Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What are the RTÉ Orchestras?
  2. What's the difference between a symphony orchestra and a concert orchestra?
  3. Is there a dress code for orchestral concerts?
  4. Do I have to research the musical pieces before the concert?
  5. Must I have a background in music to understand or enjoy the orchestral performance?
  6. Will I be familiar with any of the works?
  7. What is the average age group of the audience?
  8. Is a night at the orchestra expensive?
  9. What if I don't know when to clap?
  10. Do the RTÉ orchestras ever do concerts outside of Dublin?
  11. Why do the musicians wear formal black clothes?
  12. What does the leader do?
  13. Why do musicians play on stage before the concert begins?
  14. What is a working week like for an orchestra?
  15. Why do the musicians tune to the oboe?
  16. Which concerts are suitable for children?
  17. Some quotes from RTÉ NSO audience members...


What are the RTÉ Orchestras?

They are the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, the RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet, the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir and the children's choir RTÉ Cór na nÓg. The five groups present over 250 events annually, including live performances and work in education. The groups are largely funded by licence fee revenue.

In 2008, both orchestras celebrated 60 years in existence. Between them, the RTÉ NSO and the RTÉ CO employ a total of 134 professional musicians. The RTÉ Philharmonic Choir and the children's choir RTÉ Cór na nÓg are for singers at an amateur level. Currently, approximately 200 adults and children are involved in the choirs.

Between the five groups, we present up to 200 events annually, most of these being live concerts. A lot of these performances take place in Dublin, mostly in the National Concert Hall but some in the Helix and the National Gallery of Ireland. These range from high-end classical with the RTÉ NSO and the RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet to RTÉ CO concerts in the areas of jazz and big band, classical crossover, rock, traditional, cabaret, multimedia events, family concerts and more.

High-profile Irish and international artists who have appeared with the RTÉ NSO in recent times include Han-Na Chang, Louis Lortie and Ann Murray, while distinguished guests in the orchestra's history included Sir John Barbirolli, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Joan Sutherland and Mitislav Rostropovitch. RTÉ CO guests have included Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa, and more recently Cleo Laine and John Dankworth, Duke Special, Ute Lemper and Katherine Jenkins.

Between the five groups, we generally have two concerts a week on the go - sometimes more.

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What's the difference between a symphony orchestra and a concert orchestra?

A symphony orchestra usually has more than 80 players, though the actual number of musicians employed in a particular performance may vary according to the work being played and the size of the venue. There are 89 musicians in the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra. The repertoire is mainly drawn from classical music from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, as well as music for symphony orchestra still being written.

The RTÉ Concert Orchestra is about half the size of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, with 45 members, and plays a wider range of music, encompassing classical and operatic but also popular, big band, film music, family concerts and more.

In both cases, the orchestra is made up of four sections: strings, woodwind, brass and percussion. Each section gets its name from a description of the material used to make the instruments or the method of playing it.

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Is there a dress code for orchestral concerts?

There is no dress code for concerts, you can wear jeans and a t-shirt, a suit or a ballgown - whatever you feel most comfortable in. People sometimes associate orchestral music with images of black tie or formal dress but these are worn only on certain gala occasions and not at normal concerts.

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Do I have to research the musical pieces before the concert?

No. For most orchestral concerts there will be a printed programme which you may buy if you wish. This will include background notes on the pieces to be played in the evening's performance, as well as background information on the composer. It may add to your enjoyment but it isn't necessary.

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Must I have a background in music to understand or enjoy the orchestral performance?

No, you don't have to have studied music to enjoy the power and thrill of the music and the way in which it is played. Some pieces you might like, others you might not, but all that's required is an openness to the experience.

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Will I be familiar with any of the works?

You'll probably recognise more than you expect as parts of classical and romantic music are often used in soundtracks for films, TV programmes and commercials. Sometimes the publicity material for a concert will flag a link like this in advance.

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What is the average age group of the audience?

The audience group can range from 10 to 100. Orchestral music is timeless.

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Is a night at the orchestra an expensive?

No, for example ticket prices for a typical RTÉ NSO concert in the National Concert Hall range from €10 to €35.

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What if I don't know when to clap?

The norm is to clap when the leader takes his/her position and then again to welcome the conductor. Once the concert has started, the norm is to clap at the end of the entire piece, not at the end of individual movements/sections. The simple solution is, if in doubt, wait for everyone else to start and then join in.

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Do the RTÉ orchestras ever do concerts outside of Dublin?

Yes, the RTÉ NSO does two tours a year, generally in March and November, and the RTÉ CO also does short regional tours or one-off concerts. The RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet is regularly on the road, performing in small venues throughout the country.

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Why do the musicians wear formal black clothes?

This follows from a tradition dating back centuries when it was appropriate to wear evening dress after 6pm. The tradition has remained with classical musicians as it often fits the environment where the music is being performed. It also provides uniformity amongst the musicians and prevents visual distractions for the audience, allowing the music to remain the core focus. The musicians sometimes wear less formal attire for lunchtime or teatime concerts, and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra dresses according to the programme - for instance, wearing all-black instead of formal wear for pop or jazz concerts.

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What does the leader do?

The leader of the orchestra sits on the conductor's left. The role is to lead not only the strings but the entire orchestra. The leader makes decisions regarding bowing and other technical details of violin playing for the violins, and sometimes all of the string players. The co-leader and leader take charge of the orchestral tuning before a concert. S/he walks on stage after the orchestra and takes a bow on behalf of the orchestra.

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Why do musicians play on stage before the concert begins?

Like athletes stretching and warming up before an event, musicians must warm up their muscles and focus their concentration before a performance. You might hear a player practise a particular section over and over again, a solo part or a tricky section in the music. Not all players will warm up on stage; many choose to do it backstage or in the dressing room.

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What is a working week like for an orchestra?

Both RTÉ orchestras are made up of professional full-time musicians. Before every concert there is a norm of 2.5 days of rehearsals. The orchestra and conductor usually rehearse together first, then are joined by the guest artist/s. Beyond that, the shape of a working week can depend on whether the orchestra is giving a live concert, touring, recording or filming. Behind-the-scenes work associated with running an orchestra and presenting concerts includes booking guest artists, ordering the printed music for each concert, organising the physical logistics on stage and doing the long-range planning of programmes for future concerts.

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Why do the musicians tune to the oboe?

All instruments in the orchestra must tune to the same pitch before a rehearsal or performance. This note is usually an "A" which the leader requests the oboist to play. The oboe gives the note as it has the most stable and pure pitch, despite changes in temperature and humidity.

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Which concerts are suitable for children?

By and large, children are welcome to all orchestral performances, though bear in mind that young children can find a full concert long and tiring, particularly in the evening. Concert halls often have seats looking directly down at the orchestra from behind or the side, and it's worth seeking out these seats - being this close to the action with plenty to look at can make the experience more enjoyable and more likely to hold a child's attention. The RTÉ orchestras also regularly give family and school concerts, where the programming and delivery is tailored for younger audiences.

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Some quotes from RTÉ NSO audience members...

'Friday isn't Friday if the RTÉ NSO isn't playing..such a lift at the end of the week and a great start to the weekend'

'Guest artists and conductors are of top standards in recent years: clearly they want to come and play with our orchestra.'

'It's not intimidating or elitist, it's a really friendly environment, with great programme notes, pre-concert talks, coffee and a restaurant'

'Don't stay at home and listen to a CD, there's no comparison with live music.'

'The thrill of being swept off your feet in the throes of a great performance is something which, once experienced, brings you back for more.'

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