iPhone's marimba halts New York Philharmonic

A ringing and persistent iPhone marimba ringtone stops Mahler's Ninth Symphony dead. It being New York, the audience gets upset.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Because people are sadly imperfect, cell phones ring at the most inopportune times.

It happens in the movies. It happens in the opera. Rarely, though, does the art come to a halt because of a recalcitrant marimba.

And yet MSNBC intones with the tale of an iPhone that rang, kept on ringing and interfered so much with Mahler's Ninth Symphony that the conductor downed his baton and the fiddlers dropped their bows.

It was last Tuesday night. It was the New York Philharmonic. And it was, allegedly, an elderly man with a ringer on loud.

He would not have been amused. CC Piano Piano!/Flickr

It was near the end of the symphony--one, like most of Mahler's, full of dramatic chapters.

This was a symphony that Mahler never heard performed. Please imagine what he must have thought, looking down from a heavenly cloud, to hear a digital marimba wreck the mood.

The Superconductor blog-- of course it's about music, not tech--offered, with additional evidence from the ThousandFold Echo blog, that people in audience shouted "$1,000 fine." Which was surely someone from Wall Street.

It being New York, some also shouted "Kick him out!"

The conductor, Alan Gilbert, halted the performance. He reportedly asked the gentleman whether it would go off again. The gentleman replied that it wouldn't.

Gilbert then reportedly addressed the audience: "I apologize. Usually, when there's a disturbance like this, it is best to ignore it, because addressing it is sometimes worse than the disturbance itself. But this was so egregious that I could not allow it."

The problem, of course, is leniency.

More artistic establishments should follow the example of America's greatest movie theater, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. It believes in the Texan style of threat. It tells people not to so much as think about cell phone use during a movie.

It emphasizes its point by declaring in advance: "Follow our rules, or get the hell out and don't come back until you can."

Last year, one young lady thought she'd flaunt her arrogance. She texted. The Alamo shamed her in a quite brilliant ad.

Though the Philharmonic might think itself beneath such aggression, perhaps it ought, in advance of every performance, to explain quite forcefully what might happen should a cell phone interrupt the bassoons.

Instead of merely threatening to eject anyone who interferes with the artists, better it should threaten to lock them in a cloakroom, insert some white headphones into their ears, and subject them to a couple of hours of the early works of the Mutants.

I feel sure that such severe action might preserve the integrity of live classical music in the face of all the digital threats that currently face it.