How to pick your Perfect Seat at the Symphony

Theater Chairs Audience

With over one thousand seats available at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins, CO, and many venues seating far more, the question of “where should I sit” is important. For anybody visiting the symphony for the first time, the task of picking your perfect symphony seat can be daunting:

  • What do these numbers mean?
  • Where is the sound the best?
  • I can only afford the cheap seats. Are they really bad?
  • Is this the front row or the back row?

If you’ve ever had a tough time deciphering the hieroglyphs on a seating chart, then you’re not alone. Today we’ll explore everything to consider when picking your seats.

Price

Price may be our first indicator of the quality of a seat, but it’s definitely not the last. In fact, it may be the least important factor in your seat-buying decisions. The first and most important lesson about picking a great symphony seat: price is only one of many factors.

The most expensive seats in a hall could be the best or the worst seats for you. It all depends on the view, sound, and experience you want.

The most expensive seats are usually found in the middle of the hall. The sound there tends to be a little better and the view is pretty good. The cheapest seats are usually found in the front and last rows or far off to the side. The sound there tends to be a little worse and the view is more extreme.

What’s important to know is that most halls will design their prices based on the popularity of the seats. Most people want to sit in the middle, fewer people want to sit on the sides. So, seats in the middle are more expensive and seats to the sides are less expensive.

But this assumes that you want a standard view, sound, and experience at the symphony. So, let’s dig into these three factors and see what speaks to you.

View

Perhaps the most important factor for many people is the view you’ll have for the concert.  While your seating does affect the sound of the orchestra, the impact is not nearly as drastic as the different views you can get. The music fills the hall, but your eyes are stuck on your head.

Front row at a rehearsal with Clarinet Soloist Boris Allakhverdyan
Front Row view at an FCS rehearsal
with Boris Allakhverdyan

If there is a soloist playing with the orchestra, your choice of seating has an even more significant impact on what you can see and hear. I like to sit up close to see every detail of the soloist’s performance. If you do this, then you’ll also be sitting up close for the entire concert. With a piano soloist, sitting slightly to the left will allow you to see their hands dancing across the keys, while sitting slightly to the right will allow you to see their face and their expressions better.

Since the orchestra is such a diverse group of instruments and the range of views is so vast, it’s exciting to experiment with different ways to see everybody. Try sitting in the last row, then try sitting in the first row. It’s always a different experience to see and hear the full orchestra together in front of you versus sitting just below the incredible musicians on stage to see their fingers and their faces up close.

Next time you’re at the hall, take a few minutes before the concert to walk to all the different sections. See which views you find more interesting than others.

Sound

Sound is obviously an important factor in your symphony seating. The orchestra is an audible organization, after all. The sound of each hall in different spots will be different, though, so it’s not easy to generalize. This is where the consideration of price comes into more effect.

Orchestra full distance seating covid-19
Last Row view at an FCS rehearsal
with Igor Pikayzen

If you’re a sound junkie, then usually going for the expensive seats will provide a good blend of the full orchestra’s sound and view. Even better, find out where the sound booth is in the hall and sit near it. The technician or the lights may be a slight distraction, but most halls will orient their sound booths in the optimal listening area.

If you’re going for the detailed view in the first few rows, then some sounds from the orchestra will be more prominent than others. Here the strings usually dominate because you’re closer to them, and the woodwinds may be a bit quieter. If you want the detailed view or really love string instruments, this balance will be optimal for you.

If you want the full view of sitting farther back, then you may find that the brass and percussion are more prominent, or that the overall loudness of the orchestra is a bit less. You will also lose some details as the sound blends together more, especially if the hall Is especially reverberant.

Since each hall is different, this one may take some experimentation. But for most people, the differences in sound around the hall are noticeable unless you find yourself in the far extremes like the front or last rows. Again, if sound is your primary concern, then you’ll want to head for the middle of the hall.

Your experience

The experience you want to have is the final indicator of where you should sit. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing evening out or to be fully enraptured in the experience of live music makes a big difference.

Man relaxing

Sitting farther back, to the side, or in a less-dense section of the hall will usually result in a more relaxed experience. These spots are nice for date nights or for new symphony-goers because the intensity of the experience is lower. The physical space between you and the stage and between you and others in your section makes it easier to relax and just have a good time. Plus, the general blend of the hall tends to sound good in these spots. These seats are usually found in the lower and middle priced areas of the hall.

On the other hand, sitting close to the stage or other patrons will usually make your evening more vivid. These spots are great if you’d like a more active experience or to meet and interact with new people. Being physically close to the orchestra means that you can see every detail, and being physically close to others makes it harder to get distracted. There’s a magic to being in the middle of a crowd during a concert. Just be sure not to strike up a conversation until intermission. These seats can be found in the front few rows and in more dense sections of the hall.      

Now that you’ve identified the view, sound, and experience you’re after, there are just a few practical considerations to consider as you explore the seating map.

Section density

Section density is important when talking about the experience you’d like at a symphony concert. This is simply the concentration of how many other people are sitting near you.

It’s easier to have a more private night if you’re basically alone in your section, so lower density seating is great for dates and small groups of friends, or if you’d just like a little bit of privacy. Unfortunately, this factor is difficult to control, but you can take a few steps to guarantee it either way.

If you’re looking for lower section density, then the extremes to the front, back, or sides of the hall will usually have fewer people in them. You can also talk to the box office about moving your seats on the day of the concert if you’d like to experiment with a new section.

Lower section density is harder to achieve than higher section density, but it can still be done. After going to a few concerts, it will be clear which sections of the hall are usually more empty than others. Then you can plan better for your preference.

To Aisle or not to Aisle

Once you know the general area you’d like to sit in, then it’s time to decide on your aisle preference. Most people like the extra room and freedom of an aisle. And, since there are fewer aisles, they’re in higher demand and may cost extra in some halls. On the other hand, if you’re sitting on the aisle then people will be coming in and out and you’ll have to get up a few times or have people walk over you. Some people prefer to sit and stay, so consider that sitting in the middle of a row also has its benefits.

Similarly, consider if you’d like to be close to the lobby or the restroom. It’s much easier to sneak out to the restroom or hit the bar once intermission hits if you’re on an aisle just a few feet away from the lobby.

Talk to the Box Office

Now that you’ve finished this article, you’re in an exclusive club. You are one of the few people who understands that price is only one of many factors to consider when picking your symphony concert seats. You now know how to pick your perfect symphony seat! Now that you know the view, sound, and experience you’d like, the final step is buying your tickets.

If you have any questions left, or just want a second opinion, then consider the Box Office your final concierge for the perfect experience. These fine folks can help you pick the best seat at the best price. They know their hall better than anybody. Plus, they usually have a sense of what other people say about different sections of the hall. They are the ultimate “in” crowd, and they are there to help.

With all of these tools you are now prepared to attend the symphony and pick your perfect seats with confidence.

Jeremy D. Cuebas,
FCS Assistant Conductor