Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter certainly created a stir in the classical world last week after she stopped a performance in Cincinnati to call out a cell phone user, who was then expelled from the concert.
Reactions have been mixed.
Many feel Mutter did the right thing, that recording a live performer is akin to stealing, and that people ought to know better than to do so. Others feel that societal norms have changed, that cell phone use is so commonly permitted in other forms of entertainment that classical music should evolve to permit more of it. Most agree that the whole incident was unfortunate for everyone involved. It sounds like the cell phone user was quite young, and reports conflict over whether she was pleading her case or apologizing to the performer.
Whatever we wish the rules to be about cell phones, I feel that symphonies and classical performers need to make the rules a lot more clear for our audiences.
In Cincinnati, the symphony's rules were that "During the performance: Phones on and silent allowed. Non-flash photography is encouraged during moments of applause. Audio and video recording is not allowed. Please be mindful that the use of smartphones and other devices during concerts can be distracting to others. Tag your photos @CincySymphony or @CincinnatiPops!" I'll say again that they need to add: "Non-flash photography is encouraged during moments of applause and is prohibited during the performance," if that is what they mean. Policies need to be clear and explicit.
That said, what do we actually want those policies to be as we move forward into a future where cell phones are woven into everyday life? Perhaps it would be best to provide picture-taking opportunities out in the lobby and completely prohibit phones being on, inside the concert hall. After all, the symphony could be that haven of quiet in a noisy world, something like meditation, where the interruptions of a cell phone simply will not happen.
Or, there could be special, designated concerts in which cell phone use is completely encouraged, allowing unlimited recordings and photos. (Of course, there are obstacles to this - one would need permission from the musicians union!) Maybe there is a way to allow limited photo-taking inside the hall, during applause and breaks in the music.
Perhaps soloists should come out on stage and say, "Okay, take your picture now, then turn off your phone! Once I start playing, no photos or recording..." Seems extreme, but performers in other genres have done this.
Whatever the policy, how do we communicate it? It might not be enough to have a small paragraph about it on the symphony's website or in the back of the program. Is it necessary to make an announcement before every performance? Possibly. What other ways would be helpful?
And then how do symphonies and classical venues enforce the policies? Should ushers aggressively police the audience before and during performances?
We haven't even brought up the most common offense - when the cell phone simply rings during the performance!
I'd like this vote to start a discussion about how symphonies can handle cell phones at concerts, specifically what the rules should or could be, and how those rules could be enforced. Please choose the answer that seems closest to your feelings about the matter, and then let us know what you think we can do to prevent the interruption and humiliation of an incident such as the one that happened last weekend in Cincinnati.
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