Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Alan Gilbert and the persistently ringing iPhone.

I have only heard Alan Gilbert conduct once, at the Met premiere of Doctor Atomic, and I was suitably impressed. I wish that I had more opportunity to hear Gilbert's work with the New York Philharmonic, as I have admired some of his more adventurous programming choices, like ending his first season as music director with Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre and planning to perform Stockhausen's Gruppen at the Park Avenue Armory. I now have even more reason to admire Alan Gilbert thanks to this report from Paul Pelkonen on how the conductor handled a particularly thorny problem at a concert last night in Avery Fisher Hall:
Tuesday night's New York Philharmonic performance of the Mahler Ninth was stopped dead by an unusual instrument - the iPhone.

An iPhone (using the marimba ring-tone) went off repeatedly in the fourth movement of Mahler's final completed symphony. According to an eyewitness, the offending phone owner was in the front rows of Avery Fisher Hall when his phone went off, just 13 bars before the last page of the score. In other words, in the final moments of a 25-minute movement, that ends a 90-minute symphony.

"Mr. Gilbert was visibly annoyed by the persistent ring-tone, so much that he quietly cut the orchestra," the concert-goer reports. She related how the orchestra's music director turned on the podium towards the offender. The pause lasted a good "three or four minutes. It might have been two. It seemed long."

Mr. Gilbert asked the man, sitting in front of the concert-master: "Are you finished?" The man didn't respond.

"Fine, we'll wait," Mr. Gilbert said.

The Avery Fisher Hall audience, ripped in an untimely fashion from Mahler's complicated sound-world, reacted with "seething rage." Someone shouted "Thousand dollar fine."

This was followed by cries of 'Get out!' and 'Kick him out!.' Some people started clapping rhythmically but the hall was quieted down. House security did not intervene or remove the offender.

The ringing stopped. "Did you turn it off?" Mr. Gilbert asked.

The man nodded.

"It won't go off again?"

The man shook his head.

Before resuming, Mr. Gilbert addressed the audience. He said: "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."

"We'll start again." The audience cheered.
To read more - including comments from various people who were apparently in the audience last night - click here. Thousandfold Echo also has a post with an eyewitness report and commentary. As a listener who loves Mahler's Ninth, I can appreciate the anger of the audience and conductor at one person's "egregious" disruption of some of the most transcendently beautiful music ever written. I'm also reminded of the following comments from Bernard Haitink, which I've shared here before:
"One of the things I was thinking [in preparing to conduct Mahler's Ninth] was: how can I keep it quiet at the end? Because it's a unique ending, this breaking off of everything and disappearing in the air. And I thought, 'Whatever I do, they [the audience] must be silent.' I don't know what I did, but they were silent! Then you have one or two idiots in the hall shouting 'Bravo!' and the whole thing is broken."
The whole issue of audience noise during concerts is a tricky one, for reasons that Gavin Plumley summarizes well in a recent post at Entartete Musik. One cannot expect audiences to be totally silent, but it is reasonable to actually expect people to turn off their phones during concerts - especially when most concert halls (including Avery Fisher!) explicitly ask them to do so in announcements made before the start of each performance. Individuals who do not or cannot comply with such requests should not be surprised when they receive the strong reaction that Alan Gilbert and the Philharmonic audience offered last night. AMDG.


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