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NY Philharmonic Performance Halted by Ringing Cellphone

By Leslie Albrecht | January 11, 2012 7:39pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — What the cell?

A ringing iPhone brought one of the world's greatest orchestras to a screeching halt Tuesday night when New York Philharmonic conductor Alan Gilbert stopped a performance until an audience member's bleating ringer could be silenced.

Gilbert was leading the orchestra through the quiet final strains of Gustav Mahler's "Ninth Symphony" when the blaring phone interrupted the music. When it continued to ring, Gilbert reportedly "glared" at the audience member, but kept the show going.

After several more rings, Gilbert stopped the orchestra and motioned for the audience member to turn off the phone. When that didn't end the sonic assault, Gilbert addressed the audience member directly, saying, "You have a phone...Fine, we'll wait," according to classical music radio station WQXR's blog.

But the audience member didn't take the cue from the maestro's public reprimand.

So the orchestra's well-heeled audience reportedly turned on the music lover with the phone — who was sitting up front where tickets sell for up to $118 — reportedly yelling threats such as, "Throw him out!" and "Thousand dollar fine!"

Finally the audience member silenced the phone.

Gilbert turned to the crowd and apologized for stopping the show, but said it had been impossible to ignore the interruption. The audience greeted his comments with wild applause, the New York Times reported.

Gilbert told the Times he was shocked to hear the phone, which yanked him out of "a very faraway spiritual place" in the symphony's last movement.  He described the music as the "the most emotionally wrought part" of the Mahler's final symphony.

"It's like being rudely awakened," Gilbert said. "All of us were stunned on the stage."

A spokeswoman for the Philharmonic said the orchestra received some comments on Wednesday "commending Alan for the way he handled the situation."

The audience member was not punished or officially reprimanded, the Philharmonic spokeswoman said.

The Philharmonic performs at Avery Fisher Hall, which is operated by Lincoln Center. A recorded message with actor Alec Baldwin's voice reminds the audience to turn off all digital devices before each show, a Philharmonic spokeswoman said.

If a phone rings during the performance, it's Lincoln Center policy for an usher to "discreetly" tell the audience member to turn off the phone, said Lincoln Center spokeswoman Betsy Vorce.

At Tuesday's performance there were 22 ushers scheduled to work at the roughly 2,800-seat hall, though some left after intermission, Vorce said.

"Last night in this one incident unfortunately that policy wasn't followed," Vorce said. "We're investigating what happened and, if needed, we'll take remedial action.

"Our goal is to work in close consultation with the Philharmonic to serve the patrons effectively."