Friday, January 13, 2012

 

Mahler, Marimba, Manners and the New York Philharmonic

Maybe you've read the reports about the iPhone interruption at the NY Philharmonic on Tuesday, January 10th. I was there. I Tweeted about it as soon as I got home. The story keeps building, and there are a few things that are being left out, and so I thought I'd just write up my own feelings about the whole thing here.

Thinking back, I'm pretty sure the phone started ringing *before* the 4th movement. It kept ringing and ringing and ringing. I don't mean it rang 4 times and then shut off and went to voicemail. I mean, it rang at least 10 times. Maybe 20. And then it would stop. And then it would start again.

I thought the phone was abandoned. I thought maybe it was backstage, by the door and had been forgotten by someone who was calling repeatedly to find the phone. I do that sometimes. I can't find my phone in my apartment, and so I call it and it rings and rings and stops and I call again until I can find it. That's what the ringing was like at the NY Philharmonic that night. We aren't talking about 4 rings and then straight to voicemail. We are talking about incessant ringing. For at least a half an hour (on and off. On and off). And this is why I think the ringing started during the second movement.

The woman behind me forgot to turn off her cell phone too. When it rang during the first movement, she jumped and turned it off and was deeply embarrassed. Her son scolded her in between movements. She told him to shut up. Then they were all quiet. This was annoying, but it's a part of going to concerts now. I hate that it's a part of concerts--just like I hate that people seem incapable of *not* unwrapping candies during the opera. I hate that the candies are opened slowly--like that's going to be less of a nuisance (note: unwrap your candies pre-performance, put them in a baggie, and pull them out of the baggie if you need them so badly).

As for the infamous iPhone--the man who owned it made no move to turn if off. There was no lurch to turn off the phone. Why? Why not jump and turn off the phone? Along the way, the orchestra played loudly--here is a clip of how loud Mahler's 9th can get: That's loud enough for most people to ignore the Marimba. But now put the cursor to 9:05 to 9:10. That is not loud enough to cover up a marimba. Note, according to Youtube, that the last movement has now been going on for at least 9 minutest. That's 9 minutes of a constant iPhone ringing.

Some have suggested that Alan Gilbert should not have stopped. But at that point, the iPhone was beyond rude. I was incredulous that it kept on ringing--and that its owner hadn't done something about the noise. I couldn't believe that no one sitting next to him was nudging him or doing anything to get him to shut down the phone. And that is why I thought, initially, that the phone didn't have an owner. That's how bad it was.

During the break, as Gilbert engaged the audience--the phone KEPT ON RINGING. Like-you'd think that as soon as you realized that the orchestra has *stopped playing because of you* that you would *turn off the phone*. The man didn't turn off the phone. We just sat there--waiting for the ringing to stop. That's when someone in the balcony yelled; "Just walk outside." Which seemed like a reasonable suggestion. But the man didn't go outside. And we kept sitting there. While the phone rang.

At last it stopped. But because it had also rung in previous movements, I wasn't sure the hall would be quiet. According to news reports, Gilbert extracted a promise that the phone had been shut off. I didn't realize this. I was just tense and worried for the remainder of the performance (which was a shame, because the orchestra sounded *great*).

And as for Gilbert--he showed he had some cojones that night. I liked him for confronting the audience member--and then apologizing so courteously to all of us. He had balls and class. I remembered years ago when I went to see M. Butterfly on Broadway and a woman came in late to her seat and David Dukes absolutely skewered her. It was uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable to have the suspension of disbelief broken like that. It's even worse, I think, that manners have broken down so much. I say this as a relatively "young" person who wasn't even alive during the height of thank you notes and please and thank you. But it really is now as though we all think we are in our own living rooms, and we are not.

On a related note--my next concert going will be to see Lang Lang, the pianist, whom some might remember I talked about for a presentation at the Knitting Factory during my book tour.I had the audience do a blind listening to Lang Lang and Rubenstein doing Chopin. I read reviews of both players, emphasizing the whole "too Asian," "too emotional," "too technical" thing, and then had the audience guess which recording belonged to whom. Finally I will get to hear Lang Lang myself. I can't wait.

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