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First Timer’s Guide

Answers to all the questions about the orchestra you MAY BE too afraid to ask

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If you are on this page, it means you hopefully will be joining us soon for one of your first PSO concerts, and we love that! We believe that music should be accessible and enjoyable for all. Whether you’re new to classical music and/or live symphonic concerts, or a lifelong afficiando, we want everyone to have a great experience.

If you find your question is still unanswered at the end of this page call our box office, PortTIX, at (207) 842-0800, or email them at boxoffice@porttix.com. They are open Monday – Friday, 11 AM – 3 PM and 90 minutes before each concert.

What is a symphony orchestra?

Great question! It’s just one way of describing an orchestra. Another common term you may have heard to describe an orchestra is a “philharmonic” and there is no difference! An orchestra is a large group of musicians who play together on various instruments—typically strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion.

I’ve never been to a symphony performance before. Which concert should I attend as a first-timer?

There’s no wrong answer! You can ease into it with one of our POPS! performances, and dance along as the orchestra performs popular rock, soul, broadway, hits from the American Songbook, and scores from your favorite movies. If you’re in the holiday spirit, come to a performance of our holiday program the Magic of Christmas. We know the holidays are a busy time so we offer the same festive program 12 different times over 2 weekends, including one family-friendly performance that is shorter than the rest – find the one that’s right for you. Or, you can jump right in and enjoy a classical concert featuring some of the well-known favorites, like Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, alongside lesser known works from composers new and old.

If you are still stuck, call PortTIX, or reach out to us directly!

Isn’t the symphony super stuffy and boring?

Definitely not! In fact, classical music originated as another art form for the masses to enjoy; before there was Taylor Swift and sold out arenas there was Mozart and Beethoven and sold out concert halls, and not all of it was controlled –  Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring has jokingly been called ‘the first rave’ by some!

Knowing this, we take great care to provide a variety of programming to appeals to all music lovers. Our Classical programming spans centuries and includes composers from all walks of life while our POPS! concerts will have you standing up and dancing along to your favorite music from featured films, Broadway hits, Rock icons, and more. We also have fun and educational kids programming which includes an hour of games and activities for the entire family!


But it’s super expensive, right?

Not at all! Tickets for our Classical and POPS! mainstage performances start as low as $33, and our Discovery Concerts for Families are $10 a ticket! We also offer Senior and Child/Student discounts for all our mainstage shows.

If you are a student aged 16 and up you qualify for our College Card at just $30 for the entire season, allowing you to attend most Classical and POPS! performances. Additionally, check out our Group Tickets page to learn how groups of 10 or more can receive additional ticket savings.

And of course, subscribers always receive the best savings. Keep reading to learn more.

Where does the PSO perform?

The PSO’s home venue is Merrill Auditorium, located at 20 Myrtle Street, in Portland City Hall at the corner of Congress and Myrtle streets. This is where we perform all our Classical and POPS! programs, along with our Holiday and Family Discovery concerts!

Our Summer Series is located at Seaside Pavilion in Old Orchard Beach, near Old Orchard Beach High School.


Where’s the best place to sit?

Longtime patrons will tell you there really is no bad seat in the hall, and most seating choices are up to personal preference. That said, many patrons enjoy the center of the floor Orchestra section, not too close to the front, as it helps the sound blend a little better by the time it hits your ears (plus you can see more of the players when you’re not right up by the stage). Other patrons enjoy the Grand Tier, which provides better sight lines to see the entire orchestra from more of an aerial perspective, especially the winds, while still feeling close. Then there’s the Balcony, which gives a larger holistic view of the entire stage, and the sound sweeps up the hall to envelope you. If there is a piano soloist performing, many patrons like to sit more toward the left side of the house so that they can see the pianist’s hands as they perform. You can get a feel for the hall and what it looks like from different seats using our interactive seating chart.

What do I wear?

More than anything, we want you to be comfortable when you join us for a concert, so dress in a way that works for you. Some people love dressing up and going out — if that’s you, go for it! You won’t be the only one, we promise. If you prefer to be more casual and wear your favorite flannel, you probably won’t be the only one rocking your favorite L.L. Bean attire either. What you won’t see a lot of is black tie – even the orchestra wears suits and ties instead of all-out tails and cummerbunds for Saturday night and Sunday afternoon performances. You can get even less serious for our holiday and family concerts: we love a festive ugly sweater and costumes are encouraged at all our Discovery concerts!

Can I grab a drink or a bite at the concert?

Concessions are open before each show and during intermission for almost all shows held at Merrill Auditorium. They are located on either side of the first floor, past the box office, and beyond the open arches in what we call the ‘Gallery’. There is a second concessions stand which is open for some shows, but not all, on the second floor between the doors leading into the Grand Tier. All cans and water bottles can be brought right to your seat to enjoy during the performance, but please note that no food is allowed in the main hall.

How can I learn more before I go for a better listening experience?

At each performance program books are available to learn all about the afternoon or evening’s performance. If you want to study up ahead of time and come extra prepared, we have multiple ways to help you do that:

  1. For Classics performances, just prior to the performance date, we will e-mail program notes and any guest artist bios to all ticket holders for whom we have an e-mail address on file (make sure we don’t wind up in your spam folder!). We also post these notes to each event listing on our website. POPS! patrons will receive a similar email with guest artist bios and any pertinent information for the coming performance.
  2. A 30-minute pre-concert conversation takes place one hour prior to the start of each Tuesday evening and Sunday afternoon Classical concert – free for all ticket holders! Join a speaker or two in the hall for a discussion around the upcoming performance. Hear in-depth information that will help frame the concert and enrich your listening experience.
  3. The Friday before most Classical programs you can tune in and join a free Music Lovers’ Luncheon. One or more guest speakers will discuss the upcoming program for an even deeper dive into the nuances around each piece. Each Luncheon lasts around an hour and begins at Noon.

How long is a concert?

Concerts vary in length depending on how long each piece is in the program, but our mainstage Classical and POPS! concerts usually range from about 100-120 minutes including an intermission. Generally, most Classical concerts will open with an overture or other short work about 10 minutes or so in length that gets things off to an exciting start. That’s usually followed by another short piece written for one or two solo instruments in front of the while orchestra for another 20-30 minutes, sometimes called a concerto. Then comes intermission for another 20 minutes before the second half of the performance. This is often a full symphony of multiple movements, totaling 40-60 minutes depending on how long the composer wrote (and how fast the conductor conducts!). This isn’t always the format, and you’ll see that some of our concerts have multiple shorter pieces and no long symphony at all, but it gives you an idea of what to expect, at least in terms of overall length of the concert.

Our Holiday program is of a similar length as our Classical and POPS! concerts, with the exception of the family-friendly performance which runs for about 60 minutes and has no intermission. Our Discovery concerts for families follows the same family-friendly format featuring a 60 minute concert and no intermission.

When do I applaud?

This can be a controversial question, and here’s why: in the early days of classical music, the audience was rather rowdy—clapping, talking, and even shouting during the performance. Then, at some point during the 20th century, this changed, and the social norm became to applaud only at the end of the piece and not in between movements (in other words, clap at the end of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and stay silent during the breaks between movements 1, 2, 3 and 4). While this may be the current tradition, if you feel particularly moved after a certain soloist performance or movement and would like to show your appreciation and clap between movements go ahead! You may be the only one, but don’t hold in a natural emotional response on our account.

If you still feel unsure of what to do, watch the conductor and the musicians, their body language is a great help, or simply clap when everyone else does.

What’s a subscriber?

Subscribers, or season ticket holders, are patrons who commit to purchasing a series of concerts over the entire season. Our different packages are designed with every type of patron in mind: some prefer to keep the same seats year after year, others prefer a more flexible compose-your-own series option. No matter the package there is an array of benefits to be had including:

  • Savings – Subscribing automatically saves you money over the general single ticket prices. In fact, you can save 10% and more on individual ticket prices by becoming a subscriber, and you can even add on additional tickets for friends and family when you need it. The savings continue on those tickets, too!
  • Exchange flexibility – Always on the go? Afraid of that next big ice storm? We offer subscribers the most flexible exchange policy in town. Subscribers can exchange tickets prior to the concert date with no additional fees, so you never have to miss a concert.
  • Package flexibility – Whether you prefer the keep the same seats all season, or are looking for a more flexible option that allows you to create your own season, we have options for everyone! A subscription series package includes all the concerts in a given series and your very own subscription seat, while a compose-your-own package allows you to pick dates, times, and concert offerings that best fit your schedule and tastes!
  • Advance Access – Only subscribers can purchase single tickets in advance, months before PortTIX opens them up to the general public.

After your first concert experience, visit our subscriptions page, or call PortTIX at (207) 842-0800. We’ll ask a few questions to get to know you better, and discuss a few subscription packages that will work best for you!

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2425 chamber series

Announcing the all new Chamber Series

In honor of its 100th anniversary season, the Portland Symphony Orchestra steps beyond Merrill Auditorium and brings the music to you.

This all-new Chamber Music series celebrates the intimate and artistically vibrant nature of small musician led groups as they perform on stages throughout the state of Maine.


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Never been to a symphony before? Don’t worry, we’re here to help

Find the answers to all the questions about the orchestra you may be too afraid to ask!

Read our First Timer’s Guide

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Bring your class to a youth concert

Coming in 2025… The Portland Symphony Orchestra partners with Carnegie Hall to present Link Up: The Orchestra Sings! Link Up is a fully participatory, school-day concert program. Students will fill Merrill Auditorium to sing, play recorders, move, and listen along with the symphony from their seats. This program is designed for students in grades 3-5 but all are welcome and encouraged to participate!

Learn more

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Sarah Atwood

your gift matters

Ticket sales cover only a portion of what it takes to produce the PSO’s artistic and education programs. Your generous support is vital in helping us deliver music programs that serve children and adult listeners.


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Meet the PSO’s Music Director


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FullHall (2)

Help keep the arts alive in Maine

Be an Arts Hero

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