If you have never been to a thrilling classical music concert before, then it can feel like a pretty intimidating place to be. You may feel like you are surrounded by people who are in the know, and are far more knowledgeable about what you’re about to see than you are; spending some time lingering in the bar beforehand listening to other people’s conversations probably won’t help to dispel this myth! What’s important is to remember that everyone started somewhere, and that, so long as you enjoy yourself and don’t cause any nuisance to anyone else, there is no reason why you should not attend a classical music concert. Nobody was born an expert, and everyone has to start somewhere.
First of all, it might be worth booking a symphony or classical performance which you actually know. Don’t be ashamed if this just means that you recognise a bit of it from a television commercial; everyone has to start somewhere. Make sure that it’s a reasonably short performance or at least one that has an interval in it somewhere. Save Wagner’s Ring Cycle for a point when you are confident that you are going to like it and enjoy the performance. You don’t want to get caught in an auditorium, stuck watching something that you’re really not enjoying.
Secondly, try to do a bit of research before you go to the performance. Take a look at the Wikipedia entry for the composer and find out about their life around the time which they wrote it. In general, this will give you an idea of what to expect, and an insight into the style of music that you should expect. For example, if the composer in question experienced a tragic event in their life around the time that they wrote the piece, (sadly, this is often the case), you can expect sadness and a general sense of longing in the music.
On the other hand, if the music was written for a significant patriotic event, you can expect it to take a strident form; this is the sort of knowledge which will make it much easier to make the most of the performance.
Finally, if a programme or any other sort of notes on the performance is available, then it’s well worth picking it up. This will not only give you background on the piece of music which you are listening to but will introduce you to the people who are playing it. Knowing more about the history of the orchestra, or the story of the soloist who is performing can make it easier to involve yourself in what is happening and enjoy the atmosphere of your chosen performance.