Ringing iPhone stops New York Philharmonic

Photo: Ferenc Szelepcsenyi / Shutterstock.com

The New York Philharmonic's Tuesday performance of Mahler's Ninth symphony was halted by an unwelcomed sound: someone's ringing iPhone (using the marimba ringtone). It rang repeatedly in the fourth movement of Mahler's final completed symphony. From Super-Conductor:

According to an eyewitness, the offending phone owner was in the front rows of Avery Fisher Hall when his phone went off. (A post by Michael Jo on the classical music blog thousandfoldecho.com specifies that the interruption happened 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, music student Kyra Sims, 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."

The original eyewitness story at thousandfoldecho.com. (Thanks, Miles O'Brien!)


  1. What?  Should I not have done that?

    On a more serious note, we used to turn our cellphones off for a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Even in that debacherous, maniacal, ridiculous environment we had the respect for the audience to avoid that particular distraction, even while people were shouting “Asshole!” and “Slut!” at the top of their lungs…

  2. Good. Having Mahler interrupted like that is akin to having an hour-long tantric sex session interrupted by the Jehovah’s Witnesses beating mercilessly on the front door.

  3. i find the default Marimba tone so obnoxious, i don’t blame them. change your ringtones and turn them off in theaters, people!

  4. I witnessed a similar halt years ago at a performance of the Seattle Symphony when someone’s child would not stop whining. The conductor actually asked the patron to take their child and leave the hall.

  5. I will point out that my iPhone has a nasty habit of turning itself off of silent in my pocket (I blame the slider). 

    That being said, bravo for the conductor refusing to put up with that crap. Some things are sacred. 

    1. Exactly, I have the same problem after I installed iOS5. It has a big problem either activating Voice Control or turning any music on. Silent or not !

      1. If you are at a cinema, concert, funeral, wedding, church, in a courthouse, etc… turn your phone off.  If you are a doctor, lawyer or someone else who thinks they are important …do not go to quiet places.  If you do not like these restrictions then tough shit.

        If your phone goes off at one of these quiet events/places then you should be immediately ejected from the premises without apology or monetary refund and, if you complain or whine, banned from all future visits.

        1. If you somehow think you must have access to the phone, also please think twice before whipping it out to read or text.  If you are going to do it, dim your display down to the minimum.

          A year or so back I had an empty seat next to me as the house was going dark – on the other side of that seat was the composer of the work we were about to hear.  Some young person got caught in the aisle as the piece was about to start.  Since he was talking to some musicians I thought we was part of their group, and I offered him the seat as he was looking around in a panic.  

          I don’t think he was a musician at all, though, just a douchebag.  He proceeded to shine his iPhone right in our faces every minute or so.  God knows what was so important that paying attention to the music wasn’t enough.

        2. My point was that the phone itself is now buggy in this regard.

          I wasn’t attempting to condone an ignorant usage of the new feature set you too dismiss as a problem of stupidity.

        3. And I say if you hurl exaggerated rhetoric at something that could easily be addressed with calm reasoning you should be shot on sight. (See, I can do that too!)

  6. A few years ago, I was at a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar in San Francisco.  Jesus had just died on the cross (I hope that’s not a spoiler for anyone), and the music fell until the theater was nearly silent.  From the front, orchestra right, came that formerly-ubiquitous tune that I call That Damned Nokia Ringtone.

    The owner seemed to be too mortified or clueless to turn it off.  I wish the show had stopped, but at that point there was no chance.

  7. Somebody is very lucky that most printed orchestra programmes are too small to make good Millwall bricks…

  8. It appears to have been an elderly gentleman, and so perhaps we give him a pass for not knowing what was going on with his phone (but not too much of a pass).  According to some other comments, the conductor and orchestra were given a standing ovation at the end of the performance, except for this gentleman and his female companion…

    1. There is technology that can suppress cell phone signals and is not too expensive.  This should be routinely used in concert halls since there always seems to be someone that forgets/doesn’t care.

      1. i agree all theatres, concert halls and any other place where cell phones can cause an interuption to the enjoyment of others should have cell phone signal blocking technology installed…  

    1. no, the conductor is more respected then the prima donna. She’s a flash in the pan.

      Plus, this was Mahler, and not ballet.

      1. the conductor is more respected

        Not according to the old musicians’ joke about the difference between a bull and an orchestra (a bull has the horns at the front, and the arsehole at the back).

  9. @Forkboy:twitter  — Nope. We’re not gonna turn this into a “maybe it was the CONDUCTOR being a jerk and not the poor iPhone user who just wanted to make sure he didn’t miss an important call” debate. The iPhone user was 100% in the wrong here and deserved the scorn. Unreal that there are STILL people who want to give rude, inconsiderate people a pass in society.
    If you’re post was in jest, I apologize — didn’t even bother reading the link.

    1. “The cellphone owner is clearly an idiot.” I don’t know how to put it plainer. He’s an idiot, 100% in the wrong and he should be embarrassed.

      That said, what I meant was that unexpected things happen (the link was about riots that broke out during performances of “classical music” in the broad sense.) If this conductor can’t take that without breaking down and going “Oh noes ! Everything is ruined 4 EVAR !”, then maybe he should grow some thicker skin. Classical music is just music. I understand it has been heavily ritualized to the point where it’s supposed to be enjoyed in a very narrow fashion but it’s still just music.

      TL;DR: People who try to make things sacred just get my goat. People are assholes, suck it up and move along.

      1. You’re wrong. Everyone who goes to classical music concerts knows how to act. Yes, it is ritualized. It’s not a rock concert. This was not just something unexpected, but something that was avoidable. The guy was a jerk. The same thing happens in the theater. Brian Denehey interrupted a performance to scold an audience member whose phone was ringing, and who wouldn’t turn it off or answer it. The fourth wall is there for a reason (it doesn’t really exist in rock concerts), and the only one who has the right to bring it down is the director in the theater, or the conductor in classical music.

        Update: Given the new information that the person in question did, indeed, turn off his phone and forgot about an alarm that he had set, I would like to moderate my comment that he is a jerk. He was a bit careless, but no so thoughtless as I had assumed.

      2. Oh please, The Conductor has spent his whole life to get to this point, just to have a pissant with an F-ing Iphone blow the mood.

      3. It’s still just music? The ninth symphony? Really? You mean in the way that foie gras is just squirrel burger? 

        All music performers have thick skin. They understand implicitly the relationship between the musicians and the audience. It exists uniquely in a single time and place. It is a manifest instance of the sublime.

        Perhaps you could consider trying to grow a palette.

      4. TL;DR: People who try to make things sacred just get my goat. People are assholes, suck it up and move along.

        I agree, so I’m going to add: ‘I ♥ Justin Bieber’ to all your comments.

  10. More details: the culprit was an elderly man with a new iPhone.  He had turned off the phone ringer, but some sort of pre-set alarm was still enabled and that’s what was ringing (which explains why it carried on so long).  He had no idea about it and thought it was someone else’s phone until he saw the conductor staring at him.

    1. I guess then we need Phone licenses in order to carry them.

      Otherwise we will continue to be subjected to the ‘reasonable’ whims of the clueless dolts with cash.

    2. but some sort of pre-set alarm was still enabled

      Presumably the alarm reminding him to go to the performance of Mahler’s Ninth symphony. Older people need simple technology. I am currently trying to set my mother up to use google+. Its not easy.

  11. I don’t care if it was Methuselah himself. When you go to a show, especially a live performance, turn the god damned ringer off. Set the phone to “vibrate only” mode. If you’re still not sure if the phone will stay quiet, turn the phone off! Don’t be a jackass.

    1. I’m now to the point where I think vibrate itself isn’t good enough. Turn the phone off. Twitter can wait for 3 hours. In my ideal future, concert halls and movie theaters will be made with lead to block service. People caught with their phone on (not merely using it, mind you, but having it on at all) will be escorted from the premises. Zero tolerance. 

    2. I go to a lot of small theater–often fewer than fifty seats in the house–and “vibrate only” can be VERY loud when it happens in that setting. I’m a strong believer in just turning the damn thing off.

      (for a while, when tiny purse dogs were so “in,” people were bringing their dogs. To the theater. And then explaining later, ‘oh, but they never bark, I don’t know what happened…’)

    3. Apparently in this case he had set it to vibrate but iPhones still make noise for scheduled calendar alerts. I’ve never noticed that myself but that’s what it says following the linked articles. Dude was properly mortified, fwiw.

  12. There’s no excuse anymore for not turning off the ringer ever since the iPhone shipped with a switch. It used to be that you could claim ignorance (the flashing 12:00 excuse) of how to work the options and menus in the phone…

      1. yeah, that switch that you are fully aware is broken yet claim is not your responsibility. Warning: you might be an utter prat.

    1. If you set an “alarm” it’ll still go off in silent mode. That way you can still set the alarm clock while not being woken by phone calls.

    1. I don’t think this would address the problem. The user had a clock alarm set. When the phone is set to silent, the alarm still sounds (but incoming calls/texts are silent). With the phone in Airplane mode, the alarm will still sound; the alarm is not a web-related function and isn’t affected by being in Airplane mode. The solution here is to turn the phone completely off.

      1. I’m pretty sure the alarm on one of my phones used to work even if the phone was switched off. 

  13. ‘The final movement of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony is a slow rumination on mortality, with quiet sections played by strings alone.’ – from the Wall Street Journal article about the incident. A new instrument has been added to the last movement – when Death is calling, don’t answer the phone.

  14. The conductor then called the patron an “ice cream-eating motherfucker” and offered to give him his five dollars back, before launching into “Margin Walker”.

  15. I’m pleasantly suprised at the amount of web coverage and resultant vehement commentary this random event has generated (for example, see the NY Times arts page) …. seriously, this is the single biggest story on my frequently-viewed websites right now, and my geekitude is not strictly limited to classical music.  OTOH I wonder if this would even have made the headlines if they’d been playing, say, Schoenberg.

  16. This happened at a choral concert I attended. The conductor paused, glared at the audience, then realised the phone was onstage — in the purse of one of the performers.

  17. Did you know that unless you are a drug dealer, city trader or neurotic teenager you can actually live without your phone for the length of a concert even if it is Mahler? I know it’s radical. I am just saying.

  18. I don’t get it… people screw up – understandable. But it should NEVER happen again in the same event. WTF is wrong with people.

  19. That reminds me of P.D.Q. Bach concerts where it is standard procedure to stop the performance until a latecomer is seated.

    1. What is this “seating a latecomer” you speak off? The local theatre just closes the the door 5 minutes after the bell. And then it stays closed until the intermission or the end. 

      Case closed.

      Same thing with one of my comp sci profs.  9:15 and the doors get locked.  You miss the class? Cry me a river and be on time next time.  For some miraculous reason, students actually made it to class.

      1. What is this “seating a latecomer” you speak off?

        Some performances have a seating break after the first movement or obvious stopping point.

        1. Many performers do this since traffic is hell everywhere and a little pause or banter with the audience helps with this.

          1. Frankly, if traffic is hell everywhere, everyone can start driving a little earlier.  :)

            No really,  I realise that sometime it’s truly an unforeseen event that sabotages one travel plans, but that’s life.   

  20. This happened to me. New droid phone. Me and all my co-workers had left work early for the cinema, as it was someone’s birthday.

    I’d turned the phone to silent mode.

    And then, at a silent part of the movie, my alarm kicked in, saying it was time to go home from work. So I grabbed it out, turned off the alarm…. and then compounded my error by turning the phone off.

    And the “turning off” jingle played, unstoppably, and loudly. Even though I had muted THAT in the settings a couple days previously. An update had “fixed” the muting, apparently.

    Mortifying. Lesson learned, but only by me: every other new-phone-owner will need to learn this same lesson.

    It would be nice if, instead, the phone companies would understand that when we turn the phone to silent, we don’t mean “don’t announce incoming calls” (though that’s a good setting that should probably exist too), we mean and expect it to “really, be silent!” – as if we had unplugged the speaker.

    Anything else is appalling UI design.

    At least on droid, there’s probably an app to fix this, and if I root the phone I can replace the turn-on/turn-off jingles with silent mp3s… but having been burned, I simply don’t trust it any more. So now, I remove the battery on entering any kind of theatre.

    1. I think a battery check, similar to a coat check, is something I’ll be instituting in any audience space someone asks me about.

      I applaud your forward thinking and concern for your fellow audience members!

    2. The “turning off” jingle is perhaps the single worst innovation in the history of the mobile phone.  99.9% of the time when someone is turning their phone off they’re doing it because they want it to be silent. 

      1. Followed by the turing on jungle.   I’m looking at the freaking screen!  Why the hell would I need audible feedback that it’s on? Unless I’m blind, of course, that it should be a setting in the assisted services. Though vibration would totally suffice. 

  21. In the spirit of the article I recently saw on dining-out etiquette (all diners place cell phones on table; first to pick up his or her phone during the meal also picks up the tab) I think the offender should pay for the tickets of the rest of the audience.

      1. Why… so it would!

        Although I feel less uncharitable toward the malefactor after reading today’s NYT piece which digs into the circumstances.

  22. Good thing it didn’t happen in Los Angeles at the Bowl or the Dorothy Chandler. The guy would’ve taken the call.

  23. Off, turn it off before you go in to the theater, restaurant, concert hall, bedroom whatever. Unless you’re an EMT or a Dr. on call turn that damned thing off.

  24. I was embarrassed enough when my phone went off during a movie this Christmas vacation. To my defense I had no idea that even though you can put an iPhone on silent vibrate, if you have a count down timer going, that alarm will still go off (I was cooking earlier)…

    1. Not that it’s TOO big of a deal for most people attending a movie, but… NO, ignorance is not a defense here. Shut down / sleep the whole OS by holding the Deactivate button.

      1. I have had phones (not my current one) where a set alarm would go off *even if the phone were completely powered down.*

        Obviously not what happened here, but there *are* cases where ignorance would be a defense.

    2. Yeah, the timers are kind of an issue – they *need* to work even in mute work (otherwise lots of people will oversleep) but it’s not obvious that they do.  Perhaps a phone should explain that the first times the mute button has been used.

  25. When some idiot forgets to turn their phone off for yoga class, it rings during savasana every time.  Never during the hopping around part of the class.  Always during the meditation.

    1. I used to study karate-do with a guy who was so serious about the “no distractions” rule in his dojo, he required me to cut the gold ring out of my ear before I was allowed  to take classes.

      1. I would say that jewelry in martial arts classes is not just a distraction, but also a safety issue. I don’t know what style you practiced, but it would be all too easy for an earring to be ripped out forcibly, even a small one. Sparring, grappling, or even just falling and rolling, provide many opportunities for that.

  26. This is 100% the phone owner’s fault, and there’s no excuse whatsoever for it. If you’re too elderly to operate an iPhone, don’t get one.


    Wikipedia tells me the theatre in question has 2,738 seats. Even with a 99.96% success rate on “Please turn of your phone,” this can still happen.

    1. There’s no such thing as “too elderly to operate an iPhone.”  Too young maybe, but too elderly?

  27. Rules of etiquette change.  At my weekly dinner with my college administration, the VP would check his cell phone while students/other administrators spoke.  Otherwise he had excellent manners and was a courteous host (he hosted the dinner).  It’s rude to the rest of the audience and the performers for your phone to go off, but not so rude as to warrant the entire production to stop just to single out the offender.  His phone ringing was an oversight, it was negligent, not a intentional act (he didn’t pick it up and start talking).  It was no worse than a loud fart or dropping your keys.

    1. Just because an action becomes common does not mean it ceases to be rude; that is not automatic. The public discussion regarding cell phone etiquette is ongoing. Consider this story to be about the conductor publicly expressing his opinion on the matter.

    2. or changing lanes without signaling, or letting a door slam in someones face, or forgetting to bring a baggie along when you fail to curb your dog….

      Nothing is anyones responsibility to others, is it?

      Also, if your boss wants to check his cell phone during a professional dinner, um, choose your battles, friend.

  28. Ok so my droid’s alarm does not go off when the phone is powered down but the ipwn does?
    The guy was mortified, give him a break, did YOU know (*points out of screen) your iPhone alarm goes off even when powered down?

  29. The power of the ringtone is uncontainable i tell you!!!
    Last year, a similar incident interrupted Wolverine’s theatrical performance….
    For real

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