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Classical 101

Cell Phone Owner Wracked By Insomnia Days After Concert Calamity

You may have seen coverage of a recent New York Philharmonic concert at which conductor Alan Gilbert halted the performance and the audience nearly turned into a mob when a cell phone started ringing during the final otherworldly moments of Mahler's Ninth Symphony. The owner of the errant cell phone has now told the New York Times that, days after the event, he can't sleep. The cell phone owner, identified by New York Philharmonic officials by his front-row seat in Avery Fisher Hall and named in the media only as "Patron X," says he is chagrined. “You can imagine how devastating it is to know you had a hand in that,â€? he told the New York Times. This scenario reminds me of a similar cell phone incident at a concert I attended. It was a glorious concert with world-class musicians. One work on the program was especially pensive and ethereal. The musicians had transported us beyond our mundane surroundings, back to a different time and place. Then a cell phone rang, and it all disappeared like Brigadoon. The musicians soldiered on, the audience showed no signs of aggression and the concert continued. But the episode was unfortunate. Much ink has been spilled in recent years about classical music concert etiquette and its role in the perception of classical music culture as elitist. Some of that commentary has come across as schoolmarmish knuckle-rapping for things like clapping between movements and wearing casual attire. As I've written elsewhere, I maintain there is no problem with clapping between movements - there's actually a tradition of it from earlier eras - and casual attire at classical concerts is just fine in a day when some orchestras encourage their musicians to dress relatively casually to perform those concerts. Judging from the outpouring of commentary about the New York Philharmonic cell phone incident, elitism isn't the issue, but courtesy is. And it seems pretty clear where we all draw the line: anything that threatens or destroys the listening experience of others in the audience should not be done and should be safeguarded against. Once the proverbial fist hits the proverbial nose, we've gone too far. Read more: Ringing Finally Ended, but There's No Button to Stop Shame (NYT)