The front row might seem like the best place to get some cell-phone imagery of a world-class performer, but on Saturday night violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter would have none of that.
Mutter was was right in the middle of playing the second movement of Beethoven's Violin Concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, with guest conductor Eun Sun Kim, when she stopped playing and pointed to the front row, according to reporter Janelle Gelfand of the Cincinnati Business Courier.
"A confrontation of several minutes ensued, with Mutter exclaiming, 'Either I will leave, or you will put away your phone and recording device,' while the person stood up and spoke to her, seeming to be pleading her case," wrote Gelfand. "Finally, CSO president Jonathan Martin appeared and escorted the disruptor out, to the applause of the audience."
After that, Mutter resumed playing the rest of the Beethoven from the second movement, followed by an encore, the Sarabande from J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor.
What a remarkable turn of events.
Most symphonies and concert halls have policies against taking videos of performers onstage. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's policy states: "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!"
Their policy encourages non-flash photography, but not video or audio recording. It's worth noting that such policies at such venues have changed in recent years. Before cell phones, most concert halls prohibited camera use during concerts, except by designated photographers and filmmakers who had permission (painstakingly procured). In the early days of cell phones, cell phone use was strictly prohibited during symphony concerts. They were to be turned off and stowed away.
But symphonies and other groups have come to understand the value in the Instagram photo and the Twitter tag. That Internet publicity helps generate publicity and buzz - take a photo and tag us! But don't take a video...
This is very difficult to enforce. I know that if I'm trying to get a really good photograph of someone who is in motion, I might be holding my cell phone up for a long period of time, trying to catch that moment. It might look like I'm taking a video. Likewise, a person could be taking a video and then try to argue, "But I was just taking a picture!" It's pretty hard to tell the difference. Should the ushers have to police cell-phone use during concerts? And how exactly would that work?
Also, it must be very disconcerting for a live performer to find herself or himself playing for a cellphone rather than a human face, or a sea of cellphones rather than an audience of humans. Where do we draw the line, between connecting an audience and a live performer -- and reaping the publicity from all those photos and tags on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook?
Beyond that, HOW do we draw the line?
Mutter just showed us one way. But I don't think she -- or other performers -- should have to shoulder that responsibility. I hope we can find some better solutions.
It sounds like there are some social media reports from audience members that contradict the account of this in the Cincinnati Business Journal; Classic FM quotes from them: "'The story has it wrong,' one concertgoer wrote on Instagram. 'The person with the phone stood up and was extremely embarrassed and was immediately apologizing in broken English, bowing in respect, and went out by choice crying.'"Tweet
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