NY Phil. conductor stops concert for cell phone interruption

January 12, 2012 at 05:11 PM · New York Philharmonic Interrupted by Chimes Mahler Never Intended

Replies (33)

January 12, 2012 at 06:05 PM · I thought centuries ago people talk/throw tomatoes/applause anytime they feel like in a performance. lol

I never bring cellphone to a concert, but I'll not go to listen to that orchestra again if they stop the music for non-emergency reason. I'd prefer them to play the movement again in an encore, but it makes no sense to stop and ask whose was it... Of course nobody will admit or otherwise the ringtone will stop the first moment it rang!

Audiences have the right to be angry at the cellphone owner for sure because the ringtone ruin their moment, but I strongly disagree with the unprofessional action done by NY Phil. Will a flight crew said in a landing phase 300ft above the ground "Somebody left the cellphone on, I'll stop controlling the airplane until the cellphone is off!"? No! They just want to bring more angry audiences to stand on their side. In fact most angry audiences are angry because the music stop. People may be angry at the cellphone owner but if the music continue people will just forget about it.

January 12, 2012 at 06:36 PM · If i were the conductor, i would likely have done the same thing. The person with the cell phone obviously knew where they were going for the night, it more than likely wasn't his first day with the cell phone so he knew how loud the ring would be, and even then if it was the first night with the phone than you could have kept it in the car if you don't know how to turn it to vibrate, or off even. I have been to many places where silence is required or highly recommended, and someone has their cell phone go off, it is extremely inconsiderate to the people around them.

The person with the cell phone deserved the humiliation they got.

January 12, 2012 at 07:02 PM · If you stopped the concert for every cell phone (and digital watch hour chime, which are much more common) and people dropping their programs or whispering or coughing or unwrapping cough drops, you'd never get through a concert.

January 12, 2012 at 07:04 PM · My aunt saw Sir Thomas Beecham in England conducting a concert in the 1950's, after a few bars someone started rustling sweet papers. Beecham stopped the orchestra, turned to the person concerned and said "when we have finished eating our sweets we will continue the concert". He waited until he was convinced the person was completely silent and then started the work again.

The conductor was right in my opinion.

January 12, 2012 at 07:19 PM · An announcement should be made to the audience, prior to the beginning of the concert, that all cell phones should be off or set to "vibrate". A similar notice should be printed in the program. After two such admonitions, if a cell phone rings during the performance, the offending phone owner deserves any amount of humilation that befalls them. In the case of repeat offenders (if they can be identified), being tossed from the balcony (either the phone or the person!) should be the next option. :)

January 12, 2012 at 07:54 PM · This incident was particularly egregious: a phone ringing loudly, over and over and over, with its owner making no attempt to silence it. An announcement was made prior to the concert about phones, and I have no doubt a notice was printed in the program. Besides this, kids, it's 2012 and cell phones are nothing new. You should know the rules. Gilbert did the right thing.

January 12, 2012 at 07:56 PM ·

January 12, 2012 at 08:17 PM · When I was a little bit younger I saw Andres Segovia give a solo concert to a packed house in Bristol's 2000-seater Colston Hall, sans microphone. In those days mobile (cell) phones were unknown, and I don't think digital watches were all that common. Anyway, the slightest noise, rustling of paper or clothing, a cough or sneeze (it was in mid-winter) would have killed any note Segovia was playing at that moment. But the audience was as perfect as his playing; every note and nuance was heard by all. The high-light of the programme was the Bach Chaconne.

January 12, 2012 at 08:30 PM · Update:


The NY Phil has found out who the man was, but they're not identifying him publicly. He had just bought a new iPhone and didn't know that an alarm could still go off when the phone was set on silent; so when he heard it, he didn't think it was his phone at first.

January 12, 2012 at 08:37 PM · Trevor: wow, that must have been a LONG time ago if everyone in the audience cared so much about the music.

Shen-Han: if you were familiar with (a) the ending of Mahler's 9th and (b) the emotional atmosphere in a concert hall where Mahler's 9th is being performed, you might feel differently.

January 12, 2012 at 08:45 PM · Gilbert did the right thing.

Once at one of my own recitals, a friend's cell phone went off during a soft expressive passage (-isn't it always at soft expressive moments?-) in the Hebrew Melody by Achron. Unable to silence it, he noisily walked out. I wanted to kill him! I probably wouldn't have succeeded though, considering that this friend was also my former Kung-Fu teacher!

January 12, 2012 at 08:50 PM · Bruce,

I well remember the end of Das Lied von der Erde at the Cleveland Orchestra a few years ago. Unfortunately, it ended precisely at 10pm, and a chorus of watch alarms dotted the audience around the entire Severance hall. Actually, it was an interesting effect. Maybe they should have called it "Das Lied von der Erde pour fin du temps"?

Anyway, stopping a concert is a drastic option--you can't really get away with it more than once in a great while. Most people will be mortified if their phone goes off and will probably not let it happen again, so there's no reason to humiliate them. These days, orchestras have to be careful--that careless person could have just donated a large amount of money or be an influential board member. You have to be careful dropping a nuclear bombe, especially if it's in your own backyard...

I once had a snoring vagrant in one of my doctoral recitals--you don't stop. You play on.

January 12, 2012 at 08:50 PM · During a Mozart's Requiem performance here the conductor got very irritated about a sound he thought was a cell phone... As a matter of fact the sound was of the high registers of the organ, the conductor's ears in that day were quite bad!!!


January 12, 2012 at 09:01 PM · Bruce, about 45 years ago, give or take.

January 12, 2012 at 10:11 PM · when i go to a concert, it means i paid at least 100.00 for the tickets, 26.00 to park, and perhaps another 50 to 100.00 for a decent dinner prior to the event. It's special. Given the costs, and given that this would be the equivelent of a first class orchestra, i want it to be perfect. Extraneous and generally controllable noises from the audience kills the whole thing. at that point the conductor stopping, waiting and resuming from an appropriate place, would recover the situation, ie it would make me feel better. He showed some real chutzpah......Bravo

January 13, 2012 at 12:10 AM · Bravo! I've heard the occasional cell phone go off during a concert, but never in the first row or for so long.

While we're on the subject of disturbances, though, what about coughing or sneezing? I know that sometimes these things happen, but many people don't make the slightest effort to control it - if they have to sneeze, they'll go all out (usually in the middle of a quiet passage). That there's so reliably someone present who will loudly cough or sneeze during a performance makes me wonder whether one or more people are specially designated for the job each night.

Perhaps I'm strange, but I know how to prevent a cough or sneeze from happening (on all but the rarest occasions) by swallowing a bit of saliva or rubbing my nose. And if I absolutely can't stop it, I'll at least wait for a loud passage and then lower my head and muffle it as best I can. I don't think that this is too much to ask - it's too bad that many people evidently do.

January 13, 2012 at 12:57 AM · ^ Or, if you feel a sneeze coming on, you can exhale completely first so that when the sneeze happens, there's no air in your lungs to sneeze with. I use this trick all the time.

January 13, 2012 at 02:58 AM · Mahler would have shuddered, but John Cage would have seized the moment to find meaning in the irony.

Really, though modern technology has a way of impinging upon our lives, even when we try to escape for a brief while. No turning back, I'm afraid.

January 13, 2012 at 04:23 AM · http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/13/nyregion/ringing-finally-stopped-but-concertgoers-alarm-persists.html?hp

It's nice to know that the man (identified only as "Patron X") feels terrible about it --- not because I want him to feel terrible, although that's OK too, but because it shows he wasn't the self-entitled jerk that "won't turn off my cell phone" makes us think of.

January 13, 2012 at 04:26 AM · Bruce: I know the piece. I'm not saying cellphone went off in a concert is acceptable, but the phone went off already nevertheless right? Then what's the point to stop? If it's the emotional atmosphere you care about, then in that movement toward the end a cough will spoil it already. But if you want to listen to no-error no-coughing version then you should really listen to CD. So I totally don't feel any differently on my opinion for the music should not stop. It does not help the situation!

January 13, 2012 at 05:04 AM · ^ Well, it was actually an alarm, not a phone call, so it was continuing to go off and would have continued (and continued and continued) until the end of the piece, by which point it would have been louder than the music. If that is not a problem for you at that moment in that piece, then you are stronger than I am.

January 13, 2012 at 01:57 PM · the point of stopping the concert was the conductors method of taking corrective action. given that the audience received fair warning, it was appropriate, otherwise this will happen again.

January 13, 2012 at 05:10 PM · Arnie, people who ignore warning will keep ignoring the warning. It is just a fact. It's in human being throughout the history if you do read history. People who turns off their cellphone like you and me and probably a lot of people on this site will still turn our cellphone off, and the people who don't still don't care. In addition, unless you are in that concert and you are the one causing the noise, who would remember about this news after a month or two? I personally saw music performance student's cellphone rang in a concert before... That's why I don't see the reason to stop.

Classical concert is not as bad, as most people who still go to live classical concert are more of the type either pure music lover, upper class or to pretend to be upper class. The first one for sure will respect performers, and the later two usually don't want to do that to lose faces in front of friends or on the news the next day, so you'll probably only hear cellphone rang in a very popular concert or some concert with cheaper price in the church or some similar venue. But hack just go to movie theatre and you'll understand about such warning is totally useless for most people.

January 13, 2012 at 05:35 PM · I, for one, feel bad for the guy. Before I get flamed, I will preface my comments by saying that I don't disagree with the conductor for stopping or asking the guy to turn off the phone.

But for this incident to go national? People have been more than happy to fill in any details they didn't have on the situation and then universally declare him to be a self-entitled jerk for having his cell phone accidentally ring during a concert. And honestly, for those who think that the guy would have just sat there and let the phone continue to ring? No. I'm sure he was scrambling to get that thing turned off.

I'd like to know who hasn't had something embarrassing like that happen in public before. So maybe your cell phone hasn't gone off in a concert. But trust me, if any of us admitted to it, we have all had a moment like that. Maybe we could cut the guy some slack? At least our mistakes weren't broadcasted across the country.

I have sat under the type of conductors who would stop a concert for some kind of noise like that and I've sat under others who wouldn't dream of it. Sure the ideal is complete silence to soak in whatever happens to be on the program. But you're dealing with a live performance and things like that happen. We're human...at least most violinists admit to being human. If you want musical perfection than go home and listen to a CD with your headphones on.

But it's sad that this incident even made the local news let alone nationally. I suppose it's because it involved the NY Phil but even so it shouldn't of happened.

January 13, 2012 at 05:42 PM · My initial reaction has now mellowed a bit. Bruce, thanks for the update about it being an alarm. I also recently got an iphone and would have assumed that putting it on vibrate silenced the alarm as well. Just to be sure, I turn my phone completely off, but I even needed a friend to show me how to do this, so I can almost sympathize with the offender at this point. Test out your marimba ringtone in a crowded bookstore and watch all the hands reach for their phone and you might see how he thought it must be someone else's phone. So many say, "keep it in your car." As someone who has had three phones stolen - twice when I left them in the car - I'd say this is not a reasonable suggestion for an item that will cost hundreds to replace. Not to mention that a patron at a NY Phil concert probably took a cab. Shame that the poor guy had to learn about his phone's features this way, though.

On the other hand, I have played in a concert in which a cell phone went off on stage. It was the adagio from Beethoven's Ninth and the phone was in a violin case that the player had kept under his chair (against the policy of the orchestra, but there you go). Thank goodness this wasn't an alarm or it could have ruined the performance rather than being a small nuisance.

January 13, 2012 at 06:54 PM · By the way, some phones DO turn themselves on and whine if you did set an alarm. Turn the cellphone off, for some phone, doesn't avoid the alarm. So the best is just don't bring any cellphone to a concert.

January 14, 2012 at 04:27 AM · Yes, from the discussion it looks like this was more of an innocent error than an inconsiderate audience member. however, i still would like to know why some people feel complelled to know when the top of the hour hits.....from the digital watch alarms....or do they not know how to turn them off?????

Shen, i would bet after this experience, the patron with the new iphone will remove the iphone battery ( no easy task), to make sure that phone makes no noise at the next concert.

January 14, 2012 at 05:56 AM · What's a watch?

January 14, 2012 at 01:34 PM · Now that I know the back-story, I'll cut the guy some slack. I'm bumfuzzled by technology often enough to understand his sketchy understanding of his new phone's operation.

I must say I'm suprised by how far the story traveled in the general media. It even showed up last night on a local news broadcast here in Northern Indiana! Slow news day???

January 14, 2012 at 06:10 PM · To me, cell phone is a leash. Treating it this way and carrying it around only when necessary could save a lot of grief.

January 15, 2012 at 04:41 AM · That's the strange thing Bev, according to the first article he was not scrambling to turn it off, even at the point when other people were identifying him as the offender.

A number of factors went into Gilbert's actions: the mood of the piece, the continuous ringing, the fact that it came from the front row of all places, the seemingly inexplicable failure of the ushers to do their job.

I appreciate that the man apologized, but I'm not positive I buy the story. This was not his first foray into the world of 'smart' phones, unlike, say, my grandma; he had previously used a Blackberry. I'm not an Apple person but is the mechanism THAT different? Seems to me that the first thing anybody learns is how to turn the device on and off. Why take chances? Turn it completely off. His tale also differs from Gilbert's version in that he says he took it out and fumbled with it, whereas Gilbert says he stuck his hand in his pocket and the ringing stopped. If you can do it without looking, you can do it before the concert.

I think a lot of people are just plain fed up with the state of cell phone etiquette, or the lack thereof, and it was just the last straw.

Coughing is a different matter -- that's just being human. Sometimes it is extremely uncomfortable to try to suppress.

January 15, 2012 at 05:53 AM · Nicole: As I said above some phone (not iPhone though) will still go off even if you turn off the phone but alarm is set (a few Nokia phones do that). I know people who's cellphone was turn on by the alarm. There're also a big debate in the cellphone company to wether they should turn on the phone when the alarm is set. The debate goes on for a couple years now... It's just you got to know your devices and don't bring one if you don't know. That's why I don't bring my cellphone to concert because I've used so many that I know there're chances for one to go off even if you turn off.

January 22, 2012 at 01:46 AM · I saw this discussion a few day ago and thought this was quite relevant.


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