Classical Music Cultural Comment

Let the Marimbas Run Free. Ringtone Stops Concert! Silliness in New York.

Last week, the Twitter feeds of those who follow Classical Music links was alight with the one story. Mahler’s 9th Symphony was being played. A man, earlier that day, received a brand new iPhone and had no idea that it had an alarm function. He put the phone on silent, but the alarm started. And he no idea how to stop it. For minutes, the New York Philharmonic audience heard the marimba sound. And then the conductor, Alan Gilbert, STOPPED THE PERFORMANCE. STOPPED. Gasp. Never before has the mighty New York Philharmonic been stopped by anything.  Not even the Great Depression.  Poor people can starve outside, but you can be assured the NY Phil will continue to play on. Except now it was brought down by that wicked NEW TECHNOLOGY. And the conductor turned around and berated the poor bloke trying to switch his phone off. The bloke in question didn’t sleep for two days afterwards.

Because it was New York, now the rest of the world have heard about it. Ad nauseam. Want to read about it? Being New York, so many have written about it. How about from the NY Times Blog, the blog from instant blogger superstar Max Kinchen,  another blogger,  more blogging fury, the Economist, actually, according to Google, 504 articles. However, for a comprehensive coverage, just go to the blog of Norman Lebrecht, a classical music writer I liked once upon a time. On this, though, he has been just as precious as the rest of the people. Just read about it, like I did. Like a sap.

Though I do like this “recreation” of what the concert would have sounded like.

The best part of the Kinchen blog sums up the panic:

Whatever the reason, the phone kept on ringing. 

This is when things started to get interesting…

“Get out!” came an angry call from one of the balconies. Call is a nice way of putting it, this shout was almost more of a growl than coherent words. 

“Shut it off!” Came another voice.

The aggression and anger in the voices of these people was palpable. Soon, a whole chorus of “Turn off the phone!” and “Throw them out!” was rising from around me in the auditorium. 

I can’t describe the tension in that room and possibly do it justice, The way the people were shouting made it seem like they were calling for the phone’s owner’s head on a platter. They wanted blood! This crowd of largely elderly, well dressed, seemingly cultured and sophisticated people were shouting and screaming like a group of island natives demanding a sacrifice. 

And still the phone kept ringing. 

The calls got louder, there was a sense of movement in the sector the phone was coming from. What were those people preparing to do?

And still it kept ringing. 

Finally, finally finally, mercifully, it stopped. 

“Is it gonna go off again?” Alan Gilbert asked. I guess the answer was no because Gilbert then turned to the rest of us and said “Normally, when such a disturbance comes up during a performance, the thing to do is to ignore it but this was so egregious that I had no choice but to stop. I apologize.”

At this point the place erupted in thunderous, intense, aggressive applause. This ovation was louder than the one when he eventually finished the piece later on. Some people gave a standing ovation.

This got me thinking. Did the crime of the phone going off really match the response it got? Granted, it was annoying and embarrassing for us in the audience and I think Alan Gilbert did the right thing by stopping the show, but I was perplexed at the response of the crowd as a whole. 

Whoever had owned the phone had made an honest mistake, one that just about anyone else in the audience could possibly have made, yet here, at Lincoln Center, listening to The Symphony, this violation was enough to draw the ire and ill will of hundreds of people. Sophisticated people who had come for a night of culture and music and proceeded to be reduced, for a few moments, to the early stages of an angry mob.

I really wonder how these people would have coped in the old days, when people talked right through operas and concerts. When concerts were a form of friendly entertainment, instead of the frigid quasi-religious ceremonies we see today.

Me? It probably would have been annoying, but that happens sometimes. Conductors, however, should never stop a concert, no matter what. Nor should he ever berate anyone who has shelled out his hard earned cash for years as a subscriber. Of course, because audiences love a good bitching, he got applause. How dare people like NEW TECHNOLOGY and bring it with them to a concert hall.

The whole thing sounded like a Seinfeld episode. Whenever I watched Seinfeld, I used to think “oh, surely people in a city can’t be that precious, selfish and vicious”. It’s pretty clear that Seinfeld was spot on.  If I ever went to New York, I would be really inclined to take a forest of mobiles and plant them throughout the concert hall. Set the alarms and let the marimbas run free. Only during Alan Gilbert concerts, mind you.

By prestontowers

I had been a teacher observing politics and the media from the outside for some time. I became a political insider, didn't like it much, and hightailed it back to watching it again. And still loving teaching.

One reply on “Let the Marimbas Run Free. Ringtone Stops Concert! Silliness in New York.”

Awesome. I thought your response to this high and mighty “frigid quasi-religious ceremony” (LOL) was entirely accurate. As irritating as the phone was, it behoves an orchestra to continue and focus its energy on the music. I have played in orchestras where we compete with African dance rhythms in the background, and the cacophony of crowds in another area of a venue, and certainly the concussions of thunderstorms and the heavy beating of rain on tin roofs (not all together mind you!). Such is the lot of community orchestras – and the band played on…

Way too precious. Perhaps next they’ll stop because someone is breathing too loudly!

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