We must have some kind of curse. Having reported on Mahlergate, the infamous cellphone that interrupted the Ninth Symphony at the New York Philharmonic last month, we assumed that because of the law of averages, we wouldn’t get another cellphone interruption for a good long while. How wrong we were.
But this time, the cellphone owner was sitting immediately to our right.
The Pittsburgh Symphony, conducted by Manfred Honeck, was on the stage of Avery Fisher Hall. Amanda was covering the concert for Bachtrack (review
coming here). A few of our neighbors were of the type who don’t believe in daily showers or, shall we say, holding it in; the smell was annoying, but it comes with the territory sometimes.
Violinist Hilary Hahn had just started the lovely first phrase of Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto:
Then the phone went off. A distinctive, tinkly old-fashioned ringtone, of the type you rarely hear these days. As it rang, the owner just sat there, staring straight ahead as if paralyzed. Finally, it occurred to him that it might be his phone. He slowly took it out, at which point it stopped ringing. He looked wonderingly at it, muttered something like “Hm!” and turned it off. No one said a word to him afterward, in a tribute to the decorum that still reigns in concert halls.
By the way, the audience clapped after every movement, breaking another one of the so-called rules; Hahn politely nodded in response after the first movement.
Then came Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. The Pittsburghers’ burly brass section had cowed the audience into stunned silence during the first movement, so at the start of the slow movement, William Caballero’s beautifully toned horn solo was punctuated by hacking coughs from all around the house about every two bars.
And then came that tricky part in the last movement, where the orchestra lands with a terrific noise on a B-major chord, the dominant of the home key (E), followed by a pause before the orchestra starts the coda (in the home key), here starting at 1:15 (pause at 1:40):
If you’re really not paying attention, you might think this was the end. But a sudden loud chord on the dominant makes no sense as an ending, when the whole symphony has been striving toward the home key. Are we really so insensitive to tonal relationships that we can’t hear that? Apparently, for this is a notorious trouble spot. Today, people started clapping all over the house; Honeck just ignored them and kept conducting.
There’s a similar moment in Beethoven’s Ninth, here at 10:18, and having heard and sung this piece more than a few times, I’ve never heard any audience fooled by this one.
Erstwhile classical music reformers tell us that we need to get rid of the stuffy conventions of the concert hall. Why bother? Seems like that rulebook has already been thrown out the window.