Guide to seeing the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

MSO conductor in front of the orchestra

Danny Baggs

Posted August 11, 2022

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) is Australia’s premier music institution. Here’s everything you need to know when going to see a show.

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) is Australia’s leading orchestra. Established in 1906, the MSO has long been a major player in Victoria’s rich cultural heritage. It was the first Australian orchestra to play in New York’s famous Carnegie Hall, and has won multiple ARIA, APRA and Helpmann Awards. More than 5 million people each year watch the MSO's performances across 56 countries via live performances, TV, radio and online broadcasts, including its online concert hall MSO.LIVE. Here's what you need to know to enjoy a premier musical experience of your own.

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra on stage

The MSO engages with more than 5 million people each year. Image: Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Your guide to seeing the MSO

What is the MSO playing?

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is known for its versatility, reaching far beyond the customary classical music audience.

"People tend to have this idea of classical music as orchestras playing Beethoven or Mozart, but in reality classical music is everywhere, whether we realise it or not! No matter your taste, you will find music you know and love," said the MSO's Director of Programming John Nolan.

Along with works from classic composers, the MSO has collaborated with contemporary musicians like Elton John, Tina Arena, Kate Miller-Heidke, Nick Cave, Dannii Minogue and Birds of Tokyo. MSO also screens popular movies like Toy Story, Star Wars, The Godfather and Harry Potter, playing their iconic soundtracks live.

Over the summer, the MSO also performs free concerts at the Sidney Myer Musical Bowl. One of 2022's concerts was 'An Evening with John Williams', celebrating the brilliant composer's 90th birthday with a selection of his greatest hits from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, and more. These concerts get packed out quickly, so make sure to turn up early to secure your spot.

The MSO 2022 season includes Stravinsky’s ballets, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and the popular Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows In Concert. The MSO’s new season drops on 24 August 2022.

Who conducts and plays in the MSO?

Most orchestras consist of 75-90 permanent musicians, with many other musicians joining the MSO on a regular basis depending on the repertoire. Since every composition requires different types and numbers of instruments, each performance will follow suit. Some of Mozart and Bach’s pieces only use 8-10 players, while some Mahler symphonies require 100+ players. The MSO also includes its own 120-voice symphony choir, the MSO Chorus.

In 2022, the MSO introduced a new Chief Conductor, Jaime Martín. “When I was eight years old, I had my first opportunity to listen to a symphony orchestra in Santander, my hometown in the north of Spain,” said Martín in his welcome. “The lights went down, the musicians took to the stage, and after a moment of silence, the music started. The first sound, the surprise, the wonder and the excitement that I felt then, is what I would like to share with you in every concert [at the MSO].”


the MSO performing at the Sidney Myer Musical Bowl

The MSO plays free concerts at the Sidney Myer Musical Bowl in summer. Image: Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

How long are MSO performances?

The MSO's performances vary in length, but all performance durations are listed in the MSO program and online schedule. Some MSO concerts include an interval, giving audience members an opportunity to go to the bathroom and order a drink.

If you're new to orchestral music, or prefer your performances short and sweet, look out for the MSO's Quick Fix at Half Six concerts. These are one hour performances at 6.30pm that focus on a single piece rather than a range of works.

It’s recommended to arrive at your concert venue 15 minutes before your show in order to find your seats without rushing, or 30 minutes if you need to pick up your MSO tickets from the box office or get a drink from the onsite bar. Once an MSO performance begins, the venue doors will be closed and latecomers will have to wait until a suitable break in the performance to enter, which in some cases may not be until interval.

MSO musicians

It's recommended to arrive to your concert 15-30 minutes early. Image: Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

How do I buy tickets to the MSO?

MSO tickets are available for purchase online or at the MSO Box Office at Hamer Hall. RACV Members can use the promo code RACV22 online to receive 10% off A to C Reserve seats for select MSO performances.

RACV Club Members will also have the opportunity to purchase tickets to an exclusive concert and dining experience, including a Hamer Hall backstage tour, three-course dinner onstage, and a prviate performance by an ensemble of MSO musicians. Club Members can keep an eye on their weekly Club emails for further details and how to book.

If your concert is cancelled or rescheduled for any reason, you can receive a full refund including booking fees. If you can’t attend a performance due to experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, contact the MSO Box Office by phone or email at least 3 hours prior to your concert to receive flexible Melbourne Symphony Orchestra ticket exchange options.

Watch the MSO in action.

Is there a dress code to see the MSO?

There is no MSO dress code: formal wear is not required. While most attendees chose to wear business or smart casual attire, you can wear whatever you please. Note that for gala events, audiences tend to dress up more – but again, this isn’t required.

When should I clap at an MSO performance?

New concertgoers often wonder when it’s appropriate to applaud the orchestra. Most audiences clap before the music begins when the soloist or ensemble enters, stopping when the orchestra begins tuning. After that, the generally accepted practice is to only applaud at the end of a complete work. If a piece has several movements, there may be a few moments of silence between when the music stops and begins again. Not sure when the piece has completely ended? It’s when the conductor lowers their baton after the music has stopped. When in doubt, wait for the rest of the audience to applaud before you start clapping.

Can I bring my children to MSO events?

Did you know that the younger children regularly listen to music, the better their early development? The MSO offers special child-friendly performances: Jams for Juniors (ages 0-5) and Classic Kids (ages 5-10).

"Jams and Classic Kids are designed to give kids their first inspirational encounters with orchestral music," Nolan said. "Jams for Juniors is tactile and designed for very young children; the kids get to play instruments and be a part of the process. Classic Kids is designed as a first concert experience: the orchestra will play a well-known piece and tickets are priced way down to make it easier for whole families to come along."

Regular MSO performances are generally not suitable for infants or very young children, but older children are sure to enjoy the musical experience. You can purchase special $20 Child Price tickets for kids aged 0-17 years old, which are available for most MSO performances until allocation is exhausted. Children aged 15 and under must be accompanied by an adult. If your child is disrupting a regular performance, you will be kindly asked to go to the foyer area or viewing room (in Hamer Hall) to settle – you can re-enter at interval. In addition, prams and baby capsules may not be taken into the auditorium.

MSO at Jazz Festival

Regular MSO performances are generally not suitable for young children, but there are plenty of child-friendly performances too. Image: Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Where does the MSO play?

The MSO’s resident venue is Hamer Hall at Arts Centre Melbourne in Southbank. Hamer Hall is Australia’s premier 2,500-seat concert venue and opened in 1982. Next door at Arts Centre Melbourne is the Australian Music Vault: a free Australian music scene exhibition that you can browse before your show. Hamer Hall also offers free assisted listening devices available for use in any seat: just see the front of house staff to arrange your free hire.

"While the bulk of our performances are at Hamer Hall, as it’s an incredible concert hall with some of the best acoustics you can get, we often perform at other venues," said Nolan. "Sometimes it suits the music better, sometimes we just need a bigger space, and sometimes we go where the instruments are. For example, pipe organs are built into the venues."

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's Melbourne venues include:

MSO venues are acoustically designed, so any seat will make for excellent listening. Select a circle or balcony seat to enjoy a top-down view of the orchestra, or a stalls seat to be closer to the action. All MSO venues also have seating arrangements for patrons with wheelchairs – just let the MSO Box Office know when booking your tickets to ensure your seats are in the relevant area.


MSO with harp in background

The MSO plays at several venues around Melbourne. Image: Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

How do I get to Hamer Hall?

Hamer Hall at Arts Centre Melbourne is located at 100 St Kilda Road, Southbank: just across the Yarra River from the Melbourne CBD’s Flinders St Station.

If you are catching public transport to Hamer Hall, the closest tram stop is number 14, “Arts Precinct”. Tram routes 1, 3, 3a, 5, 6, 16, 64, 67 and 72 stop here. The closest train station is Flinders Street Station, just across Princes Bridge from the theatre. If you need to hail a taxi, there is a taxi rank right in front of Arts Centre Melbourne on St Kilda Road.

Is there parking near Hamer Hall?

If you are driving, park at Arts Centre Melbourne’s undercover car park at 4 Sturt Street, Southbank. The theatre car park is open 24/7 and is housed directly underneath the Theatres Building. Make sure you have a valid debit or credit card before entering, because this flat-rate car park is cash-free.

Driving an electric vehicle? The Arts Centre Melbourne car park has two free-to-use Delta Energy Systems Australia AC EV Chargers on the upper level if you need them. These chargers use a Type 1 plug.

If this car park is full, there is some street parking, but these spaces cannot be reserved and are extremely limited. Time limits may also apply. Your best bet in this case is to find parking through an app like arevo.


There are plenty of pre- and post-dining options near Hamer Hall. Image: Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

What restaurants are near Hamer Hall?

There’s a wide selection of quality pre- and post-theatre dining in Southbank and Melbourne CBD, right near Melbourne’s Arts Precinct. Restaurants near Hamer Hall include the innovative Japanese Saké Restaurant & Bar at Hamer Hall and the buzzing brewpub Hopscotch on Southbank’s Riverside Quay. Walk down to Southbank Promenade for seasonal Italian dishes at Rosetta Ristorante. Or you can cross Princes Bridge to the CBD and explore the wide variety of restaurants, diners and bars along Flinders Lane. Popular options include Asian-inspired cuisine at Supernormal, unpretentious Mexican at Fonda, bold Southeast Asian/Australian dishes at Chin Chin, or pub food at Melbourne’s only Hawaiian dive bar Jack & Bones.

What bars are near Hamer Hall?

You’re in luck if you’re looking for a pre- or post-show drink near Arts Centre Melbourne, with a plethora of options just a short walk or tram ride away. For a cocktail, wine or beer near Hamer Hall, try Southbank Promenade where you’ll find Waterslide Bar, Ludlow Bar, Hopscotch, Left Bank, Yarra Botanica and more – complete with stunning views of the Melbourne CBD. If you have more time on your hands, journey into the city centre where you can enjoy some of Melbourne’s best cocktails and rooftop bars.


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