« Single Carrot Theater stirs up 'MilkMilkLemonade' | Main | Center Stage offers rare revival of 'Gleam,' adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston novel »

January 13, 2012

Cell phone offender at New York Philharmonic gives his side of story

The man who became the subject of international ire over the case of Mahler interruptus at the New York Philharmonic this week has explained his side of the story to the New York Times' Dan Wakin.

As some people suspected all along, it was an alarm on that now infamous iPhone, which forced the orchestra's music director, Alan Gilbert, to take the widely applauded, extraordinary step of stopping the performance of Mahler's profound Ninth Symphony on Tuesday until the offending device was silenced.

But the owner, "called Patron X by the Philharmonic," said that ...

he had turned the phone off before the concert and had no idea an alarm had been set -- the phone was new to him, a replacement for a BlackBerry given to him by his company. He also was unaware that an alarm would sound even if a phone was off -- for that matter, he was unaware that "phones came with alarms."

Patron X, a long time Philharmonic subscriber in a front-row seat (I wonder if he will ask to change his location now), has chatted with and apologized to Gilbert. In the Times story, the unidentified man says "he had not slept in two days" and feels "horrible" about the whole thing.

I'm not sure how many folks who were calling for expulsions and even executions (I heard from some pretty mean folks) will be satisfied by all of this. It does point up human frailty, of course, and that usually provokes sympathy from those of us known to be similarly mortal. I'm guilty, too, of jumping to conclusions, having gone through so many performances marred by unmistakable audience rudeness.

Seems like we now have to worry about "smart" phones that are also wicked, fooling us into thinking we have control, when, all along, they can overrule our wishes. I'm glad I still use an obsolete cell phone. 

Maybe those pre-concert announcements about telling people to turn off everything will have to add warnings about hidden alarms. We may need to delay all performances a few minutes while newly trained ushers roam the aisles helping patrons figure out the inner, potentially dangerous workings of their assorted hand-held devices.

Posted by Tim Smith at 8:01 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Clef Notes


Though I am sure it was frustrating and awkward for the rest of the audience, my heart does go out to this guy. No one wants to be "that person". I religiously check my phone (and alarms) before going into rehearsals or a concert and yet I can think of times where I "missed something" and it has gone off in an awkward moment of the music.

The things that worries me the most is that this is now a major news story and as Alex Ross tweeted this morning: "It fits the cheap cartoon image of classical music. Ugh."

Or maybe we should just follow the age-old technical advise from help desks all over the world...: RFM!

(Read the F... um... Full Manual!)

Isn't there an opportunity for music adventure here? Why not Mahler and Marimbas? Wasn't there a "surprise symphony" back in the day? Gustav with Gusto. Go for it.

Salient points would be: for any phone, in order of preference: 1. Turn off completely; 2. Put in Silent mode AND put into airplane mode.

No "turned off" phone will alarm. It's turned off.

That said, everyone makes mistakes, and the immediate assumption was that some jackass with inflated self-importance refused to comply with the mandate to turn device off. It can happen.

Lets move on. It's not like he stomped a kitten.

How vivid. TS

I appreciate Gilbert's action and I can empathize with Patron X's angst. It must be tough to comprehend that when one flips the sound switch off a device can still make sounds. If you turn off an iPhone, as in push the sleep/lock button for a few seconds and then slide the red arrow to power off, it is truly off. The alarm won't sound. That's the only real way to guarantee that something won't happen with a phone. Turn it off. Really off.

No where am I reading why he did nothing when it went off? He never says he didn't know it was his (and how could he not?!)

Why isn't there anything in the news reports describing him fumbling with his phone? If he was confused and unsure what to do with phone, he could have stood up and quietly left the auditorium.

And why is he apologizing to the conductor instead of the other paying patrons?

That'd be like me letting my cell phone disturb others in a movie theatre, and thinking I owed Speilberg an apology, but not the ticket buyers.

Been there and done that to my yoga class. I'm checking my phone next time I carry it to a concert.
Here's a little classical music humor.

New rule: If you insist on bringing a cell phone to a concert performance, you must Scotch-tape it to your head for all to see.

Hey Tim,

Have you seen this video? It's too wonderful! The PERFECT response (in the context of that particular performance)

(my apologies for the Toyota commercial and BBC logo stuff you have to sit through first).

"Slovakian viola player Lukas Kmit reacted coolly when a mobile phone interrupted his recital at the Orthodox Synagogue in Presov, in Slovakia.

Rather than losing his temper, Kmit adapted the notorious Nokia theme, much to the delight of his audience."

A little late to this thread, but for everyone's info, cellphone alarms DO RING even when the cellphone is off and powered down. At least on my former blackberry this is the case. Trust me, the guy wasn't lying if this happened to him. Maybe other phones work differently, but it is actually a convenience on the Blackberry if you turn your phone off by mistake to be reassured that you'll get your morning wakeup alarm.

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected