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Where Would You Sit for a Chamber Orchestra Concert?

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
People sometimes describe headphones as delivering an experience akin to sitting "front and center" in a concert hall. Or maybe "twenty rows back" for some other headphone.

Where do most people consider the prime listening location at an orchestra performance? Is being too close more detrimental to hearing the full picture than being too far back?

How about for a small orchestra or chamber orchestra playing with a piano or violin soloist in a Concerto setting, is that different than a full orchestra?
post #2 of 19

Personally, I tend to sit at the front, slightly to the right: I get the fun of the seats vibrating whenever the conductor gets excited and starts jumping up and down, plus a good view of the cellos (an instrument I occasionally play).   For concerts with a piano soloist in particular, the left side is generally preferred, because that's where you get to see the fingers in action.


My not-very-scientific impression is that the ideal spot should be at the apex of an equilateral triangle, where the two extreme edges of the orchestra form its base; then you're close enough to hear well, but far enough away to allow the instruments to blend.   The reality would depend on the acoustics of the hall though.


Speaking of which, I once heard an expert on acoustics on the radio saying that the theoretical ideal position would be for the listener to be slung upside down from the ceiling; the reason being that we hear higher pitches better if they're on our right side, and vice versa; in other words, the opposite of the way the string sections actually tend to be laid out.

post #3 of 19

from my experience sitting in the center of the auditorium is usually a good bet



center meaning - the center of the floor level seating (not 2nd level, or balconies)
post #4 of 19

I've only seen chamber orchestras a few times and it was always in a church.  I've had a center aisle seat each time.  For full sized orchestras, I like sitting in the balcony so I can see the entire orchestra.  Watching the musicians is a big part of the whole experience for me and you can't see much from the floor (at least at the Kennedy Center where I see most of my concerts).


I saw Leif Ove Andsnes from seats behind the stage looking straight down the keyboard.  The sound may have been better sitting in front of the stage but the view was incredible.

post #5 of 19

My preferred spot would be the balcony for pretty much the same reasons scompton.  You can see everything much better and the music generally has a better blend to it than sitting directly front and center.  I play in a community band and typically if the conductor wishes to get a better idea of the sound he will have us start playing and then he will go sit directly in the middle of the rehearsal hall so that he can get a better idea of the balance of the band.  I usually like to sit on the right side of the balcony as close to the tuba's bell as possible because that is the instrument I play and it is always nice to experience the pure raw power of a really good orchestral tuba player.


post #6 of 19

I saw a tuba player drop his mute during a National Symphony concert once.  Loudest sound the whole night.

post #7 of 19
Originally Posted by scompton View Post

I saw a tuba player drop his mute during a National Symphony concert once.  Loudest sound the whole night.

Yeah that would be pretty loud. Those things are pretty big. You always worry about that you will drop it.

post #8 of 19
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the advice. I tried to get some of Henry Flower's favorite hang-like-a-bat seats but they were sold out. mad.gif

SInce I'm not experienced in this sort of thing I decided on staying conservative and trying a seat somewhere toward the center of the main floor level. The concert I'm attending this weekend is in a 1,020-seat hall and my seat will be in the 12th row about eight seats left of center. It's a two-aile layout and that gives me an end seat on the inner side of the left aisle.

I'll be hearing the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in Charlotte, NC. They're doing a Mozart piano concerto along with an early Mozart symphonic work with a couple of shorter modern pieces as starters. The guest pianist is Rudolph Buchbinder from Austria with whom I am not familar. But the Orepheus is a favorite of mine and I can't believe my luck in getting to see them just an hour and a half from my home. And doing Mozart, to boot!
post #9 of 19

That sounds like fun.  Let us know how it sounds. 

post #10 of 19
This it?
Saw that guy play the Emperor Concerto in Nottingham (England) in 1984 when I was at college.
He wasn't very good.

Just kidding biggrin.gif
post #11 of 19
Thread Starter 
Yep, that's the guy and that's the concert.

Maybe he's had time to practice up a little since '84...
post #12 of 19

If your budget allows it, third/fourth row dead center is the best to have a "recording studio" perspective of the sound. Having said that I go to concerts to see the players as much as to listen to them. So I like balconies, and I like to sit waaay to the side, overlooking the orchestra. For concertos I generally try to get seats on the right (facing the soloist), except for piano concertos where sitting to the left you can see the soloist hands.

Edited by calaf - 3/17/11 at 11:41am
post #13 of 19
Thread Starter 
The Orpheus/Buchbinder concert was a very good listening experience. As expected, the two Mozart pieces were the big attraction with the Piano Concerto No. 20 being the highlight. That was the only part of the program utilizing the soloist, Mr. Buchbinder. It seems kind of strange to me that it was worth having an artist of his caliber present for just 25 minutes of performance but it was certainly worth it from my perspective. The only portion of the program I did not care for was the modern piece Waves which commissioned by Orpheus back in 1988. Too loud, bright, clashy and hard to follow for my taste.

My seat was in the 12th row, nine seats left of center, in person rather closer to the side of the hall than I had pictured. Only about 60% of the seats were occupied and 16 of the 17 of the other seats in my row were emtpy. So after the interval I reseated myself in the center of the row to see if it made any difference in the sound. I was surprised at the extent to which it changed both the balance and the character of the sound. Sitting toward the side overbalanced things in favor of the violin section to the detriment of hearing the woodwind section. Being the middle made the woodwinds slightly more prominent as well as sharpening up the temporal character of all the instruments. By that I mean the attack of each note was slightly rounded off or indistinct sitting in my assigned seat but from the center of the row I heard a cleaner, crisper version of the articulation.

That may have been due in part to the nature of the hall's acoustics. Or something to do with so many empty seats. It also no doubt was affected by the conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra's slightly unusual seating arrangement. But it was a very pleasing sound in both locations, other than the slight differences I've mentioned.
post #14 of 19

The hall acoustics can have  a pretty profound effect on the sound.  One hall here in the DC area is so good at amplifying any sound, you hear a loud crack whenever someone drops a program.

post #15 of 19
Thread Starter 
I think it may have a fairly loud performance space. When we were sitting and waiting for the program to start it didn't seem like one of those echo-chamber type places where you can hear any sudden noise rattle off each wall in turn. But during the actual program it was possible to hear very small sounds clearly. In one of the non-Mozart pieces there's a little interlude that opens with just two violins playing softly and I was amazed at how clearly the timbre of those two notes came across even sitting 1/3 of the way back in the hall. Then a viola was added doubled with a woodwind (clarinet maybe?) in the same register and once again all four voices were distinguishable.

But that move from the end of the row to the center definitely had a tonal-balance effect. That may just have been the directionality of the instruments as I did move from directly perpendicular to the fiddles (staring down the ff-holes, so to speak) to a slight angle off the headstocks with more of a direct in-line view of the woodwinds and violas. So the balance problem may have just been a "beam" effect from the large violin section...
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