Thursday, January 12, 2012

Alan Gilbert wants you to turn off your cell phone

It's pretty rare when a performance by the New York Philharmonic is covered on the local television newscasts or in the tabloids. But the orchestra and music director Alan Gilbert's performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony made the news the other night.

The scourge of the modern concert hall (not high ticket prices or ultra-conservative programming), but a ringing cell phone chimed in during the hushed finale of the Symphony. According to reports it wasn't just one ring, but one continuous ring. Gilbert stopped the performance, spun around on the podium and signaled for the phone to be turned off. It wasn't. Gilbert reportedly said to the phone's owner, "You have a phone...Fine, we'll wait." Audience members pointed out the offender and shouted "Throw him out!" After the phone was quieted, Gilbert apologized to the audience, "Usually, when there's a disturbance like this, it is best to ignore it, but this was so egregious." Cue audience applause. 

I don't know Maestro Gilbert personally, but I've seen him on the podium, watched him in videos and attended a press conference this past summer where he spoke eloquently and intelligently about the composer Carl Nielsen. Alan Gilbert seems to be a nice man and not quick to anger. Maybe that's the problem. Perhaps audiences would be a bit more attentive to the mute button on their phone ringers or, oh wonders, turn the things off when entering the concert hall if there was a fire-breathing conductor on the podium. You know, a conductor with a reputation for breaking batons and stomping the foot. How would some legendary conductors of the past deal with cell phones, texting, crinkling plastic bags, clanging jewelry and other intrusions on a performance?

How about Fritz Reiner and his legendary temper? A musician reportedly once said that "Any day he failed to lose his temper was a day when he was too sick to conduct." 

You! Turn off that cell phone!

George Szell's scathing sarcasm and temper intimidated plenty of the Cleveland Orchestra's players. Szell was not easy to love and his feud with Metropolitan Opera boss Rudolf Bing is legend. Told by a colleague that Szell was his own worst enemy, Bing replied, "Not while I'm alive!"

Szell commands silence.

 If you can find it, there's an audio recording of Arturo Toscanini raging during a rehearsal. I wasn't even born when the recording was made, but it scares me to death. Toscanini didn't mince words, and when a musician would flub a passage he would run through a litany of abuse calling the player a "swine," "shoemaker" and "assassin." 

Would you dare anger this man?
Bravo to Maestro Gilbert for calling out the violator, but how much more punitive would it have been if he also called the person a shoemaker and an assassin?

--Craig Zeichner
Editor, Ariama

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Even if this wasn't the freaking New York Philharmonic it'd still be disrespectful. I mean I used to get mad when I was in primary school performances and people had their cell phones on and they rang. I saw a YouTube clip the other day you might like to add to this post or just for fun. The violinist is playing and a phone goes off and he copies it. Here's the link.

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