical activity. You'll often see conductors drenched in sweat after a performance. It's generally very hot on stage under the bright lights. Think of doing aerobic conditioning for an hour under stage lights wearing a formal suit, and you'll get some sense of what is involved. Conductors are often very elated but also physically quite tired after the exertion of a performance.
In rehearsal, a conductor talks to the orchestra about the music. He or she might explain how a complicated part works, what the composer was trying to do in a certain section, or offer perspectives on events going on in the composer's life that affect how the music was written.
Most conductors have a score in front of them, to keep track of the many parts being played at once. A few conductors know the piece so well, that they conduct from memory, without a score. Doing so indicates an extraordinary level of preparation.
Even with a score, a fine conductor generally studies a particular score for many years before attempting a performance of a piece. This conception evolves over time as the conductor matures and is tempered by typical life experiences.
What is a concertmaster and why does he/she come out after everyone else?
The concertmaster is the most accomplished violinist of the orchestra, the leader of the string section, and often the de facto head of the orchestra musicians, a first among equals.
The concertmaster is generally one of the finest musicians of the orchestra. Each section has a leader - the first violins, the second violins, the violas, the cellos and the basses. It is important to remember that the winds and brass are filled with solo-quality players, as they are used to playing one to a part. The strings have a bit of safety in numbers, with eight or more on a part.
The concertmaster comes out after everyone as a tradition, and to signal to the audience that the concert is just about to begin. He or she motions to the principal oboe to play a single note that the orchestra can tune to.
Why does the orchestra tune to the oboe?
The orchestra tunes to the oboe because the oboe has such a steady and penetrating quality of sound, that is easy for the orchestra members to hear.
What is classical music, anyway?
Classical music is just one of the great forms of music on the planet. There are so many great forms out there - jazz, blues, African drumming, the sitar-drum jamming of southern India. The Philharmonic has chosen to focus on one type of music that we can present in an engaging manner. The music is typically that written from about 1650 to the present day, and represents an astonishing range of moods and expression. Classical music is exceedingly rich in mood and emotion. It expresses the entirety of human experience. Another term to describe what we play is western art music.
We typically present music that makes use of the resources of a full orchestra - strings (violins, violas, cellos, bass, harp), woodwinds (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon), brass (French horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba) and timpani and percussion.
Composers have taken the time to write down their works, so that later generations can in a sense re-enact the works. The works only exist when they are performed by a musical group for an audience. It is that connection that makes the music come alive.
What is the difference between a Philharmonic and a Symphony?
Nowadays 'philharmonic' and 'symphony' are interchangeable terms. Philharmonic literally means 'love of music'. In the state of New Hampshire, several orchestras over time have chosen to use the word 'symphony' in their name, and we are the only one to have chosen to use the word 'philharmonic'. 'Philharmonic' also implies a tone of self-governance by the players, as you can experience today with such orchestras as the Vienna Philharmonic.
In our case, the Philharmonic Society, or the group of music lovers who wanted to hear classical music, actually predates the orchestra. The Philharmonic Society got its start in 1895, and was established before the orchestra found a regular home in 1905 at the Institute of Art. So the name is an entirely appropriate expression of our heritage.
Feel free to suggest other topics you're curious about by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org