First, there are usually no bad seats in concert halls. They’re usually designed so even the worst seats will still have a decent experience. I think the only exception are seats that have blocked views – don’t get them.
Although most seats are pretty good, there are a couple things I want to note. Yes, there is a noticeable and big difference in where you’re seated. The biggest difference is the energy you feel from the orchestra. There is a tremendous difference in volume from sitting far vs close. For me, it’s big enough that I will always pick good seats for concerts that I care about.
Picking the best seats for an orchestra concert
This varies by concert halls, but you want to either sit in mid to front orchestras and as close to center as possible. Even the side seats aren’t bad as long as they’re the ones closer to the center.
The other best seat in the hall is usually what’s called “tier 1” or the first elevated section of the concert hall. Usually, the hall is designed to focus sound into this location, so I think I like it much better than orchestra seats if I can pick.
For solo performances
For solo performances such as piano, you usually want to be in the orchestra section, usually slightly to the left (if you’re facing the stage). The soloist will usually be stationed to the left of the conductor podium, so the best seat is mid to front orchestra, slightly to the left. It’s also a joy to see pianists’ fingers flying all over the piano.
The side seats are not great because it sometimes messes with the acoustics. Tier 2 and 3 are pretty far, so in halls such Davie Symphony Hall, a lot of the energy can get lost, even when listening to performances such as Mahler 2.
The first few rows are hit or miss, but anything past the first 1-2 rows is usually ok. You just don’t want to be tilting your neck up to see the performers.
Behind the orchestra in certain halls might be a cool experience, but it’s not the ideal experience for first-timers.