iPhone stops the New York Philharmonic midway through Mahler’s 9th

Imagine being in the very front row of New York’s Avery Fisher Hall. You’re in the center section, near the aisle on the right-hand side. The New York Philharmonic has come to the quiet part of Mahler’s 9th Symphony, right before the final, thunderous section leading up to the end. Suddenly, a shrill bleeping starts. You realize it’s coming from your jacket pocket. It keeps going. Music Director Alan Gilbert, who had been conducting, finally drops his hands, turns around, and stares you down as the orchestra grinds to a halt. Someone shouts, “Thousand-dollar fine!” What would you do?

Avery Fisher Hall

This isn’t a nightmare particular to over-stressed classical music fans–according to classical music blog Thousandfold Echo, it’s what happened at a recent concert. Someone’s iPhone (set to the jaunty “Marimba” ringtone, apparently) went off in the very front row. Worse yet, it kept going. When the conductor stopped the concert, turned around, and stared the offender down, it still kept going. Thousandfold Echo writes:

Gilbert said something like, “Are you finished?” The guy didn’t move a muscle. Gilbert: “Fine. We’ll wait.” And he turned to the podium and lay down his baton.

As the marimba kept on clanging, someone shouted, “Kick him out!” Another echoed. Some started to clap. But then others shushed the hall down, preventing pandemonium from erupting.

Finally, it stopped. Gilbert: “Did you turn it off?” The guy nodded. Gilbert: “It won’t go off again?” Another nod. Gilbert turned to the audience, and said, “Ordinarily in disturbances like these, it’s better not to stop, since stopping is worse than the disturbance. But this was so egregious, that . . .” (I lost his words here), and the audience burst into boisterous applause.

Phew. It’s tempting to blame the iPhone itself for the death of courtesy, but a comment from a reader reveals that this kind of thing has been going on longer than some would care to admit:

It reminds me of a story Leonard Bernstein used to tell about one performance of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps at Tanglewood, when immediately at the conclusion of the first part — which ends in a raucous, frenzied, blaring climax — some lady in the audience commented, mid-conversation with her companion, “I prefer to use lard.” Bernstein claimed that he would always think of that moment in subsequent performances of that work.

What do you think was going through the iPhone owner’s mind? What would you do in a similar circumstance? Is a thousand-dollar fine an appropriate punishment for ruining a performance of Mahler’s 9th? Let us know in the comments below!

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