I have never heard an orchestra perform live. Call me pedestrian, call me a product of MTV culture, call me an average college kid. It just hasn’t happened for me yet. Can you really blame me, though? Tickets for orchestral performances tend to run for $50 and up … and, um, I don’t have a job. There’s also the fact that I really don’t know anything about classical music.
There is hope for this poor, uncultured college student, though. Philly offers a ton of discounts that specifically cater to this age group for the purpose of getting us off campus and into theaters. Our dearly beloved PEX pass, for instance, features reduced admission for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. For only $30 a season, students get unlimited access to over 60 chamber music concerts featuring world-renowned and Philadelphia-based musicians alike. It is the PCMS that allowed me to attend my first classical string quartet concert, at age 21, in March of 2013. Featuring the Artemis Quartet of Berlin, this particular event was free to all college students and was held at the Independence Seaport Museum on the waterfront.
However, I wasn’t about to face this tidal wave of culture alone, unprepared. I needed a musical spirit guide. After recruiting my friend Kazia, who studies Music Industry at Drexel and plays more instruments than years I’ve spent in college, I was set to enjoy an educated evening of Mendelssohn, Ginastera and Schubert. And I did enjoy it! Sadly, most of Kazia’s technical advice has since escaped me, but that night she taught me enough of the basics of string-based performance beforehand and during intermissions that I could recognize who of the four was leading, and know to not clap between movements. (Very gauche.)
But I also learned that it isn’t necessary to “know” anything about classical music to appreciate it. The music itself is beautiful, and the performers, at this professional level, are incredibly talented. The slower pieces put me at ease but not to sleep, while the quicker ones had me sitting upright, staring with incredulity at the speed at which the musicians moved their limbs to keep time with each other. It would be impossible for anybody to watch the first violinist jerk wildly – yet with a strange amount of composure at the same time – onstage during the rowdy “Allegro vivace assai” of Mendelssohn’s “String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 80” and not be impressed. (Now don’t I sound refined?)
Besides the PCMS’s deal, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s eZseatU program allows students free, unlimited access to over 80 orchestral performances over a full season, along with discounted guest tickets and entrance to exclusive post-show socializing events, for only $25. (Exploring the Orchestra’s page has informed me that this is a ridiculously good deal. Like, hundreds of dollars worth of a good deal.) UPenn’s Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, like many theaters in the city, also offers $10 student rush tickets for students of all colleges. Tickets can be purchased online using the promo code “STUDENT” beginning a week before performances.