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Classical Notes

Classical Notes: January 11, 2012 Archive

"Please, turn off all electronic devices!"

Posted at 1:47 PM on January 11, 2012 by Samuel Kjellberg (9 Comments)

electronic punishment.jpg

We have all experienced it before: the clanging cell phone piercing its way between the middle of a concert, followed by the whispering shuffle as everyone is trying to locate the perpetrator. It seems so interesting that these interruptions still occur considering the massive amounts of "Please, turn off all electronic devices" that surround the concert-goer's experience.

Classical music and its musicians have not been well-prepared for this. We don't have ancient treatises' for conductors and musicians that explain a counteraction to the rude disturbance, our editions can't seem to catch up to the trends. The electronic device is a new demon lurking at the concert halls and has been dealt with in a multitude of ways.

Well, one such disturbance happened in outrageous form last night during a New York Philharmonic concert at Avery Fischer Hall. This time it was not lightly brushed aside but was confronted in full-force by Maestro Alan Gilbert.

The orchestra was playing Gustav Mahler's 9th Symphony, an extremely important piece, not only for Mahler himself, but for the orchestra because of their close relationship with Mahler during the last years of his life.

Imagine this... Fourth movement. About 85 minutes into a 90 minute work. Orchestra at a pianissimo. Quieting down from a climax into serenity; a sighing breath from the Mahler storm. All are transcendent into what can only be described as the "Ecstasy of Mahler." Then, about 15 measures until the final page turn... CUE: Marimba cell-phone ringtone...

Mahler did not write for marimba. In fact, the marimba hadn't even made its way into any radar of any classical composer at the time. This confused Gilbert and when it did not cease, it upset him.

Gilbert stopped the orchestra, turned to the man, who happened to be in the front row and had this conversation:

"Are you finished?"

No Response.

"Fine, we'll wait."

Audience chimes in: "Thousand dollar fine!" "Get out!" "Kick him out!"

"Did you turn it off?"

Man nods.

"It won't go off again?"

Man shook his head.

After a final apologetic address to the audience he turned to the orchestra and asked them to start at 118. They finished the symphony in glorious fashion!

Of course, this is only one way to counteract such a disturbance. Perhaps Alan Gilbert was a little harsh. Perhaps he was right on the money. Perhaps the man in the front row had a wife in labor, or in the hospital, or any other possible emergencies that would need immediate contact. You could say, "Well, why are you at a concert then?" But, keep in mind he had a front row seat; those seats can cost well over $120, on an easy night.

Either way, the epidemic of electronic device disturbance is becoming an issue. So, I want to ask you: "How do you think these sorts of disturbances should be dealt with?"

Please, leave a comment. Let's get this conversation going! Maybe, with enough input, we could write that treatise that all conductors have been waiting to read.

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