!@#&^%$!!!!!! (Cellphone halts Mahler’s Ninth mid-movement)

For those who say that the concert hall needs to loosen up, who want tweet-seats and more technology, be careful what you wish for.

Until today I’ve never been to a concert where a cellphone stopped the orchestra in the middle of a piece, but now I can check that awful milestone off the list.  I’ll try to record it as accurately as I can, with my still-jangling nerves.

It was in the fourth movement.  (Funny how these disturbances never happen in fortissimo passages.)  After the last climax, as the movement begins to wind down, toward that sublime last page of the score where music and silence are almost indistinguishable.  In other words, just about the worst possible moment.  (After a quick check of my Dover score, I think it was about 13 bars before the last Adagissimo.)  [UPDATE: commenters have pointed out that the phone was ringing in louder passages earlier in the movement.]

When we reached that passage, as Alan Gilbert turned to the first violins and the sound grew ever more hushed and veiled, the unmistakable chimes of the iPhone Marimba ringtone resounded loud and clear throughout Avery Fisher Hall.  (Checked on my iPhone afterward to confirm which one it was.)  And it kept on ringing, and ringing.  Gilbert kept on conducting for a few bars, but unbelievably, the sound kept on going.  (Doesn’t this guy have voicemail?) [UPDATE: turns out the problem wasn’t a phone call but a pre-set alarm, and this really was an unfortunate accident caused by a bizarre iPhone quirk; more in the updates below.]

Of all places, the offender was sitting in the very front row, center section, on the aisle (stage right).  In other words, right in front of the concertmaster.

Finally, Gilbert dropped his hands and stopped the orchestra, turned to the offender, and looked at him.  To everyone’s disbelief, the sound just kept on going, and going.  Someone shouted, “Thousand dollar fine.”

Gilbert said something like, “Are you finished?”  The guy didn’t move a muscle.  Gilbert: “Fine.  We’ll wait.”  And he turned to the podium and lay down his baton.

As the marimba kept on clanging, someone shouted, “Kick him out!”  Another echoed.  Some started to clap.  But then others shushed the hall down, preventing pandemonium from erupting.

Finally, it stopped. Gilbert: “Did you turn it off?”  The guy nodded.  Gilbert: “It won’t go off again?” Another nod.  Gilbert turned to the audience, and said, “Ordinarily in disturbances like these, it’s better not to stop, since stopping is worse than the disturbance.  But this was so egregious, that . . .” (I lost his words here), and the audience burst into boisterous applause.

Gilbert turned to the orchestra, said “Number 118,” and started up again, at the point where the trombones enter fortissimo for the last big climax.  I wish I could say you could have heard a pin drop from then on, but there were a few coughers; this is New York, after all.  Still, there was a palpable sense of tension from orchestra and audience, as Mahler’s Ninth finally found its way home.


[UPDATE: I want to clarify that aside from the three shouts I quoted above, the audience was relatively restrained in its reaction; you could sense that people were upset, but they kept themselves under control, and actually shushed the few shouters so that Gilbert could deal effectively with the situation.  This wasn’t the concert-hall equivalent of road rage.  Another account at Superconductor corroborates what I saw and heard; see also WQXR’s Naomi Lewin here, and two other eyewitness accounts here and here.  Go to Norman Lebrecht’s indispensable Slipped Disc (see our blogroll) for some interesting comments on this episode.]

[UPDATE II: We’ve been overwhelmed at how far this post has travelled! While you’re here, since you do like classical music, check out Amanda’s Baroque ensemble. You can make music happen beyond what a like or a tweet can do!]

[UPDATE III: Our initial reflections on the meaning of this episode, here, and our review of the actual music-making–with quotations from another very negative review–here.  A CNN reporter contacted us earlier Thursday, and the story is here.  Finally, this episode has–sadly and predictably–sparked snarky and inapposite commentary on classical music’s snobbery, here.]

[UPDATE IV: Alan Gilbert comments on the episode to the Wall Street Journal here.  And Norman Lebrecht–who else?–has unearthed new information about the iPhone owner here.  Apparently he is a long-time subscriber who actually had silenced his iPhone, but didn’t know that doing so fails to disable preset clock alarms (I didn’t know that either).  We applaud Lebrecht for not releasing his name.  The iPhone owner has spoken to the New York Times here.  Lebrecht has also posted a hilarious video from one of his readers, Eduardo Strasser, that gives you a sense of what it was like, here.]

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140 Responses to !@#&^%$!!!!!! (Cellphone halts Mahler’s Ninth mid-movement)

  1. Pingback: Oh. My. Goodness. | oboeinsight

  2. Jason says:

    It’s amazing someone has already blogged about this. So quick! I was in the 5th row, left of orchestra. The first time I heard that darn marimba was actually earlier, at around bar 88, the piano entrance of the B clarinet and the harp. Up until that point, I thought the only distraction was the couple in the first row blowing into each other’s hair, and rubbing each other, as though they were at a drive-in movie. Then, that ring kept coming back, and I could even hear it clashing with the orchestra as they reached the next couple climaxes. Well, in the end, Maestro Gilbert really had to stop; there was no other option. As it is, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to hear this favorite symphony of mine played again in quite the same way. It reminds me of a story Leonard Bernstein used to tell about one performance of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps at Tanglewood, when immediately at the conclusion of the first part — which ends in a raucous, frenzied, blaring climax — some lady in the audience commented, mid-conversation with her companion, “I prefer to use lard.” Bernstein claimed that he would always think of that moment in subsequent performances of that work. Thus, the cell phone episode. Looking back on this, I wonder if the offender was actually texting someone, which would explain why the maestro asked if he was finished? That would be much more egregious than what I initially thought (i.e., someone too embarrassed to reveal themselves as the offender, by taking out their phone). I wonder.


    • You’re right (also Johnny Damon below): the phone was ringing earlier in the movement. The offenders appeared to be an elderly couple; my first thought was that they didn’t know it was their phone, or they didn’t know how to turn it off. When the audience gave Gilbert and the NYPO a standing ovation, they were the only ones who stayed in their seats. As far as I could tell, they left the hall unscathed.
      Thanks for the Bernstein anecdote–that’s a classic. And for the record, I prefer to use butter.

      • Frances says:

        I was at a recent NYPhil concert, sitting in an upper balcony, when I was distracted by a bright light emanating from a smart phone or iPod during the concert. It was in the hands of an elderly woman on the center section aisle, stage right, in the first or second row. It even illuminated her face. And I was near the back of the orchestra section last night during the thrilling Mahler 9 when this cell phone incident occurred in the same area.

        It was also a night for bad behavior by 5 young people (19-yrs-old, or so) sitting in front of me. The clingy PDA by one couple was only topped by the group’s 5-way discussion as to whether they could get up and leave during the 3rd Movement. Row NN, seats 9 et al — you know who you are! Their talking was not only discourteous, but it showed that they hadn’t a clue that they were dissing the best musical performance they’ll probably ever hear. Yes, I did tell them to be quiet in not very polite terms, but am proud that I didn’t use the f-bomb. And they did march out mid-concert.

      • Bazzito52 says:

        Or you could re-think your cooking……….


    • Ithoughtitwasturnedoff! says:

      Now all I can think of is “I prefer to use lard” – that’s gonna haunt me all day!

  3. Johnny Damon says:

    Good account. Truly a milestone in ridiculousness for the perpetually awful Avery Fisher Hall crowds.

    I think what Gilbert said first was “Answer your phone,” or something to that effect. I was looking up in the right side boxes because that is where the sound seemed to have been coming from, so I didn’t actually see the offender? He wasn’t removed?

    Also, the phone actually had rang once in the preceding fortissimo section, so this bozo should have had time to shuffle and silence it. I wonder if we were played by a Sacha Baron Cohen esque stunt.

  4. Wow. I want to hide under my chair just visualizing the scene. Those kind of moments are just painful, but with the NYPhil and a guy in the front row!?!? Anyway, thanks for sharing this. Glad to know Alan handled it well and the audience kept its composure.
    On a different note, I came to reading this post from a link on Twitter. Can’t recall whose tweet. I’d like to follow your blog, but I’m not big on subscribing via the receive and email method of notification of new posts. I use google reader and subscribe through that via RSS feeds. Can’t seem to find an RSS feed for your blog. Am I missing it? If not, perhaps you might consider putting one on there.

    • Thanks Matt, we’re working on it!

      • Not to harp on it, because I was able to have my reader follow by using URL Alexis gave with /feed, but I don’t think what you’ve done is really a functioning RSS button. At least it doesn’t work for me, and the posts listed just below it are simply links to those pages.
        There are a number of widget solutions but you can also probably enable RSS feeds from your theme settings. In my case, in the dashboard I go to Appearance>Theme Options>RSS settings. Here’s a snapshot. http://www.screencast.com/t/YJCONglZ
        Then I scroll down to find the lines for choosing what type of RSS feeds I want to make available and the various nitty gritty about behavior. Here’s that snapshot: http://www.screencast.com/t/HZm8F8IS
        Hope that helps. Anyway, nice work. Lots of traffic apparently. Lots of comments on this post!
        All best,

      • Not at all, thanks for keeping us posted on how we’re doing! It’s late so we’ll take care of this tomorrow.

    • Alexis says:


      Most browsers have add-ons that display or highlight an RSS feed whenever it’s available on a site so you don’t need to be dependent on the host having a link.


      In your Dashboard on the left there’s a link for Appearance > Widgets. In there you should be able to find the RSS widget. Just drag and drop to the right.

  5. Phil Mahnken says:

    Maestro Gilbert conducted himself through this cell phone serenade beautifully, A real mensch.

    • Jack says:

      Absolutely — he acted decisively, and projected poise and calm throughout the episode. 100% class.

      And the performance itself was outstanding — I still think Mahler carried the evening rather than the derailment, without question. Credit to Gilbert & the Philharmonic for making it so. The dying-away last ten minutes were as focused and intense as you could ask for (with, just like Michael wrote, a distinct tension in the air).

      • Thanks, Jack, for bringing our attention back to the music. We also went to the Saturday performance and will post a real review soon. Couldn’t agree more that Gilbert and the Philharmonic dealt with the situation beautifully.

  6. Posting NYC says:

    What do people coughing have anything to do with being in New York?

  7. This sounds awful! I witnessed a similar occurrence at the Proms in 2000/01 (can’t remember precisely the year). When Simon Rattle stopped the performance till a guy talking on his phone like he was at home, left the box he was in. The situation was even worse as he was in one of the leased BBC boxes in the Grand Tier (so on complimentary tickets and causing mayhem).

    Nothing wrong with having tweeting seats as long as they are contained away from the main body of the auditorium audience. Orchestras are struggling for visibility in popular culture and any amount of extra social media publicity is useful. Of course that exposes the performances to idiots like the guy you described, that clearly have either no idea how to put their phone on silent or no sense of decorum.

  8. Maybe the offender was a first-time concert goer? In any event to have publicly humiliated him in front of the audience and orchestra will probably guarantee his non-attendence at any further classical concerts – anywhere. Which is a great shame at a time when classical audience numbers are falling.

    Here is one solution to the problem

    • funnyhaha says:

      That’s a clever sign, but I don’t foresee them posting something like that at Avery Fisher Hall anytime soon. Additionally, I hardly find it a shame that one person may have been alienated due to his own rudeness and lack of consideration for his fellow concert-goers. All the accounts that I’ve read indicate that it was an elderly gentleman, and I’d find it extremely hard to believe that an older man sitting in the front row at a NY Philharmonic concert wasn’t aware that it’s considered poor etiquette to allow one’s phone to ring repeatedly during a performance. Public humiliation is a powerful thing, and I bet this incident has reminded more than one person of the importance of good concert manners.

    • Brian McKay says:

      I fantasize that RUDE MORONS such as that don’t spoil our enjoyment of “any further classical concerts – anywhere.” STAY HOME, MORONS, so that you don’t waste OUR ticket expenses.

    • Helen Stein says:

      The offender was anything but a first-time concert goer. He is a true music lover. a patron of the arts and he has been attending the Philharmonic concerts regularly for more than twenty years. Apparently someone had given him the iphone the day before, and he made a point of shurtting it off; however he was unaware that it had an alarm feature which suddenly started to ring in the midst of Mahler’s exquisite symphony. As he was being booed and berated, he struggled valiantly, with the help of others, to stop the alarm — which eventually stopped by itself. The worst of it was that he was seated in or near the front row, where it would have been impossible for Alan Gilbert to block it out. Apparently the following day (after not having slept all night) he begged to speak to Gilbert to offer his personal apologies, and says the maestro was very gracious about it. Obviously the poor man chooses to remain anonymous. I think a sizeable donation to the N.Y. Philharmonic might go a long way to sooth ruffled feathers.

  9. Dakota P. says:

    As an usher for a university performance hall, I deal with this a lot. Most of the time its just people with their phones out; rarely do they ring. However, during a piece in one of our dance showcases, a phone rang during a section that had no music whatsoever. Dead silence, and it just kept ringing. I was appalled. Kudos to the conductor. I always wish that they would turn around and tell off offenders more often.

  10. Bart Collins says:

    Cross Eyed Pianist: Great shame that bozo won’t attend any more symphony orchestra concerts? I think not. The orchestras can do without that sort of thoughtless rudeness from him and anyone like him. He can attend heavy metal and gangster rap concerts to his hearts desire.

  11. John Darling says:

    it’s really not a big deal. cellphones are a part of everyday life and we should embrace them as such.

    • Jon Barr says:

      Maybe YOUR everyday life. For the rest of the world, there’s a time and place. Let’s go golfing sometime, and I’ll text full volume while you’re putting. You’d probably be less than thrilled because IT’S RUDE, RIGHT?

    • NeoAdamite says:

      You obviously haven’t heard the last movement of Mahler’s 9th.

      • Ken Grabach says:

        Part of life, are you kidding me? If someone felt it important enough to buy tickets to a performance (as opposed to just listening to a recording or a broadcast at home) of a symphony orchestra, one of the top ones in the world, then methinks it is incumbent on that person to 1) devote his attention to the performance whose ticket he purchased, 2) to respect the performers by being quiet and keeping one’s devices quiet, and 3) respecting the rest of the audience (who also bought tickets, and probably followed the admonishments in the program to turn off pagers, phones and other devices. And another thought: I see this a lot, that someone with a distinctive ring tone on a device seems to take a while to recognize it is their own device that is ringing, and not someone else’s. That is the biggest puzzle to me.

    • Jen says:

      Seriously?? Going to the bathroom is a part of everyday life, but there is a time for that, and it’s not in a concert hall during a concert!

      • Brian McKay says:

        Hear, hear! You said it!
        Snoring is part of everyday life. Sexual intercourse is part of everyday life. Eating meals is part of everyday life. Farting is part of everyday life. I think that John Darling was trolling for reactions with his facetious remark.

      • Wishful Thinker says:

        Re: Brian McKays comment – “Sexual intercourse is part of everyday life”

        – I WISH! –

    • dc says:

      It is sort of a big deal. This is a repertory that can’t sustain interruptions — it was designed with the expectation of a quiet audience. You can like that or not, but it means that any interruption to a moment like a pianissimo section from a Mahler Adagio is going to come across as egregiously intrusive.

      Maybe it’s not the concertgoer’s fault for not knowing that this is the case. But we need to create opportunities for people to learn what’s appropriate and what’s not. A good performance of Mahler Nine is a truly powerful thing to experience, and learning concert etiquette ensures that the maximum number of people will get to have that experience.

      This isn’t just about classical music either. There’s a rock band called Low that plays much of their music very quietly, and when a cell phone interrupted an especially poignant section from one of their tunes, that really sucked, too. Jazz aficionados are also familiar with the problem.

    • Abby says:

      In my opinion not only is a cell phone going off disrespectful to the people on stage, it is disrespectful to Mahler and the message he is trying to show his music. If you do cannot respect the hardworking artists on stage at least respect the music. I understand accidents happen (although this person should have had the phone off from the beginning of the concert) but the phone went off multiple times. Once is embarrassing. Multiple times is just plain disrespectful

    • nathan says:

      Is common courtesy no longer a part of everyday life?

  12. BBen says:

    “Embrace them as such” meaning stomp them into nonexistence when a faux pas like this occurs.

    Oh, yeh…throw in the user during the stomping, too.

  13. Brian M says:

    I just think it’s pretty impressive that he got a call on his iPhone in NYC. I hear the service there is terrible.

  14. Alexander M says:

    I play in the Grand Rapids Symphony (Michigan). One time, during another Mahler symphony (I think it was the 4th), a cell phone went off at a very quiet part. The ringtone was Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” theme.

    Another time, a phone rang and rang endlessly during a quiet spot. Finally, after hearing someone ruffle threw her coat and purse, the whole audience heard an older lady fish out her phone, flip it open, and say, “Hello?”

    True stories!

    • Do old people just not understand that there are other ways of dealing with phones, that they can be turned off, turned on silent, and ignored? Like, do they think the rest of us are just lucky or something? Do they not know ANYONE under 40? The common theme in the comments on this incident, here and elsewhere, seems to be that old people are usually the root of the situation.

      • Gina Proulx says:

        Old people aren’t the only idiots in the world… Old folks just don’t realize how to control their tech.. And typically, when the offender is younger, they carry themselves as if they don’t care if they are interrupting anyone.. Generalizing the rude people of the world is almost impossible.. They come from all walks of life..

      • Kiffie says:

        Well, Jonathan Nathan, and everyone else trashing the elderly here, when you are old, and your eyes and your ears and your hands and your legs don’t work quite the way they used to, and you move a lot slower because of a heart condition or cancer treatments, and your composure in stressful situations takes a hike, perhaps you’ll understand. Older people deserve our respect and understanding, not our scorn. If it wasn’t for them, WE would not exist — and neither would our electronic toys.

  15. SWB says:

    My senior year at a conservatory, I attended the final wind symphony concert of the fall semester. I don’t remember the piece, but in the middle of a very quiet, open section in the adagio movement, the Nokia ring tone chimed in from the pocket of an ensemble member. I can’t imagine what was said at intermission, but I think I would have liked to be a fly on the wall for that one.

  16. The Divo says:

    A similar event occured with the Dallas Symphony. They were making a recording of a newly composed piece. An announcer came ONSTAGE and requested the audience to “double check your cell phones”. The conductor (Andrew Litton) came out to begin the concert and HE requested the audience double check their cells. He proceeded to step onto the podium, smiled at the orchestra, raised his arms for the downbeat and, yep, you guessed it, some morons cell phone rang. So, Mr. Litton lowered his arms, turned to the audience and said, “Well, I know it isn’t the composer calling to complain . . .he’s sitting in the Greenroom and we haven’t even started.” Oh, the dirty looks, etc. that audience member received. BUT it was a very, VERY quiet performance (from the audience).!!!!!

  17. suetonian says:

    From what someone on another thread about this said, it sounds like this person was not receiving a phone call, but had set an alarm on his phone. No blocking technology would have stopped it. Nothing to be done, except to accept that you’re always at risk of having an evening ruined by someone else’s stupidity. Price of living in today’s society. Nothing can be done, nothing will be done, and it will happen again and again.

    • Brian McKay says:

      “… you’re always at risk of having an evening ruined by someone else’s stupidity. Price of living in today’s society. … it will happen again and again.”

      I think you hit the nail on the head!

  18. MagicShellJ says:

    From your description of the ringtone and its seemingly relentless reoccurrence, I’m wondering if it was actually an alarm, not a phone call. If it were indeed an elderly couple, it could have been a reminder alarm for medication or such. If it kept going and never went to voicemail, then it was most likely an alarm.

    • James Mason says:

      If the guy wasn’t technologically aware enough to silence his phone, I’m going to guess he’s also not aware enough to figure out how to change the default alarm sound to a ringtone instead.

  19. Willie says:

    The cellphones should just be turned off during a performance. During my freshman year of college, our wind ensemble was playing a piece written in honor a student who had tragically died in a car accident the year prior and right after the climatic cutoff before the soft ending where there is supposed to be silence, someone’s phone rang. It completely killed the mood of the piece and the phone continued to ring throughout the remainder of the piece.

  20. Mark says:

    Maybe it was an alarm of some sort… eventually a call would have gone to voicemail?

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  22. ClearHeadedPianist says:


    Since you have taken the liberty to post your inane moral equivilism on every page covering this story, I will take the liberty to respond in kind. First, did you not read the story? This was not a singe, accidental cell phone ring. This was an iPhone alarm that repeatedly rang over the course of several minutes. Second, the crux of your argument is that since coughing, hearing aids, and gas lamps (!) make noise during concerts, we should thus have no standards or complaints for anything else that makes noise; this is silly on its face. Third, you assume the best of this individual without any substantiation (He’s might be a new concertgoer!) while ignoring the actual facts (him ignoring the multiple in-concert requests to silence all mobile devices, for instance.) Fourth, you make an incredible leap in logic by connecting audience disdain over cell phones with the 30+ year problem of dwindling audience size. Finally, in an amazing twist, after boohoo-ing about how this poor, aggrieved audience member was wrongfully humiliated in front of thousands, you suggest that the remedy for a ringing cell phone should be…humiliating someone in front of thousands.

    Even if he was a new concertgoer (LOL at a new concertgoer being an older gentleman sitting front row center…see my “did you not read the story?” above) any individual who allows their phone to ring that many times in a venue where everyone else is being silent (library, funeral, church, etc.) has serious problems with civility and self-entitlement. This has nothing to do with the stereotype of orchestra concerts being too stuffy. Instead, it has everything to do with an oblivious (at best) or selfish (at worst) individual who uses arguments exactly like yours to justify why 2,000 ticket holders must listen to his iPhone ring for minutes on end. If anything, it is attitudes like yours that are harming audience size. Theaters have been ignoring or enabling bad behavior for years, creating a tiny subset of people who think that the price of admission gives them free reign to act as they please, driving away many ordinary concertgoers who would rather not deal with the hassle. Welcoming new audience members does not mean enabling actions (i.e. ringing phones) that are unacceptable in most venues outside of the concert hall, especially actions (ringing phones) that are addressed multiple times throughout the evening. I guarantee you that more people will be returning to the Phil because of how Maestro Gilbert handled the situation, and that many would have never returned if it were completely ignored.

    • Woohoo! Way to call it! The more I thought about it, the more I did wonder if the culprit deserves some sympathy after all too. But in the end, I agree with you. It’s 2012. We all know how phones work.

    • musicmadame says:

      Well said. I almost dread going to the cinema or theatre anymore for this very reason. Since “the public” seemingly cannot be educated re: cell-phone courtesy, I think a reasonable solution would be requiring people to check their cell-phones at the door–violators would be quickly and quietly escorted out by two gorillas. I mean REAL gorillas.

  23. dbeall says:

    Two things: Anyone who is too stupid to silence their cell phone before a performance shouldn’t attend. (1) Some of you take classical music way too seriously. (2)

  24. FL Heat says:

    Isn’t this a responsibility of an Usher to remove individuals that disturb a performance?

  25. Jeff Bowles says:

    In San Francisco, Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the local symphony. He has a standard spiel that he gives before the performances that are recorded: we provide the music, you provide the silence; don’t clap until my arms come down, because we need silence on the recording for a few seconds after we stop, and so on. I think he has the syllables for that speech memorized.

    One time, halfway through a Mahler recording session, in a slow and quiet passage, a cell phone went off. He cut off the group and turned around, in one fluid movement, and glared in the direction of the phone. It was silenced, and he started a minute or two earlier in the piece, realizing that this particular movement’s recording would (likely) not be used. The glare was immediate and withering.

    I would love for our theater-going and concert-going culture to change slightly: if you hear a cellphone in an inappropriate auditorium, point in the direction you heard it. If a conductor or usher wants to know who’s at fault, the entire audience will point it out.

  26. Wes says:

    @ dbeall…..if it was a FREE concert I might understand your comment #2…..BUT IT WASN’T. People paid for tickets to hear the symphony, not a cell phone….and that experience was ruined…..and they didn’t get their money back. What if you ordered a steak in a restaurant and they brought you a piece of celery instead…and you still had to pay for it. Not only was the performance ruined by the actual sound of the phone ringing but by the aftermath of this and other blogs and commentary.

  27. Ram Punchington says:

    Your “….Still Jangling Nerves”?

    My word, you’re lucky to have escaped such a traumatic experience so lightly.
    I hope nothing worse happens to you, like being startled by a door slamming or a car horn honking.

    Good Day to you , sir.

    I said, Good. Day.

  28. DaveBj says:

    This would be funny if it weren’t so sickening. It reminds me of a recital I attended by pianist Raymond Lewenthal during Butler University’s 1968 Romantic Festival. A couple of middle schoolers started chattering in one of the boxes. Lewenthal stopped mid-piece, stood up, shook his finger (and he had awesome fingers) at the box, shouted something like, “That’s it! Either you leave, or I leave!” Then he stalked off the stage. Within 30 seconds ushers were escorting the brats out. After another couple minutes Lewenthal returned to the piano and started the piece from the beginning.

  29. Pingback: The Classic iPhone Ringtone “Marimba” Interrupts New York Philharmonic - Phone-stuff

  30. Nancy Christie says:

    Certain passages in music when combined with a transfixed audience and sincerity of performance offer the listener a rare and genuinely transcendental moment. The invocation of such moments is at once profoundly powerful, yet extremely delicate. As such they are particularly vulnerable, especially to careless, thoughtless, or selfish displays by those who should know better. As members of a common humanity, we all share the responsibility to respect the creative moment, to bask in the beauty of artistic creation, to set aside the chatter, the distractions, the futile urgency of our fleeting lives to stop and pay our greatest attention to those moments as it is only then that we are truly alive and collectively able infuse our base world with light, hope, and excellence.

    • Beautiful thoughts Nancy, thank you. And I fully agree: performers and listeners are most “truly alive” when they can all concentrate on art together. It takes a lot to unplug nowadays. Here’s hoping the concert hall gets some sanctity back after this episode.

  31. Not A. Pompousass says:

    You all need to get a life.
    There are real things in life to get upset about, not this.
    This shows you are all too comfortable and conformists.

  32. Let’s not be to hard on this bloke,perhaps his embarrasment triggered an inability to think clearly

  33. Mikey Holmes says:

    I find it amazing that in this day and age , that in a concert hall of that caliber that a phone jamming system is not in place. While on tour with a broadway show in Japan a few years back , we had done all our presets , checks , and double checks. Then just as the show
    started all of the wireless headsets went dead, a bit of pandamoium ensued , but we got through the first act . The sound guys checked the system at the intervill it all worked . You see where this is going … The theatre had a cell phone jamming system that turned on at curtian up. Because we were using US. Gear it shut down our wireless. We fixed the problem by getting local gear .
    So the question is why not jam the phones at concert halls?

    • If only. Unfortunately, the FCC has ruled that only federal law enforcement officials can use jamming devices. Musicians could try for an exemption from this rule, but in a head-to-head battle with Verizon and AT&T lobbyists, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Thanks for your comment!

    • auroramatt says:

      Even if cell phone jammers were approved and used, it would not stop alarms on cell phones.

  34. TFox17 says:

    No one is thinking about the numbers here. Cell phones are ubiquitous, I’d guess the vast majority of the audience has one. Certainly I have one. I’m pretty good about turning it off or silent at appropriate times. I’m a technophile, I know how to tweak the technology, I’m aware of the ettiquette, and I’m pretty conscientious. I probably turn my phone off or leave it at home 99 or 99.9% of the time. But here’s the thing: even if everyone was as good as I am (and I’m pretty good), there are 2000 people in the hall. That means, on average, there are at least 2 phones active, ready to ring if one of the unfortunate holders gets a call. Likely more, if the audience is older and has difficulties with the technology. Every concert is thus at risk, and mere reminders can’t suffice…

  35. Karen Schweighardt says:


  36. ScootsNZ says:

    It’s the same as a cellphone going off in church during the absolution. Something that ruins a sacred moment.

  37. Rob Crilly says:

    Great post. But where can I find a video clip of the incident?

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  39. Andrew says:

    “I fry mine in butter.” – Timequake, by Kurt Vonnegut

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  41. Jennifer says:

    I was there, and I have to say that it seemed to me like the audience wasn’t restrained at all, but then again, I’ve been tempered by SF bay area living for several years. It’s all relative, I guess.
    Something certainly seemed fishy, though. Why wouldn’t the person have turned off the phone the first couple of times it went off? I thought maybe the phone had been dropped/lost by someone and therefore no one was claiming it. From where I was sitting, I couldn’t tell that there was a conversation going on with someone in the front row. You’re right about the palpable energy when they re-started!
    Also, I know Amanda’s baroque group! they have great ideas!

  42. Great post.

    Unfortunately, today’s cell phones (including the iPhone) have a feature that allows the alarm to ring even when the phone is turned off. It doesn’t excuse multiple rings throughout the concert, for sure, and I applaud the maestro for how he handled the situation. If it had only been the one time, however, I would have a bit more sympathy for the older man who one might think probably wasn’t aware his alarm could go off if his phone were off. I have my own embarrassing situation regarding the alarm-ringing-with-phone-off situation.

    I was sitting in church, listening to the pastor as he gave his sermon. I couldn’t tell you what it was about, but as he was the only one speaking, you can imagine the quiet in the congregation. Suddenly, a loud and completely obnoxious cell phone began to ring. I looked around for a moment, wondering who forgot to turn off their phone. The pastor looked behind him, and then I flushed bright red as I realized where the sound was coming from. My phone. On the stage. Behind the pastor. I was in the Praise Band at the time and usually left my purse behind the pulpit. I had to stand up from my seat in the congregation, breeze by the pastor and grab my phone to silence it. Thankfully, the pastor laughed it off with some comment about Jesus calling, I apologized and told him it was on silent and I didn’t know it would sound off if it were, went back to my seat and tried to hide my face for a while. It took me a long time to live that one down.

    Now I know to turn off all alarms before turning off my phone.

    On another note, I once went on a blind date with a guy my friend wanted to set me up with. We went to a movie, and I reminded him turn off his cell phone as I turned off my own. He told me he never turns off his phone, he likes it to ring when he’s at the movies. Then, of course, it did, and he answered it. Needless to say, I lost interest immediately.

  43. tim says:

    no, a cell phone ring in the audience is not particularly acceptable in a concert environment. but the reaction of the conductor and online media speaks to the continued irrelevance of classical standards (excluding of course some contemporary composition).
    the conductor’s behavior (staring and shaming) bespeaks the elevation of art to the sacred, the preciousness and untouchable. it denies the audience’s agency: the conductor is the superman who bestows upon you this precious gift. meaningful interaction is not possible: the work is presented as superhuman; in the sense that it cannot be altered without losing everything. and it pre-supposes that silence is possible. even the quietest space there are always sounds and they will always be a part of any performance.

    and central to the sacredness of these composers is claiming of history. a performance of mahler is partly a performance of nostalgia for an imagined past. and yet in the original opera houses and performance halls audiences were noisy and loud, the concert was a party. the development of acoustic amplification and resonating spaces was prompted by the need to have the instruments heard over the crowd. only recently (1900 onward or so) has the audience been stripped of its soundmaking capacity.

    a cell phone ring disrupts merely the social space of classical performance– it is noise only in the sense that it is not socially acceptable. the cell phone is a blasphemy. the marimba tone injects the flair of the ordinary– the stochastic and aleatoric sound of human space interjecting the divine. was not the peformance made much more remarkable and noteworthy by it? i’d like to lead the “campaign to humanize mahler” lets not treat symphonies with a sacred regard; the makers and performers are not gods and they do not deserve to be treated as such.

    • Steve says:

      Amen to that! (Man, I hope you’re not trolling!) LOL

    • funnyhaha says:

      Just because you don’t consider a performance a sacred experience does not entitle you to dictate how others view music.

    • Ithoughtitwasturnedoff! says:

      I like the cut of your jib Tim!

    • dot tilde dot says:




    • Raya says:

      What a load of crap. The audience participates right along with the musicians in making the music; an audience who isn’t feeling the music is awful to play/sing to, as any musician can attest. The best concerts are magical because there is this sense of collaboration between the musicians laboring to serve the muse and the audience being open and receptive to what is being communicated. And yes, turning off extraneous noisemakers is a part of the responsibilities of that participation — both for the audience and for the performers. It’s part of the social contract among all who enter a concert hall. Violators spoil it for everyone.

    • dc says:

      I agree with your critique of the ideology of transcendence, of classical music as autonomous high art, and of the idea of classical audiences as passive, subdued non-participants in the sacral event of classical performance. And it is true that there was once a more rabble-rousing audience vibe in concert halls.

      But the problem with the cell phone is not one of jocular audiences weighing in as active agents in the musical event. It is rather about the indifference of contemporary concertgoers to *being* active participants in the event. I think you could make a case for audience members expressing their joy about the music (though you’d be working against 150 years of constantly reinforced ideas about the necessity of audience silence). What I find more difficult to stomach is the idea that a ringing cell phone is an extension of this boisterous audience celebration of the music: what it is, in fact, is a statement that the music doesn’t matter, that the customer (the affluent seat-holder) is always right, that attending a performance of live musicians (or actors, or dancers) is an activity akin to watching TV at home, where no human performers are present to witness your indifference. You might as well argue that mopey students in a college lecture hall are equally entitled to check their smartphone, to let their cells ring, to read their Twitter feed while class is in session. In both instances, it is an expression of indifference and of disrespect for all those present in the event.

  44. Joseph says:

    I agree with points made by “ClearheadedPianist” and many others in this blog who were outraged. Not turning off the phone or its alarm was idiocy.
    I also believe the sound which emitted from the smart phone was probably an alarm, because it kept going.

    …but FURTHERMORE, while we are discussing the blatant disregard for others and the selfish attitudes of some concert goers about phones, coughing, texting and other distractions, I have something to say about those people who insist on clapping before the music is over or before the conductor’s baton is down. Here is what a blogger on WQXR.org, “karmaya” said about the final seconds of the Saturday night concert when Maestro Gilbert started the piece again from #118:

    I quote Karmaya, “At Saturday night’s Mahler 9th concert, some self centered man broke the spell of the very last lingering note of the symphony by yelling “bravo” even while Alan Gilbert’s arms were still raised in their conducting pose. well, BOO and HISS to that man – I mean, what a boor! And BTW, I hear cell phones – if nearby – even when they’re on vibrate mode.”

    Does anyone want to comment on this kind of rude behavior as well?

    • We were at the Saturday concert as well, and some idiot did yell “bravo” before Maestro Gilbert dropped his hands. In some ways I think that guy’s behavior was far more egregious than the cell phone incident; the latter was almost certainly an unfortunate accident, but the former was clearly intentional. Maybe he was showing off his knowledge of when the piece ends, which is awfully pretentious. He might have just been excited at the performance, but I can’t fathom how he could be jumpy at the end of Mahler 9, unless he really didn’t get what Mahler was trying to convey.
      Apparently someone did this in London when Rattle and the Berliners played Mahler 3 last year:

      • Geo. says:

        Here, some idiot did the same “Bravo!!!!” thing, after a performance of John Adams’ “Doctor Atomic Symphony” that was being recorded for commercial release, not even waiting for the music to finish echoing in the hall before applauding. Needless to say, that moron’s “Bravo!!!!” ruined the end of that “take” for the recording.

    • Joseph says:

      Late breaking news on the cell phone that rang: http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2012/01/identified-the-man-whose-phone-went-off-during-mahlers-ninth.html

      Even after reading this late breaking article about the man whose phone stopped the music, why should we be sympathetic with the owner of a new i-Phone who does not know fully how to use it? According to this article, the man did not realize that the alarm would still be running if he turned off his cell phone tower signal. That’s exactly why the initial announcement before a performance of the New York Philharmonic says to turn the devices off! (not to just turn off the phone’s carrier signal or to set the device to ringer off, but to turn the device itself off.) If one does not know how to do this, I say take the battery out of the device or do not bring a smart phone into the concert hall. LOL

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  51. Alan says:

    If the owner is so impaired that the ring/alarm could not be heard for minutes, the phone would be useless to him. This was just personal behavior being exercised without concern for communal effect. It also is continued evidence of how an involvement with the arts may be used as proof of culture but affects one’s status as a social being not a whit. Reports of the incident began appearing across America a day and a half ago. No apology from the perpetrator even yet. Is he blind as well as deaf?

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  53. K. Hill says:

    If I had paid for tickets to a live orchestral concert, a ringing cellphone would be insufferable. I am already sufficiently enraged when people feel the need to text in a dark movie theater, completely oblivious to how bright and distracting the light from a cell is in a darkened hall. The most disappointing element is the lack of awareness that there is a disturbance being caused by such behavior.

  54. Philipp says:

    Since when is an alarm not being disabled by setting a phone on mute a “bizarre iphone quirk”? There’s hardly any phone out there who doesn’t work like this. Some even play the alarm even when the phone is completely shut down.

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  57. Erin Lery says:

    My worst fear…that I will be the one with the ringing phone. Mortifying….

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  60. rudiger says:

    Did someone in the audience actually yell, “Disembowel him!”? Tough lot, this concert crowd.

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  64. Bastian says:

    In the 80s, the German comedian Loriot (highly praised for his intelligent humor) gave a “concert” with the Belin Philharmonic Orchestra — and integrated typical sounds every concert vistor actually knows. It’s calling “Symphony of Coughs” and I would like to share it with you all:

    I hope you enjoy it. Thank you for this great blog. It reminds me of two episodes I experienced: I saw Lorin Maazel with the NYPO playing Sibelius Violin Concerto (on a concert tour in Germany). After the first movement suddenly the doors of the hall opened and several people (who were late) came in and were searching for their places. I can only tell you, Maazel was NOT happy. Then, when it calmed down in the hall and he wanted to start conducting the second movement, one single person suddenly started clapping violently. Maazel dropped the baton, people were telling the one person to be quit. It was just awful and so unreal. Finally, five minutes after the end of the first movement the second movement started. All of the magic of the concerto that was built up in the first movement had eventually disappeared.

    I love classical music and especially Mahler’s symphonies. I heard the Adagio from the 10th Symphony last year in April — unfortunately it was more or less what Loriot performend in his Coughing Symphony and a collection of disturbances from the very beginning to the final note (including paper crackle, coughing, talking). Additionally, at the end of a song from the Mahler widow Alma a loud cell phone ring tone started suddenly (type classical telephone ringing). After that I decided to never go to a concert anymore 😦

    Best wishes from Germany!

  65. EM says:

    Why do we need cell phones? Why do we need alarms? Why do we need text-messaging?

    This is a symptom of a much larger problem. It isn’t just the cell-phone going off at the most inappropriate times — it is about private enterprise.

    It’s this whole thing about individuality, and selfishness, narcissism, you-name-it. It all started with Microsoft’s emphasis on “me” in the late 1990s. My-Hotmail, my-MSN, my-this, my-that. Then at the start of football and baseball games: “..ladies and gentleman, your New York Giants …”

    This is the essence of private enterprise today. You are special; and damn everybody else.

  66. EM says:

    I don’t care if it was an alarm, or a calender item, or a phone call, or a text-msg (I can’t believe I am now using the acronyms of Generation-X; yikes).

    The solution is simple: leave the phone in the car!

  67. elise says:

    All people over 50 should talke lessons in how to handle cell/iphones. Most people only know how to send a message, Most don’t even know how to answer them. Anyone with a ringing phone should be escorted from the audience, whether it be a concert, a movie or a play.


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  72. J. Battersby says:

    You said in an update above:

    “UPDATE: turns out the problem wasn’t a phone call but a pre-set alarm, and this really was an unfortunate accident caused by a bizarre iPhone quirk; more in the updates below.”

    I have to ask, are audience members asked to silence or turn off their phones? It has been my experience that audiences are asked to turn off their phones. Had this gentleman turned his phone off this would not have been an issue.

    The problem was not because of a “bizarre iPhone quirk” it was because the person with the phone was working under the incorrect and boorish assumption that he did not have to turn his phone off when he was asked to. Had he done what he was asked there wouldn’t have been a problem.

    • Turns out that the Philharmonic’s pre-concert announcement asks audiences to silence their phones, not turn them off. (We went again last Friday for Zubin Mehta conducting Bruckner, and like the rest of the audience, listened to the announcement with fresh ears.) Ironically, this taped announcement is delivered by none other than Alec Baldwin (who is, happily, a big fan of classical music).

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  75. Wynn Hammer says:

    These reports of disturbances during a concert being played reminds me of a performance of Toscanini during a recording session when an automobile horn was heard . The note from that horn was so perfect that Toscanini left it in the recording . I do not remember the symphony.

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  77. Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you, However I am encountering problems with your RSS. I don’t know the reason why I cannot subscribe to it. Is there anybody else having the same RSS problems? Anybody who knows the answer will you kindly respond? Thanks!!

    • We’ve had trouble with this before. Just now we reconfigured the RSS widget in our sidebar, which should contain direct links to the feed files. Let us know if this doesn’t work, and thanks for the good word!

  78. After I originally commented I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added I recieve four emails with the same comment. There has to be an easy method you can remove me from that service? Kudos!

    • I’m afraid there’s no way for us to do it, as far as we can tell, but in the original notification email, there should be a link that will do the trick. We may close comments on this post soon (it has been up for a while).

  79. Amazing when cellphones just started you were the hero if your phone rang – get with it, now you are the $$#$%^&&

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